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Robert C. Maynard

Robert C. Maynard
Oakland Tribune
1937-1993

Robert C. Maynard epitomizes the American dream.

The son of immigrants from Barbados and a high-school dropout at 16, he rose to national and state prominence in the field to which he devoted his life.

After his death on Aug. 17, 1993, he was eulogized at memorial services on both coasts. The first was in Oakland, where he had struggled to ensure that it didn’t become the largest city in the nation without a newspaper. The second was in Washington, D.C., where he rose to national stature as a writer for the Washington Post and where he fought for journalistic integrity as that newspaper’s ombudsman.

His journalism career began in 1961 at a daily newspaper in York, Penn. — the York Gazette and Daily. Before getting the job, he had sent out more than 300 applications to papers around the country.

In 1965, he received the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. (In 1992, Maynard’s daughter, Dori J. Maynard, became the first woman in history to follow her father to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow).

After Harvard, he covered civil rights and urban unrest as a national correspondent for the Washington Post.

Ben Bradlee, former editor of The Post, described Maynard as “argumentative, mean, skeptical.”

Al Neuharth, chairman of the Freedom Forum and former chief executive officer of Gannett, said that was typical of Maynard. “He won many of life’s games by imitation and flattery. Bob must be smiling now to know Ben didn’t realize then that Bob was simply imitating Ben. It worked. Ben hired him, in a smart deal for them both.”

Earl Caldwell, author and former columnist for the New York Daily News, said that Maynard did it all at the Post. “There was nothing he couldn’t cover. He started on the streets working riots, and he wound up at the White House covering former President Lyndon Johnson. Maynard wasn’t finished. He showed a mind so sharp that he was made an editorial writer, which meant he was chosen to speak for the paper. Later, he was the readers’ advocate as the newspaper’s ombudsman.

Working for the Post was rewarding for Maynard personally was well as professionally. It was while he was in Washington that he met Nancy Hicks, a New York Times reporter. They were married for 18 years and partners in every sense of the word.

One example of that partnership is the Institute for Journalism Education. The institute, now headquartered in Oakland, was renamed the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education after his death.

The institute is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to training reporters, editors and managers of news organizations.

The first training workshop was in the summer of 1972 at Columbia University. Caldwell, who was co-director of the Summer Program for Minority Journalists in 1972 with Maynard, said his experiences at the Washington Post “positioned Maynard for the work that was to change the industry. He set out to train young journalists, those who had been locked out because they were not white.”

Maynard and Caldwell brought together working journalists from the nation’s leading news organizations to teach writing and reporting skills at the summer workshop. For two years the program was housed at Columbia University.

Graduate Milton Coleman, assistant managing editor of the Washington Post, said of Maynard, “He had a commitment to find ways to get stronger black, Asian-American and Latino representation into newsrooms and to give them the armor to survive. When you went through a Bob Maynard-run program, as I did at Columbia in 1974, you came out feeling that nothing was going to stop you.”

But the program almost died that year. Columbia and the Ford Foundation decided to end their support of the program. Suddenly Maynard had to find a new home for the program.

In 1976, the program found that home at the University of California, Berkeley and much-needed financial assistance from the Gannett Foundation. Since then, more that 500 graduates have gone on to become Pulitzer Prize winners, newspaper executives, newsroom editors, editorial writers, columnists and reporters.

But in a few years, Maynard had to turn over the reins of the institute to his wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, because he had found a new challenge. In 1979, he became editor of The Oakland Tribune.

Leroy Aarons, former executive editor of the Tribune and a former Washington Post writer, recalled that one day Maynard and he were looking at the view of San Francisco and Oakland from the Berkeley hills.

“‘God, Aarons, what we could do if we ever got hold of that paper,’ he daydreamed aloud as we looked over the Bay Area together. He became editor of The Tribune in 1979, and he ‘got hold of it’ in 1983.”

Gannett, then owner of the Tribune, was buying a television station in the area, and under Federal Communications Commission rules the company had to sell the newspaper.

Author Ellis Cose recalled that Maynard startled a Gannett executive by announcing that he wanted to buy the Tribune himself. “Well, that’s going to be mighty difficult for you to do,” the executive replied.

“Give me a chance to try,” Maynard shot back.

“Maynard purchased the paper for $22 million without putting down a dime of his own,” reported Cose. “The press, in telling the story, focused primarily on the new owner’s race. Maynard himself preferred to accentuate the fact that he had orchestrated the first management-leveraged buyout of an American newspaper — an important accomplishment irrespective of the color of his skin

“A gifted editor who loved to work with copy, Maynard made improving the paper a mission; he also took pride in hiring what he often claimed was the most ethnically diverse staff on any major paper,” Cose wrote.

A newspaper, Maynard wrote in his first Letter from the Editor column in 1979, should be “an instrument of community understanding.”

Eric Newton, managing editor of The Tribune under Maynard, said, “Maynard’s formula for community involvement was simple: Just do it. He taught at local high schools, attended community forums, organized relief for babies of cocaine-addicted mothers, victims of the Loma Prieta earthquake and the East Bay Hills firestorm and   helped establish youth forums in the city’s churches in the aftermath of Rodney King.

“His newspaper crusaded for improved schools, trauma care centers, economic development and better communication across cultural lines.”

In the 1980s, Maynard began a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column, and his views were widely broadcast through regular appearances on “This Week with David Brinkley” and “The MacNeil-Lehrer Report.”

He became a board member of the industry’s most prestigious organizations, including the Pulitzer Prize Committee and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He led the latter to adopt a goal of diversifying American newsrooms by the year 2000.

Many other honors came to Maynard over the years. The one of which he was most proud was the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award he received from Colby College in Maine. The national honor is named for the owner of an abolitionist newspaper in Alton, III., who was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837. As he presented the award in 1991, Colby president William R. Cotter said, “You have rallied employees in the face of uncertainty and citizens in the aftermath of disaster, fighting for the heart and soul of your adopted community the way Elijah Parish Lovejoy once did in his, with faith, nerve and a printing press.”

Maynard received an honorary degree in 1984 from York College in York, the Pennsylvania town where he began his journalism career.

Another highlight of his career was when The Oakland Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for its photography of the Loma Prieta earthquake damage.

But time was running out for Maynard. He had developed prostate cancer in 1988. It went into remission twice but returned a third time in 1992.

The man who had written, “The country’s greatest achievements came about because somebody believed in something, whether it was in a steam engine, an airplane or a space shuttle. Only when we lose hope in great possibilities are we really doomed. Reversals and tough times inspire some people to work harder for what they believe in” had finally reached the unbeatable adversary. Maynard died of cancer on Aug. 17, 1993.

Before he died, however, he insured The Tribune would continue by selling the paper to Dean Singleton and his MediaNews Group.

Singleton paid his tribute to Maynard’s achievements at the time of the sale. “Bob Maynard’s journalistic talent and dedication are of course well known. But he does not get the plaudits he deserves for business acumen. It is doubtful that The Oakland Tribune would be alive today if not for Bob’s keen ability to maneuver through economic minefields day after day, year after year.”