Arthur Ochs Sulzberger piloted the paper through 34 years of economic, social and professional challenges and a political challenge of wills against the Nixon White House in publication of the Pentagon Papers, the damning official history of the Vietnam War.
Yet the man I knew slightly at the helm of so many stormy times was basically a simple, thoughtful person. We met first when my Nieman Fellowship class from Harvard was invited to the executive floor. “Punch,” as everyone called him, met the group of young men and women at the elevator.
I introduced myself, noting that we both had the same title at family newspapers, “but your newspaper is so much taller.” He smiled warmly and seemed to remember me some time later at a meeting in Chattanooga where his sister, Ruth, was publisher of The Chattanooga Times. At the random seating in a restaurant that evening, I wound up at a table without a partner. Punch left his more accomplished tablemates to come and sit with me.
Subsequently, he was always a friendly presence at meetings who complimented my rare appearances on his paper’s op-ed page. Punch Sulzberger was a great publisher who was stamped with the quality of a gentleman who found it easy to suppress his own ego to make another person comfortable.
His son, Arthur Jr., is cut from the same cloth. We happened to see him one night at an Italian restaurant on the Lower West Side of Manhattan where he was dining — not with the social glitterati of the city, but a bunch of fellows from the paper. Like his father, he left his company to come and speak to Josephine and me. Arthur also made the long flight down to Anniston to give the Ayers Lecture at Jacksonville State University in honor of my parents, both former publishers of The Star.
News of Punch’s death brings a stab of loss, but the reassurance that a great institution is in the hands of a man who has his father’s gifts of grace and character.