CLEARWATER — One morning in 1997, Robert Kavanaugh woke up and discovered he could not see.
Macular degeneration, hidden until that morning, would all but finish the job within a month. Three years later, his wife of 52 years fell ill and died.
The retired publishing executive felt cheated. But not for long.
He read headline-sized text on his computer with very thick glasses. He replaced miniature painting with another hobby, writing political essays with a special software.
Mr. Kavanaugh, a former vice president of the Baltimore Sun, died Friday, of a heart attack. He was 84.
Temple University emeritus journalism professor Fred Farrar, a former colleague, recalled the way peers at an annual meeting of publishing chief executives regarded Mr. Kavanaugh.
"They really respected him," said Farrar, 91. "There were 1,400 people in the group, and 40 of them ran it. He was one of the 40."
Mr. Kavanaugh spent 33 years at the Sun, rising to the same vice president's position his father once held.
He served in the Navy during World War II, participating in the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
On leave, he met Rose Marie Goodhues in a department store. She was as glib as he was reserved.
"My father was not crazy about social affairs," said daughter Catherine Jones, "but she smoothed the way out."
They married in 1948. The next year he joined the A. S. Abell Co., which owned the Sun. Within about 15 years, he had moved from classified advertising to vice president. Mr. Kavanaugh nourished an artistic streak in the 1950s, producing and hosting one of the country's first travel television shows, Going Places, which eventually aired throughout the U.S. and beyond.
He also produced the 1977 documentary, First Edition, a behind-the-scenes look at the Sun. The film was an Academy Award finalist for short documentaries.
Mr. Kavanaugh announced his retirement in a letter to staff. "To avoid being maudlin and spoiling my reputation as a tough guy," he wrote in 1982, "I am taking the easy way out instead of thanking each of you personally for all of your help over the years."
The Kavanaughs moved to Clearwater in 1992. He painted miniature landscapes that still hang on his walls. The loss of most of his sight and then his wife was hard to take, his family said. But soon he was back at work, writing essays in inch-tall type on his computer. A 2004 essay fills an inside pocket of a thick scrapbook filled with other tokens of his accomplishments, along with a thank-you note from Vice President Dick Cheney, "for your thoughtful paper" on Arab-American relations.
"He had a lot of hard knocks in his life," said Jones, 59, "and he rebounded every time."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.