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  1. Opinion

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.

In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or later, most newspapers got sold after their owners died, and that the typical buyer was a corporate chain based somewhere else. Every city deserves a newspaper that loves it best, Mr. Poynter would say.

And so, he created a school that could inherit the Times and create programs and courses to improve journalism, which he regarded as "a sacred trust" that is essential to democracy.

Across the landscape, the changes since Mr. Poynter died are staggering. His newspaper, then the St. Petersburg Times, has grown into a new name. So has the school, which he was too modest to name for himself. Although based in St. Petersburg, the Poynter Institute now reaches 100,000 people a year, in person and electronically.

But for all that has changed, the Times remains independent and local, which makes this newspaper part of an increasingly rare breed. Our readers may sometimes take issue with our judgment, but the Times' commitment to the people of the Tampa Bay region is beyond doubt.

On the morning of his last day, Mr. Poynter took part in the ceremony to break ground for a new library, named in his honor, at the University of South Florida's campus in St. Petersburg. That afternoon, he collapsed in his office from a stroke and died that evening. He was 74.

The region he left behind is blossoming. Legions of new residents have discovered what the far-sighted Mr. Poynter, a native of Indiana, recognized long ago. What he called the "Suncoast" is a wonderful place to live — and can be ever better if we keep working at it. He wanted the Times to be an essential participant in those improvements. So do his successors.

Today, especially, the men and women of the Tampa Bay Times and Poynter Institute honor the memory of Nelson Poynter and give thanks for his singular vision. We invite our neighbors throughout the Tampa Bay region to join us in those sentiments.

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