Former Scripps chief Jack R. Howard dead at 87

Tue, March 24, 1998 by Susan Porter

Jack R. Howard, a pioneer in the broadcast industry and heir to one of the great names in American newspapering, died Sunday, March 22, at 7:15 a.m. in his New York City home. He was 87. The cause of death was pulmonary failure.Howard’s journalism career spanned 48 years — from work as a summer copy aide in 1928 to retirement in 1976 as president and general editorial manager of The E.W. Scripps Company."Jack was determined to put his imprint on the company and he did it in the broadcasting area," said William R. Burleigh, president and chief executive officer of The E.W. Scripps Company. "What we see today in our broadcasting division is the Jack Howard legacy to Scripps Howard."Added Lawrence A. Leser, chairman of the board for The E.W. Scripps company, "His biggest attribute was creating Scripps Howard Broadcasting. He put us into radio and later television."Jack was the son of the legendary Roy W. Howard, who built United Press into a worldwide wire service and through his association with E.W. Scripps became the "Howard" in the Scripps Howard concern.Born Aug. 31, 1910 in his parents’ house on Upper Broadway in Manhattan, N.Y., he was named Jack because that had been his father’s nickname as a young man.JRH seemed destined to live a life in the public eye. His mother, Margaret Rohe Howard, had been a writer of verse, a reporter and an actress on Broadway and the London stage. His aunt, Alice Rohe, was an internationally distinguished reporter.He attended the Phillips Exeter Academy, where he served as business manager of The Exonian, the school newspaper, and coxswain for the crew team. In 1928, he joined United Press to cover the Olympics in Amsterdam, working his passage there by waiting on tables in the steerage class of the Liner SS Levithan.He then attended Yale University and worked for the Yale Daily News until he earned his degree in 1932. Upon graduation, Jack Howard began his newspaper career. He worked as a reporter and copy editor on the Japan Advertiser in Tokyo and the Shanghai Evening Post in China. He also worked as a reporter for UP in Manchuria.He returned to the United States and joined the Scripps Howard newspaper group as a copy editor on The Indianapolis Times. After a stint as a courthouse reporter, he moved to Washington, D.C., and The Washington Daily News, where he rose from police reporter to telegraph editor.Curiously, for an individual who was to have such influence on journalism, this mid-level slot was his highest position on the editorial side of newspapers.And it was here Howard’s career began to diverge from the prescribed path. "His one obsession," his father said of Jack, "is not to be Roy Howard, Jr." The elder Howard was uninterested, even hostile to, the burgeoning new field of radio. The young Howard, showing a certain stubbornness and independence, was fascinated.In 1935, Scripps Howard bought its first radio station, WCPO in Cincinnati; in 1936, Howard left Washington to go to work for the company’s second radio station, KNOX in Knoxville, Tenn. There, Howard set out to learn the radio business from the ground up.In 1937, Howard moved to New York to become president of the two-station operation that, under his aegis, would eventually grow into a division that now includes nine televisions. TV station KJRH in Tulsa carries Jack Howard’s initials.Although preoccupied with broadcast, Howard did one lasting favor for the company’s newspaper division in particular and journalism in general. In 1940, Roy Howard was determined to close a faltering Denver newspaper. Jack Howard intervened to reverse that decision and remade the paper as a tabloid. Today, the Rocky Mountain News is Greater Denver’s most-read newspaper and one of the largest dailies in the country."The tabloid-sized newspaper in Denver was a genius move," said Burleigh. "Jack Howard was the author of the tabloid Rocky Mountain News."Howard served in the Navy during World War II, spending much of his time in Australia. Later, as a lieutenant and intelligence officer aboard the destroyer USS Fletcher for eight months, he saw action in and around the Philippines, including the landings at Leyte and Lingayen Gulf. He was part of a task force that was instrumental in the capture of an island in the Tokyo Bay area, for which he received a naval citation. Later, he was transferred to the USS Oakland for what would have been the invasion of the Japanese mainland. In 1945, after the surrender, he took part in the occupation of Yokosuka Naval Base. Howard retired from the navy as a Lieutenant Commander and returned to civilian life in 1946.That year, Howard was elected executive vice president of The E.W. Scripps Company, the holding company for the newspaper, broadcast and syndication subsidiaries and UP. In 1953, Jack succeeded his father, Roy W., as president, a position he held until his retirement in 1976. He helped to found — and later served as president of — the Scripps Howard Foundation, which fosters excellence in journalism through scholarships and a nationally acclaimed journalism award program. For a time, he also served as a successor to The E.W. Scripps Trust.Even after his retirement, he remained a director and chairman of the executive committee of The E.W. Scripps Company and continued as president and later chairman of the board of Scripps Howard Broadcasting Company, which he had served as president since 1937 in its earliest days as Continental Broadcasting Company."He was very much highly regarded by the people who worked for him," said Charles E. Scripps, chairman of The E.W. Scripps Company Executive Committee. "I could almost say loved by the people who worked for him."He was active in numerous charities, including the Wildlife Preservation Trust International and the Population Institute of Washington, D.C.; however, his primary interest was supporting scholarship students at his Phillips Exeter alma mater, for which he’d served as alumni president and received the distinguished alumnus award in 1990.Howard also was active in his industry’s professional associations as a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a former board member of the American Newspaper Publishers Association and a former president of the Inter American Press Association.In 1934, Howard married Barbara Balfe of New York City. The couple had two children, Pamela Howard of New York and Michael Balfe Howard of Denver, Colo. Barbara Howard died in 1962. In 1964, Howard married Eleanor Sallee Harris, a free-lance magazine writer who died in October 1997.Howard had a lively interest in people and events. He prided himself on knowing his company intimately. In a typical gesture, he amiably waved aside a newly hired reporter’s attempt to introduce himself, addressing the reporter by name and saying in his distinct, high-pitched voice, "Of course, of course, I know who the hell you are."Much of his time after his retirement from active management of The E.W. Scripps Company was spent involved in local politics of Centre Island, N.Y. For more than a decade, Howard served as town trustee. His son Michael recalls, "He considered himself a ‘country-style person’ and established his legal residence on Centre Island on the north shore of Long Island."If he had an avocational passion, it would have been the outdoors in general and salmon fishing in particular. He was a founding member and partner of Le Club Watchichou on the north shore of Quebec, and had been an ardent Atlantic fly fisherman virtually all of his adult life.Howard’s other great interest was the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. He attended the club’s summer encampment every year from 1946 to 1992, until illness forced him to become an inactive member. Over the years, his campmates at Cave Man Camp included his father and his son, Lowell Thomas, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Richard M. Nixon.Jack Howard maintained throughout his life a loyalty and fondness for The E.W. Scripps Company and members of the Scripps family. Says Michael Howard, "In the very best sense, he was a company man to the very end."In addition to his two children, he leaves seven grandchildren and a sister, Jane Howard Perkins.A private funeral service was handled by the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel in Manhattan. The family asks that memorials be directed to the Scripps Howard Foundation, P.O. Box 640186, Cincinnati, OH 45264-0186, or Phillips Exeter Academy, 20 Main St., Exeter, N.H. 03833.