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Stanford Lipsey, publisher who guided small weekly to Pulitzer Prize, dies at 89

Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, chairman of the

Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, chairman of the Richardson Center Corporation, stands in the stairwell of the first floor of the Richardson Olmsted Complex, Friday, Sept. 9, 2011. Renovations are completed in half of the first floor.

Stanford Lipsey, who sold a chain of weekly newspapers to investor Warren Buffett in the 1960s, then guided the papers to a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s before becoming the longtime publisher of the Buffalo News, died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.

He was 89. His death was confirmed by his wife, Judith Lipsey, who said a cause was undetermined.

Lipsey began his career in his hometown of Omaha, working for a company that published free weekly papers. He eventually became owner and publisher of the Sun Newspapers before selling the business to Buffett in 1969.

It was the first of many newspaper acquisitions for the investor who founded the Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway. Lipsey stayed on as publisher and became a Berkshire Hathaway vice president.

In 1972, he and his small staff at the Sun Newspapers began to investigate the finances of Boys Town, an institution for homeless and troubled boys near Omaha. Founded in 1917 by Catholic priest Edward Flanagan, Boys Town was featured in a 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.

Boys Town sent out millions of solicitation letters, and the donations rolled in. At Buffett’s suggestion, the Sun Newspapers requested the charity’s financial records from the Internal Revenue Service.

In March 1972, Lipsey’s Sun Newspapers published an eight-page section with the headline “Boys Town, America’s Wealthiest City?”

The report called Boys Town a “money machine,” with a net worth of $209 million. In 1971, Boys Town received $18 million in contributions and had income of more than $25 million, four times annual expenses.

The story won the Pulitzer for local specialized investigative reporting, the first time a weekly paper won for investigative journalism. It prompted immediate reforms.

It became renowned as one of the first in-depth examinations of how charities spend their money.

In 1980, Lipsey moved to Buffalo, not long after Buffett purchased the Buffalo Evening News, a struggling afternoon paper.

“He often said that Buffett told him, ‘I want you to go to Buffalo and run the paper. I’ll feel better if you’re there,’ ” said Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper’s former editor, now a columnist for The Washington Post.

Lipsey launched a Sunday edition of the newly renamed Buffalo News, and by 1982 the rival morning newspaper, the Courier-Express, had folded. Lipsey was named publisher in 1983, and he made the Buffalo News into one of the leading papers of its size in the country.

The paper had a peak daily circulation of 265,000 in the 1990s, with 350,000 Sundays. It won scores of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for editorial cartoons by Tom Toles, now at The Washington Post.

In 1999, when Lipsey named Sullivan editor, she was one of few women leading a major newsroom.

After Lipsey retired in 2012, Buffett told the News, “I say it’s no exaggeration that The News might now be extinct, save for Stan. . . . He basically saved The News.”

Survivors include his wife of 14 years, the former Judith Hojnacki of Buffalo and Rancho Mirage; two children from his first marriage, Janet and Daniel Lipsey, of San Rafael, California; and two grandsons.


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