After his discharge, he applied for a job at The Times and was hired largely on the strength of an essay he submitted detailing his hopes for a journalism career. After a year of clerical work, he wrote radio news bulletins for WQXR, The Times’s AM and FM stations, then covered the police beat and general assignments.

His marriage to Kathleen Conniff in 1960 ended in divorce in the early 1990s. He married Ms. Mitchell in 1995, when she was the City Hall bureau chief for The Times, the two having met when she was the Moscow bureau chief for Newsday.

In addition to Ms. Mitchell, he is survived by his first wife; four children from his first marriage, John, Kevin, Michael and Laura Clines; and a sister, Eileen Lawrence. Another sister, Peggy Meehan Simon, died.

There are many ways to deflate pomposity, which is one reason Mr. Clines relished covering the State Legislature in Albany. Beyond the drumbeat of new laws and proposed taxes, he dissected the mores of lesser-light legislators with a Celtic sense of the absurd: their overblown rhetoric about public service, their crude eating habits during debates, their losing bouts with the mother tongue — all were fair game and duly reported.

“I think he was the best newspaper writer of our time,” Charles Kaiser, a former Times reporter, said in a recent email. “His success said more about the paper’s commitment to beautiful writing than anything else could.”

Mr. Clines once wrote a New York Times Magazine article about Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, that may have been a kind of self-revelation, saying: “He fights to keep things basic, to remind himself of the simple wisdom of Finn MacCool, Ireland’s mythic national hero, that the best music in the world is the music of what happens. In his ‘Elegy,’ dedicated to Lowell, Heaney reminded himself:

‘The way we are living,

Timorous or bold,

Will have been our life.’”

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