Kenneth B. Noble, a New York Times reporter who covered business and finance in Washington and civil war in Africa, and who headed the newspaper’s Los Angeles bureau during the O. J. Simpson trial, died on Thursday in Gainesville, Fla. He was 60.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his wife, Dr. Lorna McFarland, said.
Mr. Noble graduated from Yale in 1975 and from the University of Southern California Law School in 1979, but he had no journalism experience when he was selected by The Times in 1980 to be trained in its minority internship program.
After two years in the New York headquarters, Mr. Noble was sent to Washington, where he covered financial and economic news and soon developed a specialty in articles on finance and law. He wrote about commodities fraud, insider trading and the savings and loan crisis, and about the government regulators who caught — or had overlooked — the wrongdoing.
Mr. Noble, who had attended a segregated grade school in Gainesville, Fla., told family and friends that the most deeply affecting assignment of his career was the Africa beat. As head of the West Africa bureau of The Times from 1989 to 1994, he covered the two dozen countries along the continent’s west coast, including Ghana, the country from which he believed his ancestors were probably taken by slave traders in the 18th or 19th century.
“It wasn’t something he talked about very much, but he went through a lot of emotional sorting while there,” said Richard S. Carnell, a friend since childhood and an associate professor at Fordham Law School.
During his posting, Mr. Noble chronicled the lush life of the Liberian strongman Samuel K. Doe, the first of his country’s leaders who was not a descendant of freed American slaves, and the 10-year civil war that led to his execution by rebels in 1990. He covered civil war in Angola, the AIDS pandemic in Zaire and coup attempts in Nigeria.
In a 1991 dispatch from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, he wrote about the palm trees: “The trees began disappearing last fall when, as starvation spread in this war-shattered capital, thousands were cut down and their edible hearts eagerly and desperately consumed.”
“The trees will take years to grow back, but they surely will,” he wrote. “Monrovia’s future is less hopeful.”
Kenneth Bernard Noble was born in Manhattan on Aug. 14, 1953, to Ella Jeter, a social worker for the city Department of Social Services, and John Noble, whom he saw infrequently after one searing encounter.
“The first memory Ken had was of his father stabbing his mother,” Mr. Carnell said in an interview on Monday. “That was when he was about 4.”
Mr. Noble’s mother survived, but he was raised mostly by his grandmother, Florence Waldon Smith, a secretary for a school district outside Gainesville who pushed him to excel and planted the idea in his head at a young age that he would attend Yale someday. “She saw something in him, and she was right,” said Mr. Noble’s wife, Dr. McFarland, from whom he had been separated for four years.
Besides Dr. McFarland, he is survived by two sons, Eric and David.
After leaving The Times in 1997, Mr. Noble taught journalism at the University of Southern California and at the University of California, Berkeley. About four years ago, he returned to Gainesville from Los Angeles, where he had lived for many years.