The late Detroit Free Press executive editor Robert G. "Bob" McGruder has been named the recipient of the National Association of Black Journalists Legacy Award for breaking media racial barriers and efforts to broaden newsroom diversity. 

The annual award is given to a journalist of remarkable accomplishment who broke barriers. 

McGruder, who died of cancer in 2002 at age 60, will receive the posthumous honor for the example he set for professionalism and his efforts to broaden newsroom diversity, NABJ said. 

McGruder, who grew up in Dayton, Ohio, had a long career of breaking newsroom barriers. He became the first black reporter at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland in 1963, the first black president of the Associated Press Managing Editors in 1995 and went on to become the first black executive editor of the Detroit Free Press in 1996. He sat on the board of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and served as a Pulitzer Prize nominating judge. 

The trailblazing reporter and editor wasn't one to brag about his accomplishments, said his wife Annette McGruder. 

"Once he got home and I'd ask his how his day went, he usually left out his impact or influence," she said. "He was very modest and I'd often learned he had won an award by seeing it in the news. Unfortunately, I learned a lot more about his accomplishments after he passed away." 

Annette McGruder said she is honored by the award. 

"I'm thrilled his legacy is being kept alive," she said. "It's been 16 years since he passed away and it's heartwarming to know people keep him in their memories."

His former colleague Carole Leigh Hutton started as an assistant city editor at the Detroit Free Press when McGruder was the managing editor of news. She said each time he moved up, she trailed behind him, learning how to break barriers and be a leader. 

"Bob was unbelievably important. He was my boss, mentor and friend," Hutton said. "He was just, without a doubt, the most sophisticated and sincere person I've ever worked for. I'd watch how he dealt with a difficult situation in news meetings and write it down and still ask myself today, 'What would Bob do?' " 

Hutton succeeded McGruder as executive editor of the Free Press after he died and said it was a difficult challenge. 

"I didn't know until after he had passed that he told our corporate bosses that I should succeed him as executive," said Hutton. "Moving into that office was difficult because it had only ever been Bob's office. He taught me an immense amount on how to deal with difficult situations and treat people with respect."

The NABJ, with more than 4,500 members, will hold its annual convention and career fair in Detroit on Aug. 1-5.

Rochelle Riley, co-honorary convention chair and local columnist for the Free Press, said McGruder stood for diversity and inclusion in newsrooms, part of the mission of the NABJ. 

"Bob wanted to make sure that people in the newsroom wrote news that reflected the community," Riley said in a statement. She is one of many writers hired and encouraged by McGruder, she said.

"It didn't matter what color you were, he got it," she said. "He made the word diversity mean something. For him it was an action."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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