The journalism world mourns the loss of Will Lester, a distinguished Associated Press (AP) journalist, who passed away unexpectedly at his home in Maryland on February 7, 2024, at the age of 71. His career spanned several decades, during which he made significant contributions to journalism, particularly in South Carolina, Florida, and Washington, D.C.

Who was Will Lester?

Will Lester was a native of Atlanta and an alumnus of Emory University. His journalistic journey began at The Lancaster News in Lancaster, South Carolina, before moving to The Columbia Record. In 1982, Lester joined The Associated Press in Columbia, South Carolina, as a reporter and news editor. He later served as a news editor in AP’s Miami office, where he honed his expertise in Florida politics.

This knowledge became invaluable during the 2000 presidential election, a night of unprecedented confusion over election results. Lester’s deep understanding of Florida’s political landscape helped the AP navigate through the complex vote counts, contributing to the organization’s decision not to prematurely call the presidential race.

Lester was celebrated not only for his editorial acumen but also for his exceptional kindness and dedication to his craft. Julie Pace, AP’s Executive Editor, lauded him as embodying the best of AP— a committed editor and a profoundly decent individual. His colleagues remembered him for his good nature, his humor, and his unwavering support for fellow journalists. Beyond his professional achievements, Lester played a crucial role in the AP’s coverage of significant events, including the intricate 2000 election night, earning him and his team a finalist position for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

His tenure in AP’s Washington bureau further cemented his legacy, where he continued to report on politics and mentor the next generation of journalists. Lester’s commitment extended beyond his AP duties; he was actively involved in the National Press Club’s awards program, showcasing his passion for celebrating journalistic excellence.

Will Lester’s passing leaves a void in the journalism community. His work, characterized by integrity, dedication, and compassion, will continue to inspire current and future journalists. A private family ceremony will be held to honor his life and legacy, leaving behind a storied career that many will aspire to emulate.