James Reston, the former New York Times reporter and columnist whose graceful yet punchy prose spilled from the paper's pages for 50 years and who twice won journalism's top honor, has died. He was 86.

Reston, a native of Scotland, died Wednesday at his home in the nation's capital after a long struggle against cancer, his son, Thomas Reston, said.Newspaper officials from coast to coast bemoaned the passing of a man they hailed as one of the most exceptional members of the profession.

"He was the greatest journalist of his generation," said R.W. Apple, Washington bureau chief of the Times.

"James Reston was a beacon as a columnist," said Shelby Coffey III, editor and executive vice president of the Los Angeles Times. "He was unafraid of dealing sharp blows to stuffed shirts and inflated reputations in the public life he understood extraordinarily well."

"Scotty Reston was a great columnist and a great man," said Donald Graham, publisher of The Washington Post. "I never knew anyone more deeply admired by those who knew him best."

Reston - friends called him "Scotty" - was a brilliant reporter and writer who gained unparalleled access to the top politicians of his time. He was so good that he twice won journalism's highest accolade, the Pulitzer Prize.

His first Pulitzer came in 1945 after he obtained the Allies' secret proposals at the 1944 Dumbarton Oaks conference on planning the United Nations. He earned a second in 1957 for analysis of how President Eisenhower's illness affected the functioning of the federal executive branch.

Among his accomplishments, he helped create the nation's first op-ed page in 1970 - the page directly opposite newspaper editorials as a forum for columnists' opinion pieces, including his own.

He penned his last official column for the Times in 1987, and formally retired on his 80th birthday in November 1989.

Reston moved to the United States with his parents from Clydebank, Scotland, at age 11, began his career at the Springfield (Ohio) Daily News in 1932, and wrote sports for The Associated Press in New York and London until the Times hired him in 1939 just as England went to war.

He transferred to Washington in 1941 and was assigned to the State Department. He was chief of the paper's Washington bureau from 1953 until 1964 and became a full-time columnist after a brief stint in New York as executive editor of the Times.

During a half-century with the grand dame of American newspapers, he hired reporters who are now among journalism's biggest names - Tom Wicker, Anthony Lewis, Allen Drury and Russell Baker.

Reston's survivors include his wife, Sally; sons Richard, James Jr., and Thomas; a sister and five grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.