Colleague Recalls L.A. Times Editor-Publisher Davan Maharaj’s Summer Internship

From the outset in 1989, Maharaj had the enterprising reporter's spirit.

Peter H. King (pictured) is currently a California correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He has enjoyed a long and storied career with the paper, dating back to the early 1980s.

In 1989, King welcomed to the newsroom and subsequently directly supervised an intern named Davan Maharaj. With Maharaj promoted this week to the historic position of Times editor-publisher, FishbowlNY was curious what King remembered about young Maharaj’s summer debut.

“What I mainly remember about Davan’s internship was his eagerness to take on new assignments and go about anywhere,” King recalls. “Need color from the beaches in a heat wave? Send Davan. A fire in a Skid Row shelter? Davan, you up? A sweep of bogus medical clinics across the Southland? Davan, can you go out and find some victims? The answer always was yes. He legged stories for a lot of The Times’ best Metro reporters – Dave Ferrell, Ed Chen and Kevin Roderick – to name just a few.”

“He also wrote quite a number of stories on his own, many from Skid Row and the crime beats. To those of us on the city desk back then, Bob Welkos, Joel Sappell, Tim Reiterman, Leo Wolinsky, Tom Pagel and also our writing coach, the late and sorely missed Jim Hayes, what stood out about Davan, beyond his enthusiasm, was that his copy tended to come in clean and on time.”

“As his internship was winding down, and sensing he would get offers elsewhere, I put in a call to Carol Stogsdill in the Orange County edition and urged her to hire him full-time. For once, Carol actually listened to me! (A joke: we are good friends.) And the rest, as Hayes would never let any writer get away with, was history.”

Looking back at Maharaj’s June 1989 LAT efforts, there were a total of 10 articles featuring his byline or contributions, starting with a report by the aforementioned Chen about medical clinics staffed with personnel that were unqualified and not permitted to work legally in the U.S., and ending with a piece by Maharaj about an INS sweep at John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

But arguably the signature piece in this bunch is “A Father’s Day Gift.” Published Saturday June 17, just ahead of Father’s Day in 1989, Maharaj’s 827-word piece landed on the front page of the Metro section, featuring the sub-headline ‘Baby Daughter Inspires Homeless Man to Repair His Life’ and this powerful lede:

The first time 40-year-old James McFarland saw his youngest daughter, Bobbie Charisse, it was through the bulletproof glass of the visitors’ room at the Biscailuz Center jail.

McFarland, a Memphis native and Vietnam veteran whose addiction to cocaine had rendered him homeless, was serving at the time – October, 1988 – a 20-day sentence for unpaid parking tickets. He was living in his car then, and by article publication, at the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row.

The Maharaj piece is bittersweet for a number of other reasons:

– McFarland left behind two daughters in Memphis, for which in the article he expresses deep regret;
– He was originally not able to be told about the birth of his new daughter;
– This third child was born June 15, one day before McFarland’s own birthday, a pair of dates that immediately precede the publication of the 1989 L.A. Times article;
– Prior to an early Father’s Day celebration with two-year-old Bobbie Charisse referenced in the article, McFarland had requested that no expensive presents be given to him.

But perhaps the most powerful twist is the fact that the girl’s mother, Verdesta Powell, used her contacts at the Los Angeles Police Academy, where she was a custodial supervisor, to track McFarland to that East Los Angeles jail. “I just wanted him to see his child,” she told Maharaj.

Photo of Maharaj, taken Feb. 29 at paper’s iconic Globe Lobby off 1st Street, by: Kirk McKoy