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Dotty Lynch, CBS News veteran and political trailblazer, dies at 69

Dotty Lynch, the former CBS News veteran who paved the way for a new generation of political operatives and journalists, died Sunday in Washington at the age of 69 after battling melanoma.

"She lived and breathed politics and it was a great loss to us at CBS when she left," CBS News "Face the Nation" anchor Bob Schieffer said. "It was an even greater loss when she died because we all loved and admired her so much."

Lynch was not only a "political junkie of the first order," as "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl said, but also a trailblazer for women in politics. Lynch worked to get Geraldine Ferraro on the presidential ticket with Walter Mondale in 1984. She opened her own polling firm in 1983, Lynch Research, and served as Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart's chief pollster -- making her the first female pollster for a presidential campaign.

Lynch seamlessly transitioned to the world of journalism, covering politics for CBS News for 20 years -- through five presidential campaigns, 10 political conventions, and 18 presidential and vice presidential debates. She worked extensively with CBS News correspondents such as Schieffer, Stahl, Dan Rather, Ed Bradley and Mike Wallace. At the same time, Lynch helped bring on a new generation of leaders at CBS News, including "Face the Nation" executive producer Mary Hager.

"She not only built upon her own intellect, she spotted it in diapers, brought it in, and nurtured it, and in a way, that's her legacy," said Susan Zirinsky, senior executive producer of "48 Hours."

"There is something that's very special about a person's passion when it becomes that person's professional endeavour -- her passion was politics... She absolutely saw everything with such clarity, it made us fantastic political reporters."

In 2006, Lynch began teaching at American University, where she continued to build on her legacy as a sharp political thinker eager to impart her knowledge to others.

In all of her careers, Lynch was "very concerned about mentoring young people, helping them in their careers, helping find opportunities," her husband Morgan Downey told CBS News. "In one way or another she was always teaching and shared enormously everything she had with everyone who wanted to learn... This brought a lot of joy to everything she did."

Dorethea Jean Lynch was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 24, 1945 to Mortimer Gene Lynch and Dorothea Reeves Lynch. She was exposed to politics at an early age, befriending Randy Carey -- the daughter of Brooklyn politician (and later New York governor) Hugh Carey. As a devout Catholic, Lynch was excited by John F. Kennedy's presidential candidacy and enlisted as a "Kennedy girl" to knock on neighborhood doors for his campaign.

She graduated with a BA from Marymount Manhattan College and received an MA at Fordham University. Lynch joined NBC News in 1968, and in 1972, she joined the Cambridge Survey Research polling firm. There, she worked as a pollster for presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. Lynch developed the concept of the gender gap in the 1980s and remained an authority on the issue of women in politics.

As one of the few high-profile female political operatives at the time, Lynch formed a bond with other women in her field. Stahl recalled meeting monthly with Lynch and other female political operatives and journalists, including Cokie Roberts and NPR's Linda Wertheimer.

"We met once a month to talk girl talk, because the talk in our office was about sports and things like that, which we were left out of," Stahl recalled. When Lynch was ready to transition from politics to journalism, those friends helped make it happen.

"That was the first time any of us realized there was an old girls' network," Stahl said.

As senior political editor for CBS News, Lynch helped steer political coverage for the network, reformatting the CBS News Campaign Directory in 1992.

"I like to think that Dotty was digital before digital was cool," deputy Washington bureau chief Ward Sloane said. The campaign directory, he said, "was a pocket sized book that had every phone number of every official any political reporter or producer could want. It was the envy of the road, many reported outright theft by competitors or being begged for a copy."

During election nights, Lynch was "the most plugged in person in the room," Stahl recalled.

"When Dotty arrived, it was as if you were having a blood transfusion, and every cell was packed with political knowledge," Zirinsky said, adding that Lynch was "so smart and selfless, you never felt stupid asking her a question."

Similarly, "48 Hours" correspondent Susan Spencer stressed Lynch's friendly and cooperative nature.

"There are very few people in this business who don't have an edge," Spencer said.

"What was unique about Dotty is that... she didn't care if she got credit, she didn't blame people when something went wrong. She was one of the most decent people I've ever met."

Along with teaching at American University, Lynch in 2006 was a fellow at the JFK Institute of Politics at Harvard University. She often appeared on C-SPAN, the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, and she continued to contribute to CBS News.

"She brought a lot of wisdom and a lot of guidance to the political side and brought a lot of tough questions and tough accountability to the journalism side, very much to the benefit of both," Jeffrey Rutenbeck, dean of the AU School of Communication, told CBS News. "The defining quality she brought to all of this was tremendous generosity."

Lynch is survived by Morgan Downey and her stepson Robert Downey.