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Loss of a champion

 “Where’s your father?” Janis Weinberger often said to her son, Peter, about her husband, Martin Weinberger, during family ventures to Los Angeles. These trips invariably meant stopping (and not leaving until he was good and done) at every corner newsstand encountered, much to the required patience of his family.

“It used to drive my mother nuts,” recalled Peter Weinberger.

A newspaperman to his core, from writing school newspaper weather reports as a fifth-grader until his retirement as publisher and editor of the COURIER at age 79, Martin Jay Weinberger changed lives, impacted his community, made the world a better place and spent his entire life doing what he loved, and doing it with conviction, passion, truth and integrity, and with no small amount of baseball analogies and metaphors. And were we not celebrating Mr. Weinberger as a master journalist, we may have been lauding him as a professional baseball player extraordinaire.

“But I always knew, even as a little kid, that I would one day become the editor and publisher of my own paper,” he told a reporter in 2005.

At age 82, Mr. Weinberger died on July 5, 2011 at the Pilgrim Place Health center after a period of declining health.

Born to Henry and Ray Weinberger on February 5, 1929 in New York City, he moved to Los Angeles with his father who sought – and found – opportunity in the film industry. Following his weather beat at Third Street Elementary School in LA, he graduated from John Burroughs Junior High School and Los Angeles High School, indulging in his love of sports writing and editing at each. After attending the Los Angeles Trade Tech College, he graduated in 1950 from the University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Journalism where his athletic prowess earned him 3-year letterman status as a ballplayer.

“Martin was quite intellectual, but he was a heck of an athlete. He could crush the ball!” said longtime friend Charles Zetterberg, remembering fun-filled, multi-family ballgames in Memorial Park as a child.

Longtime friend Lee McDonald noted a warm-and-fuzzy Mr. Weinberger, remembering how much attention Mr. Weinberger paid to the ball-playing children: “I was always so impressed with how good he was with little kids, including them in the game and making it special for them.”

After UCLA, where ROTC participation earned him a lieutenant rank, several years in Germany with the US Army delayed the launch of his career but brought him the love of his life, Janis Weinberger, a civilian program manager and svelte entertainer of the overseas troops. They married in the US in 1953 and remained deeply enamored of each other year after year. “Hello, Mrs. Weinberger,” COURIER newsroom staff would overhear as their editor spoke lovingly over the phone to his sweet wife whose calm countenance often tempered Mr. Weinberger’s tendency to bellow.

“Now, Martin, settle down,” Peter recalled his mother urging more than once.

Landing his first journalist job with the Barstow Printer Review in 1953, it was shortly after that Mr. and Mrs. Weinberger began hunting for a newspaper to purchase. Their quest led them to the Claremont COURIER, which they purchased in 1955 from Stanley Larson.

Age 26, Mr. Weinberger settled in Claremont and embarked on his career-long mission to make and keep the COURIER a “real community newspaper,” he once said. Always keenly up-to-date on current events not only in Claremont but in the region, the state and the nation, he kept a finger on the pulse of issues and happenings in the world-at-large but never comprised his commitment to local reporting.

“Martin treated one thing with as much importance as another. If someone like Henry Kissinger came to town, he wouldn’t drop the story on a Claremont church meeting to pursue it,” said Pat Yarborough, 24-year COURIER staff writer.

In the beginning, wanting the COURIER to stand out, Mr. Weinberger upended the standard use of graphic design and photography in favor of using bigger photos and more photos as the first of numerous bold endeavors. His choices were not popular at first but grew to become a significant part of his legacy.  At first snapping most of the photos himself, he later regarded the hiring of a full-time photographer as a highlight in the paper’s history.

“Martin discovered that [photography] was a way to communicate the Claremontness of Claremont to Claremonters,” said Thomas Alleman, COURIER photographer in the late 80s and early 90s now freelancing for national magazines such as Time, People and Smithsonian. “Where one picture might suffice, he would use 3; if 12 pictures deserved to be printed, he would print them all.”

Technologically savvy for the 50s, Mr. Weinberger also dared to dive into “offset lithography,” a groundbreaking method that put the COURIER on the cutting-edge of newspaper production mechanics.  When technology and newspaper production progressed from mechanical to digital, however, Mr. Weinberger situated others at the techno-helm to follow and implement the advancements. He, personally, never sent an email and relied on staff to print those that came to him.

Into the COURIER’s pages went both Mr. Weinberger’s strong, liberal political views and fair and balanced reporting, each in their correct place, noted longtime friend and former journalist Connie Casler.

“He was a staunch liberal, yes, but he kept that where it should be, in [his column] My Side of the Line,” said Mr. Casler. “And then it was straight news, straight news without a bias…He gave voice to all sides of an issue very well and sought to see that the First Amendment was upheld every chance he could. He might get very upset with people who didn’t know how to spell or use grammar, but he became really outraged when anyone tried to violate the constitution.”

With his unwavering commitment to freedom of speech and his passion for open government, as well as his practices of fair and truthful editorship, Mr. Weinberger made the COURIER an open forum for community opinion, publishing a proliferation of letters to the editor, many of which significantly diverged from his own opinions, especially in regards to politics. But with great integrity and in the spirit of utmost truth-telling, noted his most intimate friends and associates, he never failed to respect and consider others’ opposing opinions – in the paper or in conversation – unrelentingly offering what longtime friend Kay Moore called “patience with society,” and what close friend Muriel Farritor simply called “the truth.” 

“He put the truth in the paper,” she said. “Whatever Marty wrote about the community and about politics and about anything, it was the truth.”

Mr. Zetterberg also weighed in on the subject.   

“Even when talking politics with people whose views he strongly disagreed with, he never attacked his opponent ad hominem,” he said. “I remember watching him converse on serious political issues, and it always seemed he was both moderating the debate and participating in the debate on the Left side. He was never a bitter politician.”

Never bitter, but almost always loudly vocal: “He lets you know where he was and where he thought you should be,” said longtime friend Chuck Farritor.  Yet, added Mr. Zetterberg, he always listened.

“It is not always the case of someone who is active, involved, verbal and energetic that that person is a good listener, but with Martin, who was most definitely this kind of person, you never had a conversation with him where he was just waiting for you to finish so he could talk,” he said.    

Mr. Weinberger’s quest for free speech in newspapers took him out of the COURIER office and into countless meetings of the California Newspaper Publishers Association with whom he tackled issues such as freedom of the press, open meeting laws and how newspapers work with government. For his leadership as president of CNPA from 1998-99, he is widely respected, and the association once honored him as “Executive of the Year.”

His passionate viewpoints also led him to the Speaker’s Corner podium at Claremont’s Independence Day celebration, where he animatedly edified listeners about political responsibility, social consciousness and a host of other subjects for almost 30 years. 

For Mr. Weinberger, there was nary a subject on which he could not speak with keen intellect, profound knowledge and, often, hearty doses of creative wording and humor (not to mention substantial decibels).

“He had a mind that was a thing to behold. Wisdom was just a part of him. He grasped everything,” said Mr. Farritor. “There’s no one, no one, that has as comprehensive a mind as Marty, and if they do, they keep it a secret.”

Considering his sharp mind, wide-ranging learnedness and his quirky personality, which was sometimes curmudgeonly, sometimes downright goofy, conversing with Mr. Weinberger was always quite an experience.

“Martin always had good stories. He was certainly never dull,” said former Claremont City Councilmember Claire McDonald.

A brilliant and outspoken man, Mr. Weinberger was also exceedingly kind and loving, and although these characteristics were not always apparent to those who received his criticisms or stood in the presence of his temper, they were nonetheless a rich and real part of him and meant the world to those in receipt.  Longtime friend Kay Moore recalled a time in the 60s when she was severely upset about an issue related to his campaign for state assembly (the only office for which he ever ran).

“He looked at me, silent at first, and then said softly, ‘So, what else is new?’” recalled Ms. Moore. “He was kindly and gently reminding me that these things happen, so you just have to deal with it. I just think he’s the most wonderful man that’s ever lived.”

Friends also affectionately recounted Mr. Weinberger’s warm and fuzzy side as related to his adored Cocker Spaniel, Rosie. The golden-brown pooch was almost always with him, at the COURIER office, all around town and snuggled by his side at home.

“Oh, he loved Rosie,” said Ms. Farritor. “She was anywhere that Marty went.”

When not embroiled in COURIER business, Mr. Weinberger enjoyed traveling around the US and abroad with his wife and close friends. Helen-Jeanne Munter, a longtime friend who once worked at the COURIER (as did her 3 children), described Mr. and Mrs. Weinberger as intrepid travelers and expressed appreciation for Mr. Weinberger’s richly researched  knowledge of the historical, cultural, political and economical background of the countries visited, which included Peru, Ecuador, Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, England and more.

Ms. Munter and her husband, Len Munter, also warmheartedly reflected on many occasions when Mr. Weinberger sought out his favorite places for a dose of what he loved most, whether 60 miles from home or thousands.  

“When he traveled, he was happiest when he could find a bookstore or a newspaper to go into and ask questions and learn how they do things,” said Ms. Munter. “He was one of the most inquisitive people I know, and that always made him so interesting to be around.”

Indeed, Martin Weinberger was an interesting, unforgettable man, a newspaper guru who lived his dream, and in doing so with honesty, passion, talent, high standards and humor, left an indelible imprint on the Claremont community.

Mr. Weinberger is survived by his wife, Janis Weinberger; his son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Betsy Weinberger; and his grandchildren, Matthew and Collette Weinberger.

A celebration of Mr. Weinberger’s life will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 16, 2011 at Padua Hills Theater in Claremont.

Memorial donations may be made to Friends of the Claremont Library, PO Box 1618, Claremont, CA 91711; friendsofclaremontlibrary@gmail.com; www.claremontlibrary.org.

 

-Brenda Bolinger

 

 

 

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