Otis Chandler *

OtisThe last family publisher of the Los Angeles Times died this morning at home in Ojai at age 78. Otis Chandler had suffered from a degenerative condition known as Lewy body disease that was diagnosed seven months ago, but he had endured a form of dementia for at least a year before then, according to the Times. The paper posted a web obit at 5:40 am, about an hour after his death, so clearly knew it was coming. Tom Johnson, who succeeded Chandler as publisher, announced his death. Services are set for March 6 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

Chandler took over as Times publisher in 1960, following his father Norman, grandfather Harry and great-grandfather Harrison Gray Otis. Just 32, Otis Chandler inherited one of the worst and most partisan Republican papers in the country and decided to give it a national reputation. "No publisher in America improved a paper so quickly on so grand a scale, took a paper that was marginal in qualities and brought it to excellence as Otis Chandler did," David Halberstam wrote in The Powers That Be. Chandler and his family also were major forces in the ruling elite of Los Angeles in his day, big-time developers of real estate and other businesses and wielders of substantial power. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown is named for his mother; Chandler Boulevard in the Valley is named after his family.

Otis gave up the title of publisher in 1980 and six years later stepped down as top executive of Times Mirror, the family business. Chandler was a surfer, big game hunter and collector of automobiles, pursuits that took up more and more of his time until he fell ill. His Vintage Museum of Transportation and Wildlife in Oxnard holds his trophies.

Within the newsroom, Chandler was known by the current generation mostly for his public rebuke of the journalistic and ethical lapses of then-Times Mirror head Mark Willes and publisher Kathryn Downing. When rival family members privately invited Tribune Company to buy the company in 2000, he was left out of the loop. Chandler later endorsed the sale. Obituary editor Jon Thurber disclosed the death in an internal email this morning, followed by a message from Editor Dean Baquet: "As Jon announced, Otis Chandler died early this morning. Last week I told his wife Bettina that he would go down as one of the finest newspapermen of all time. Through tremendous energy and determination he took the Times to the small top tier of American newspapers. I also told her he meant a great deal personally to the newsroom, and that his absence would be greatly felt."

(Mistake in the LAT obit: the Olympics that Chandler missed due to injury could not have been Helsinki in 1948. Those games were in 1952; London was 1948.)

* New obituary: The full-length obit, co-bylined with the late David Shaw and Mitchell Landsberg, posted at 11:58 and includes a correction on the Olympic fact. It was the 1952 games.

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Edited throughout

Photo: Committtee to Protect Journalists

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