JOHNSTON CITY — James E. Clayton, 87, of Arlington, Virginia, passed away Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Virginia.

James, the son of Judge John Herman Clayton and Vinnie Ethel (Black) Clayton was born Nov. 14, 1929, in Johnston City. He graduated from Johnston City High School in 1947 and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. His education included an undergraduate journalism degree from the University of Illinois and a master’s in public administration from Princeton University.

He honed his journalism skills writing for The Southern Illinoisan and the New York Times before his career at The Washington Post. In 1956 he was hired onto the local desk and won awards for coverage of the District of Columbia’s judicial system. After becoming a national reporter and covering civil rights, in 1961 James became The Post’s first dedicated U.S. Supreme Court reporter and also wrote a critically acclaimed book, “The Making of Justice: The Supreme Court in Action.”

He served as an editor and an editorial writer; for editorials he wrote in 1970 James won two prestigious journalism honors, the George Polk Memorial Award and the Worth Bingham Prize.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, he served on the board of the American College of Sofia (Bulgaria), one of the oldest American educational institution outside the United States. James’s uncle, Dr. Floyd Black, was the headmaster of the school for 15 years before it closed during World War II. In 2008, when James became a member emeritus of the board, his son, Jonathan, filled his position.

Traveling was one of James’s pleasures. He toured the American west extensively by car with each of his children, visited Europe frequently, spent several months on safaris in southern Africa, and more recently visited pyramids in Egypt and Mexico.

A dedicated St. Louis Cardinals fan, James made frequent trips to see them play. Visits back to Southern Illinois usually included a Cardinals game or two, and he was known to drive as far as Pittsburgh to take in a doubleheader before the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005.

In 1961 James married Elise Heinz, a lawyer who would go on to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates. She passed away in 2014. He is also preceded in death by his brother, Judge John H. Clayton, and his wife Maxine.

James is survived by two sons and daughters-in-law, Jonathan Brown (Anne) Clayton of Houston, Texas and David Lake (Suzie) Clayton of Alexandria, Virginia; four granddaughters, Maddie, Sophie, Cordelia, and Josie; and two nieces who called him ‘Unc’ but thought of him as an older brother, Linda Clayton Meredith of Carbondale and Susan Clayton Meyer of Marion.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Lakeview Cemetery in Johnston City, next to his wife.

At the family’s request, memorials to the American College of Sophia are the preferred form of remembrance. Memorials can directly be made online at or given to Meredith Funeral Home.

For more information or to share a story or memory of James, visit

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