A founder and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), Les Payne, passed away unexpectedly at his New York home on Monday night. He was 76.

According to the New York Daily News, the award-winning journalist, who was an editor at Newsday, suffered a heart attack

“He appreciated the people who appreciated him: the readers. They were the ones that he enjoyed writing for, and I appreciate them reading him,” his wife, Violet, told Newsday.

Payne’s 38-year career led him all around the world before he retired in 2006. He won a Pulitzer Prize as part of a team in 1974 for a 33-part series called “The Heroin Trail,” tracing the opioid from the poppy fields in Turkey to communities in Long Island, New York.

“Les Payne spent almost four decades at Newsday establishing a standard of journalistic excellence that has been a beacon for all who have come after him,” said the publication’s editor, Deborah Henley. “His skill, his passion and his integrity were all elements in a distinguished career that, in his own words, led to ‘journalism that brought attention to problems, and sometimes helped solve those problems.’”

On Tuesday, NABJ President Sarah Glover released a statement praising Payne’s work.

Payne was born in 1941 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He joined Newsday in 1969 after serving in the U.S. Army for six years.
He helped found the NABJ in 1975  and served as its president in 1981.