A Tribute to Bob Danzig continued…
But he remained in contact with Albany throughout his career, often visiting to check up on not only the newspaper, but also his philanthropic interests in the city of his birth. He had been a trustee of Siena College, where he earned a degree cum laude in 1962 through night classes, and of Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Hospital.
During his tenure as publisher, he was active in supporting the inner-city ministry of a fellow Siena student, the Rev. Peter Young, in Albany’s South End.
“He knew the South End better than any reporter out there while he was publisher,” Young said Wednesday, recalling that Danzig visited homes of people living in poverty every week. “He was the most outstanding volunteer we had.”
Danzig identified with the poor, Young noted, because of his own hardscrabble upbringing.
In a memoir published recently – his 10th book – Danzig recounted that he was only 2 years old when his parents divorced and placed him in foster care, leading to a childhood spent in many different homes, never any one for very long. “I felt worthless, unwanted and lonely,” he wrote of his early years. In elementary school, he sent himself Valentines, varying the handwriting so classmates wouldn’t know he had no friends.
But a series of mentors gave him hope, starting with a social worker named Mae Morse whom he met when he was 11. “Never, ever forget,” she told the boy, “you are worthwhile.” Those encouraging words, Danzig often said, were the foundation for everything he later accomplished.
When he was 18, he got hired to be an office boy in the Times Union Advertising Department by a woman named Margaret Mahoney, who took an interest in him because she had been a foster mother. “I believe you are full of promise,” she told him. “She changed my future with her uplifting words,” he said, and set him on his career path with Hearst.
“The newspaper became the family I never had,” he wrote. “In spite of being shadowed by self-doubt, I threw myself into my work and my confidence grew.”
After a two-year stint in the Navy, where a bunkmate taught him to read great literature, he returned to a job as a classified ad salesman. Danzig’s hard work and creativity caught the attention of managers he worked for, especially after he lured lucrative supermarket advertising to the Times Union that had previously gone to another newspaper. A series of promotions followed to positions of increasing responsibility in advertising sales and management.
As his work expanded, so did his family. He married an Albany native, a marriage that lasted a half-century and produced five children. While attending night classes at Siena, he wrote for the campus literary magazine, which caught the eye of the Times Union publisher, Gene Robb.
It was Robb who gave Danzig his biggest career boost: a mentorship in various newspaper departments that Robb believed would qualify Danzig, after a dozen years, for leadership. Five years into the program, however, Robb unexpectedly died, and Hearst executives gave his job to Danzig.
It was a momentous time in the local newspaper market. George Hearst noted that Danzig was part of the management team that had made the bold decision to move the newspaper from downtown Albany to a new plant in suburban Colonie, in part responding to efforts by the Albany Democratic machine to stifle the newspaper’s aggressive reporting by applying economic pressure. When the Times Union occupied the new plant on Albany Shaker Road in 1969, Danzig took the office that had been designed for Robb.
His role, Danzig wrote in his last book, was not only to improve the bottom line, but also to be “the keeper of the keys for preserving (the) newspaper’s integrity and independence.”
In 1976, corporate leaders summoned Danzig to New York to take over a group of newspapers that, he once told an interviewer, “were technically deficient and talent deficient.” In one city after another, newspapers were foundering in the face of competition from television and changing lifestyles.
“He encouraged new ideas and innovation, but our papers’ financial straits and changing technology limited our flexibility,” said James Toedtman, who was a top editor at Hearst papers in both Boston and Baltimore in the 1980s. Eventually, Danzig had to make the hard choice to close unprofitable Hearst papers in those cities, as well as in Los Angeles.
Even in Albany, there was contraction, as first the Union-Star and then, in 1988, the Knickerbocker News ceased publication. Danzig negotiated joint operating agreements that for many years kept open newspapers in San Francisco and Seattle, and Hearst bought out competitors in Houston and San Antonio.
“Difficult decisions,” Danzig wrote later. “Burdensome reality.”
The early decisions to trim the newspaper division, however, yielded profitability that enabled the remaining Hearst newspapers to enhance their editorial and business strength during Danzig’s 21 years in leadership. Toedtman recalled that Danzig was “always energetic, always enthusiastic and always demanding.” His personal visits to newspaper plants were legendary, and he called many employees by name in each city, often embracing them warmly.
Shortly after he turned 65, Danzig handed over the leadership of the newspaper group, and took on a new role for Hearst heading an intensive training program for senior leaders of Hearst properties. Danzig served for 15 years as dean of the Hearst Management Institute, affiliated with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, which eventually reached 600 Hearst leaders.
He also developed a busy second career as a public speaker for community, business and academic groups. He was named to the Speakers Hall of Fame in 2007. His personal appearances reached more than a million people, with remarks based largely on riveting anecdotes drawn from his personal life.
His speeches, he said, were based on the notion that “facts touch heads and stories touch hearts – and hearts are the bonding link between the audience and the speaker.”
Hearst executives noted Wednesday the impact of Danzig on the entire company, which is one of the nation’s largest diversified media, information and services companies, with more than 360 businesses.
“Bob’s contributions to Hearst went beyond the Newspaper Division,” said Frank A. Bennack Jr., the company’s executive vice chairman and former CEO. “He mentored and encouraged young talent and created opportunities for all who were lucky enough to be taken under his wing. He was also among my longest serving and most beloved and admired partners. We are grateful for his leadership and friendship both in the company and on the Hearst Board.”
“Bob Danzig played a pivotal role in the dramatic growth of Hearst’s newspaper operations in a career that spanned nearly 50 years with the company,” Hearst President and CEO Steven R. Swartz said, in a statement. “He was the rarest of executive talent, with equal measures of pragmatism and warmth, and his leadership lessons are part of Hearst’s DNA.”
Danzig’s first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, Dianne Evans, a retired therapist whom he got to know during winter vacations in Florida. He is also survived by his children: Marybeth Hartfelder and her husband, Ron; Marsha Danzig; Darcy Plunkett and her husband, Gary; Steve Danzig and his wife, Jen; and Matt Danzig and his wife, Susie; as well as 10 grandchildren: Charlie, Miles and Jack; Maddie and R.J; Declan, Brogan and Moira; and Luke and MacKenzie; and by his wife’s daughters, Lori, Cheryl and Colleen, and their children and grandchildren.
At the time of his death, Danzig had begun an anthology of essays and had two other book projects in mind, he wrote, motivated in part by what he saw in everyone he met: “The power to greet opportunity with open arms.”
George Hearst said that in addition to other memorial plans, which are pending, a salute to Danzig will be scheduled in Albany at a later date.
For Bob, the key to all these life marks was acknowledging and encouraging every individual who crossed his path and embracing each opportunity. In his talks and his books, Bob frequently illuminated one of his favorite truths: “We each have the potential to fulfill a noble purpose.”
*Read more about Bob Danzig In the News