Stanford Lipsey, 89, Publisher Whose Nebraska Weeklies Won Pulitzer, Dies

Stanford Lipsey at The Buffalo News in 2012. Its owner, Warren E. Buffett, hired him. Credit Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Stanford Lipsey at The Buffalo News in 2012. Its owner, Warren E. Buffett, hired him. Credit Brendan Bannon for The New York Times

Stanford Lipsey, a publisher who persuaded Warren E. Buffett to invest in newspapers and whose chain of Nebraska weeklies won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing fund-raising excesses by Boys Town, the charity for orphaned children, died on Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Judith.

Under Mr. Lipsey, the Sun Newspapers, in the Omaha area, won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Investigative Specialized Reporting (a category since discontinued) in 1973 for disclosing that Boys Town was still soliciting contributions even though it had accrued hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and its caseload of abandoned and handicapped youngsters had shrunk.

The Sun estimated that the net worth of Boys Town, which was founded in 1921 by the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, was growing by as much as $18 million a year — four times as much as it needed to maintain its programs.

“Boys Town, America’s richest city: 700 boys with $209 million,” the headline proclaimed in the Sun papers, owned by Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate.

The Pulitzer, rare for a weekly news organization, prompted fund-raising reforms: Boys Town hired consultants and abandoned its alarmist appeals for contributions.

Mr. Lipsey left Omaha in 1980 to join The Buffalo News, a major daily newspaper in that area. Mr. Buffett, from his Omaha headquarters, had recently bought it. Three years later, Mr. Lipsey was appointed publisher and remained in that job for nearly three decades, retiring in 2012.

In Buffalo he was a crusader for the city’s economic revival, a preservationist and, as an early and well-rewarded investor in Berkshire Hathaway, a philanthropist. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York once called him western New York’s “guardian angel.”

Stanford Lipsey was born in Omaha (as was Mr. Buffett) on Oct. 8, 1927, to Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father, Jacob, owned a wholesale poultry and meat market. His mother was the former Molly Brick.

Stanford got a camera when he was 10 and became photography editor of his high school newspaper and college yearbook. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in economics, he served in the Air Force as the editor of a base newspaper.

His first marriage, to the former Jeanne Blacker, ended in divorce.

In addition to his wife, the former Judith Hojnacki, he is survived by two children, Janet and Daniel Lipsey, from his first marriage, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Lipsey got his start in the publishing business when he joined an Omaha company that distributed two free weeklies. Within 15 years, he had expanded it to become the Sun Newspapers, a chain of seven paid-subscription weeklies and five that were distributed free.

Mr. Lipsey was introduced to Mr. Buffett in 1969 and later sold the company to Berkshire Hathaway, which had only $50 million in assets then, compared with more than $550 billion today.

The Sun weeklies were hungry for exclusives in their competition with daily newspapers, Mr. Lipsey recalled. Mr. Buffett suggested that a reporter for The West Omaha Sun go to Washington and retrieve the federal form on which charities like Boys Town are required to disclose their contributions and assets.

While it was common knowledge that Boys Town had become flush, the extent of its assets was stunning. The data on the federal form “was about the most important piece of information we could lay our hands on,” Mr. Lipsey told Bloomberg TV in 2012.

In Buffalo, as publisher of The News, Mr. Lipsey led the paper as it won its battle for survival with The Courier-Express, its rival, which stopped publication in 1982. In 1999, he appointed the first woman to hold the post of editor of The News, Margaret M. Sullivan. (She was later the public editor of The New York Times and is now the media columnist for The Washington Post.)

This year, Mr. Lipsey was among a group of investors who bought the daily newspaper The Berkshire Eagle in Massachusetts. He was credited with encouraging Mr. Buffett to invest in community newspapers again in 2012.

“The best news in the newspaper industry is Berkshire’s acquisition of all those newspapers,” Donald E. Graham, the former chairman of The Washington Post Company, told The Buffalo News recently, “and that wouldn’t have happened without Stan.”

Chris Salamone

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