ROBERT J. DANZIG, FORMER HEAD OF HEARST NEWSPAPERS, HEARST SENIOR EXECUTIVE AND BOARD MEMBER, DEAD AT 85
NEW YORK, Aug. 9, 2018 – Robert J. Danzig, former head of Hearst Newspapers, senior Hearst executive and member of the Company’s Board of Directors from 1977 to 1997, died on August 8 on Cape Cod, Massachusetts after a long illness. He was 85.
“Bob Danzig played a pivotal role in the dramatic growth of Hearst’s newspaper operations in a career that spanned more than 50 years with the Company,” Hearst President and CEO Steven R. Swartz said. “He was the rarest of executive talent, with equal measures of pragmatism and warmth, and his leadership lessons are part of Hearst’s DNA.”
“Bob’s contributions to Hearst went beyond the newspaper division,” said Frank A. Bennack, Jr., executive vice chairman and former CEO of Hearst. “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.”
Danzig began his Hearst career at the Times Union in Albany, New York as a teenage office boy in 1950. He ascended through the ranks to become publisher of the Times Union and Knickerbocker News 19 years later. In 1977, he was chosen to lead Hearst’s 6,000-employee newspaper division as general manager.
Under Danzig, the division grew to become the seventh largest newspaper company in the United States, with daily circulation exceeding 1.3 million and Sunday circulation exceeding 2.5 million. In his 20-year tenure at the helm, Hearst acquired the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and several community newspapers. Before his retirement in 1998, Danzig was also vice president of the parent corporation and a member of its Board of Directors. He continued to consult for the company after he retired.
Throughout his life, and especially in his later second career as an author and motivational business speaker—he was named to the Speaker’s Hall of Fame in 2007—Danzig was candid about his early chances for success in life; by his account, they appeared slim. He became a foster child at just two years old when his parents divorced and abandoned him in Albany during the Depression. He lived in numerous foster homes for the next 14 years.
Danzig credited three kind words from a social worker named Mae Morse with buoying him for a lifetime: “You are worthwhile,” she told a 12-year-old Danzig, as he wrote later, and “opened [his] life to possibility.”
As did the office manager at the Times Union. Graduating from high school with no family and no money, Danzig heard the newspaper was interviewing for an office boy. On a friend’s advice, he wore a hat to the interview but didn’t know he was supposed to take it off inside. When the office manager admonished him, he whisked off the hat and explained he’d never had a hat before and did not know what to do with it. Danzig later said he was convinced he got the job because he did not know enough to take off his hat.
After service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Danzig returned to Albany and the Times Union, this time as a young ad salesman with a wife and growing family. He went to Albany’s Siena College at night where he contributed to the school’s literary journal and earned his degree with honors in 1962. He later received the school’s Outstanding Alumni Award; in 1997, the college awarded him an honorary doctorate.
In 1998, using his own life experience, Danzig authored The Leader Within You, a business best seller. He also wrote inspirational books, including Angel Threads in 1999 and Vitamins for the Spirit in 2000.
However, it was the subject of foster children that perhaps most inspired Danzig to write. Danzig published two books in 2003, Every Child Deserves a Champion and There Is Only One You, which encouraged foster parents and social workers to improve the lives of foster children, and children, themselves, to take heart knowing that they, too, were worthwhile. Danzig donated all proceeds from these books to the Child Welfare League of America, a national charity serving neglected children.
As he wrote in a personal reflection, “It is my experience that foster care children often drift through life because there is no force to offer encouragement or guidance with grades, special interests, homework, and so on. Many… have all of their intellectual and emotional energy focused on not being pushed away from yet another foster family, leaving little energy to tap into and develop the potential of their lives.”
He also wrote Conversations with Bobby: From Foster Child to Corporate Executive in 2007 and Shakespeare Lives on Cape Cod (and Everywhere Else!) in 2009. Most recently, Danzig wrote and published his memoir, The Diamond in the Coal Bucket, An Inspiring Journey from Foster Child to CEO.
During his career at Hearst, Danzig belonged to the Newspaper Association of America, the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, New Directions for News and the American Press Institute. He was known for his innovative marketing leadership. He was also the only business executive ever to be accepted into Stanford University’s prestigious journalism fellowship program, and later served on its board. He was a faculty member at the New School University in New York and a force behind the Hearst’s Management Institute.
About his life in newspapers, he said, “The newspaper industry was never about letters and words, it was about connections and spirit. I was eyewitness to a period of massive newspaper change without chaos. The newspaper always represented community character and our role was to be the guardian of that character.”
Danzig’s active civic life included positions on the boards of directors of Albany Medical College, Siena College, Russell Sage College, St. Peter’s Hospital, Sunnyview Hospital, the Albany Institute of History and Art and Caldwell College. He also served on the executive committee of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and the Advisory Panel of the Quantum Technology Resource Group, and was recognized as a Knight of Malta.
As he said, “I was privileged to touch many spirits with the sense of an angel. I have never been without that thought.”
He and his wife were residents of Hyannis, Massachusetts and Deerfield Beach, Florida.
He is survived by his wife, Dianne, 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 Hartfelder; Madeleine Rae and RJ Plunkett; Declan, Brogan and Moira Danzig; and Luke and MacKenzie Danzig. Danzig is also survived by his wife’s daughters Lori, Cheryl and Colleen and their children and grandchildren.
There will be celebrations of his life in Hyannis, Massachusetts; Deerfield Beach, Florida; Albany, New York and New York City. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Child Welfare League of America, www.cwla.org.