NEW ORLEANS — Mary Foster, a veteran Associated Press reporter who wrote about everything from New Orleans' love affair with food, Mardi Gras and Saints football to Hurricane Katrina, died Monday. She was 68.
Foster died at her New Orleans home from complications of cancer that was diagnosed earlier this year, according to her sister, Rosalie Foster. She had returned home on Friday after receiving treatment in Little Rock, Ark.
"Mary lived a large life and her work was infused with her love of Louisiana's people and their stories," said Kathleen Carroll, the AP's executive editor. "The stars over New Orleans are dimmer now that she is gone."
Foster joined the AP's New Orleans bureau in 1988 after working at newspapers and for television and radio stations. Foster started covering Louisiana sports for AP in 1992 at a time when few female journalists were covering professional sports. A single mom, she often brought her two sons on assignment with her and put them to work helping to gather quotes at New Orleans Saints and LSU games.
Her youngest son, Frankie Klug, said the Saints once handed out small towels for players to wear around their waists when his mother entered the locker room. She kept one of the "Mary Foster towels" in a frame.
"It was kind of a joke, but she was proud of it," said Klug, of New Orleans.
Her first-born, Foster Klug —whose name is a combination of his mother's maiden name and the last name of her former husband — is now an AP news editor based in Seoul, South Korea. He said interviewing 300-pound linemen was a great way of overcoming any fears of approaching strangers for an interview.
"She was very, very proud of her work. She really did love talking to people and telling their stories," Foster Klug said.
Her fellow journalists called her a tough competitor who never shrunk from tough interviews or personalities. Longtime Times-Picayune sports columnist Peter Finney said Foster scored plenty of scoops during her time on the sports beat.
"She wasn't intimidated by anybody," Finney said. "She handled it perfectly. She was a great jokester."
After Katrina struck in August 2005, Foster reported from the Superdome as floodwaters stranded thousands of residents there for days without food or water. Kent Prince, AP's news editor in New Orleans from 1970 to 2006, said Foster was the "consummate street reporter" who did some of her best work while she was trapped at the Superdome.
"Somehow she sneaked an all-access pass, so she could get into the parking lot to sleep and charge her phone in her car," Prince said. "For all the tragedy, her most widely used story was about Snowball, the puppy taken from a child because he couldn't take his pet on the rescue bus. We got calls from as far away as Australia about that kid and his dog."
Foster chased rumors about Snowball for years, but was never able to confirm the dog's fate through she thought it had been adopted.
She returned to general news coverage after the storm. Frankie Klug said his mother relished the opportunity to switch beats and report on the city's struggle to recover from Katrina's epic devastation.
"It kind of reinvigorated her," Klug said.
Foster covered the police beat in one of the nation's most violent cities, but she was just as much at ease writing a book review, profiling a chef or writing about a Mardi Gras parade.
News editor Brian Schwaner recalled her as always wanting to be "in" on the big story. "She was extremely competitive. She'd go on the street to report from the middle of a hurricane, or sweet-talk her way around tough country sheriffs to get a slice of a crime story no one had," he said.
Foster preserved her trademark sense of humor throughout her cancer treatment. In an email from the hospital last month, she reassured friends and colleagues that she was feeling better and looking forward to getting back to work.
"I look a lot like that guy from the movie ads that has all the nails in his head. I don't have the nails, but sport the bald look," she joked.
A native of Biloxi, Miss., Foster graduated from Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Besides her sister, from Cambridge, Mass., Foster also is survived by two brothers, Vern Foster, of Gulfport, Miss., and Jerry Foster, of Lake Park, Ga., and two grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.