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Miami newspaper giant Alvah Chapman dies

MIAMI — Alvah H. Chapman Jr., a third-generation newspaperman and former Miami Herald president/chief executive whose career included a stint at the St. Petersburg Times, died Thursday (Dec. 25, 2998) at age 87.

Mr. Chapman was one of South Florida's most influential corporate and civic leaders. His business acumen and quiet passion helped mold not just the Herald, but also modern Miami.

Georgia-born and Citadel-educated, Mr. Chapman brought his family to Miami in 1960. He evolved into a devoted and energetic champion of his adopted hometown and became the unifying force behind scores of civic endeavors — from housing the homeless and sculpting downtown Miami's contemporary appearance to leading We Will Rebuild after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Before arriving in Miami, Mr. Chapman was the general manager and vice president of the Times, a position he attained in 1953.

"Alvah Chapman engaged his personal rectitude as the guidance system for his leadership in journalism," said Eugene C. Patterson, the Times' former chief executive whose career at the paper never intersected with Mr. Chapman's but who was his contemporary in the world of Florida newspapers and on the battlefields of World War II. "From wartime bomber pilot to big-time publisher, he shot straight."

Mr. Chapman spent a traditional family Christmas Eve at his Coconut Grove home, reading the Bible with his wife, Betty, their two daughters and several grandchildren. He died of pneumonia on Christmas Day.

He had Parkinson's disease, suffered strokes in recent years and broke a hip in March.

Long before his death, Mr. Chapman had become a civic legend. Taciturn and courtly in public, Mr. Chapman viewed this brand of leadership as a responsibility — and as smart business.

"You can't publish a successful newspaper in a community that's dying on the vine," he once said. "If you want a successful company that's involved in the community, and a newspaper certainly is that, then you have to contribute to that community's success, too."

In South Florida, Mr. Chapman was the person whom presidents and paupers turned to when something needed to be done.

Modesto "Mitch" Maidique, president of Florida International University, cited a doctoral thesis on power and reputation in South Florida that found "no matter which way you cut it, Alvah was the most powerful and respected man in Miami." In 2001, the university named its graduate business school for him.

Guided by deeply held religious beliefs and a code of moral rectitude rooted in his Citadel education, he seldom turned aside challenges to improve Miami. In response, his summons to others seldom went unanswered.

Son-in-law Bob Hilton of St. Petersburg said that when "Alvah recruited you for something, your choice was 'yes' or 'yes.' "

Mr. Chapman's influence was certified after Hurricane Andrew, when President George H.W. Bush urged Mr. Chapman to assemble a citizens task force that would help direct the recovery.

Already retired — although engrossed in crusades against drugs, crime and homelessness — Mr. Chapman agreed.

Still, there were limits to even his influence.

After retiring as Knight Ridder's chairman in 1989, he remained on the board of directors and objected when chairman P. Anthony Ridder announced that he was moving the headquarters from Miami to San Jose, Calif.

"Miami has been a great corporate home for Knight Ridder for more than 30 years," Mr. Chapman said at the time.

Mr. Chapman came to Miami as company patriarch James L. Knight's executive assistant, quickly moving up the ranks to become the Herald's general manager and president. From 1976 to 1989, he was CEO and chairman of Knight Ridder, its now-defunct corporate parent.

Yet even as he ran the media giant ranked second only to the Gannett Co. in daily circulation, Mr. Chapman seemed to crave a leadership role in the development of his new community.

It was a talent he had demonstrated from youth, when this son and grandson of newspapermen chose to attend the Citadel, the South Carolina military college known for a rigid code of Southern honor.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters Dale Webb and Chris Hilton, sister Wyline Sayler of St. Petersburg, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 2:30 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables. The family suggests contributions in his memory to Community Partnership for Homeless.

Miami newspaper giant Alvah Chapman dies 12/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 2:32pm]
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