Thursday, June 20, 2013

Big Al | In death, he really did have it his way

The plan wasn't nearly as over-the-top as "Operation Serenade," the code name President Ronald Reagan's advance men used when they orchestrated his seven-day state funeral in 2004.

Still, Al Neuharth left nothing to chance for his own sendoff last month. Well before he died at 89 on April 19, following a fall at his seaside estate in Cocoa Beach, Fla., the retired Gannett chairman and CEO drafted the blueprint for his last hurrah, according to public documents released today.

First and foremost, there was to be no traditional funeral. "Instead," he directed in his Last Will and Testament, "I request three memorial celebrations of my life."

One was to be in Brevard County, Fla., preferably at Florida Today facilities. A second, at the headquarters of the Freedom Forum foundation and Newseum he launched in Washington. And the third at the University of South Dakota south of tiny Eureka, and the family plot where he asked to be buried under a headstone adorned with the logos of USA Today and other media companies he founded.

"Invitations, the program and all other aspects of the celebration shall be carried out as I have previously discussed in person and in writing," Neuharth said -- duties handed to associates including his long-time consigliere Charles "Peanut" Overby.

'I used to be Al Neuharth'
That program ultimately included a seven-minute video starring Neuharth himself. (Dressed in two of his signature colors, gray and orange, and pointing at the camera, he says: "Hi. In case you've already forgotten, I used to be Al Neuharth.")

And true to his gold-plated philosophy that "first class costs only a few dollars more," Neuharth said the sky was the limit in how much those three celebrations could cost.

Those wishes are perhaps the most interesting details -- save one other -- in the 12-page will, a copy of which I obtained this morning from the Brevard County clerk under Florida's open-records law. The document is a testament to a life and career that made him one of the last modern-day media moguls -- and a man with an obsessive attention to detail.

Signed Dec. 30, 2009, the will doesn't reveal dollar amounts of any specific bequests from an estate almost surely valued in the multimillions of dollars, amassed during his 26 years as a jet-setting GCI executive, ending with his retirement in 1989.

Instead, all his assets were folded into the Allen H. Neuharth Revocable Living Trust when he signed his will. He named his daughter Jan Neuharth and his long-time friend Malcolm Kirschembaum, a Cocoa Beach attorney, as personal representatives to handle his estate.

Echoes of Sinatra
The service at Freedom Forum was held May 15 before 500 friends, family members and other guests. Musical accompaniment, also presumably at his request, included the Frank Sinatra classic My Way. That song selection was hardly surprising: He and his buddies were Gannett's version of the rat pack, with Neuharth dressed in sharkskin suits in the Sinatra role.

His signature on the will.
During his heyday as GCI's chief executive, USA Today reported in his obituary, Neuharth "maintained sprawling suites at the Waldorf Towers in New York City and the Capital Hilton in Washington, and he traveled on a corporate jet with its own shower."

A Newseum report called the May 15 event "a unique send-off that ranked with the memorial services of Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford II and Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist Art Buchwald, two celebrations that Neuharth admired and cited as 'full of felicity.'" (Indeed, Buchwald announced his own death in a New York Times video.)

Burial followed three days later at South Dakota's Eureka Cemetery, alongside his parents, brother and sister-in-law. (In fact, the will indicates he was cremated.)

In all, his final passage at the top was a long, long way from his very modest childhood. Born March 22, 1924, Neuharth grew up in a German-speaking household in rural Eureka and Alpena. When Neuharth was only 2, his father died, leaving his mother Christina to raise him and his older brother Walter by washing dishes and taking in laundry. Her story would reverberate across GCI decades later in Neuharth's management style.

A missing name
The one other interesting detail I noticed in the will forms a sad coda to his life. In identifying his family members, he lists his third wife, Rachel Fornes, and their six adopted children; two grandchildren; and his first wife, Loretta Neuharth, and their two adult children: Jan and Dan.

But conspicuously absent is any reference to Rosamunda Neuharth-Ozgo, almost certainly ending her long quest for Neuharth to publicly recognize her as his daughter from a year-long affair she says he had in the early 1960s.

In that matter, Neuharth seems to have had his way, too.

Related: from Princess Diana to Michael Jackson, other wills of the rich and famous.


  1. Rosa, should contest the will as every child counts, period!!!! It is her right.

  2. Of course the average height of Al's rat pack was 5'6"

  3. Jim, how about an interview with the guy at the crematorium that got to "flip the switch"?

    We'd all like to know how it feels to be so lucky!

    1. Ya lost me there - must be an inside story.

    2. 9:49 From USA Today's Neuharth obituary:

      Asked if USA Today should be considered a good newspaper, Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post, said, "If it is, I'm in the wrong business."

      To which Neuharth responded: "Bradlee and I finally agree on something. He is in the wrong business."

    3. Ba Da BING! Funny!
      Aside from that, as a journalist, I have great respect for Bradlee.
      But not the little guy.
      At all.

  4. Once more, a big hat tip to the state of Florida. Getting copies of public documents such as wills and business records is easier and faster than any state I've done business with. Plus, many if not most of its documents are available online for immediate delivery. I wish every state had such strong sunshine laws.

  5. Wow, this is just so timely and interesting. Not. This is old news. As AHN would always ask someone that earned a prestigious award, "What are you going to do tomorrow?"

    Well, for Jim it is tomorrow and I for one would like some inside news on what is going on in this company, not old news. What about the buyouts at GPS? That is today's news, not a dead guy that has been buried (or ashed) for weeks now.

    By the way, you mocked Al's height. How tall are you without lifts?

  6. Where are the Blink and Pointroll logos?

    1. On the other side of the gravestone with the logos for Moms Like Me and Metromix.

    2. Ba Da Bing II, Jim!

  7. Love the Bradlee quote.
    Thanks Jim.

  8. Richard MIchem6/21/2013 2:07 PM

    I wonder if that million he spent helping Jan, got erased in his will? The one daughter, he forced to go in with him to buy his child growing up home, that debt (he took out a loan, want to show her about debt)will go away. In so far as Ben,vs Al is concern, I'll not going to repeat here, conversations I had with Bradlee(long before you came on the scene Jim), about their rivalry. Let just say that if Al had his way when he tried to BUY WP, their would not have been a USAT.

  9. I used to be Al Neuharth.
    Now, I'm like many of my products - fertilizer.

  10. Never a rock star, he certainly had an inflated concept of his own self-worth. Outside the rapidly shrinking newspaper industry, few people have any idea who the hell he was. If his monument is still standing in 50 years, people will be asking, "What's a USA Today?"

  11. USA Today should have been buried with Al. The paper is clinging to life off of the reputation built by people who actually knew a thing or two about journalism. It just needs to be put out of its misery now rather than going through round after round of layoffs and furloughs. Cutbacks can only work for so long at a national publication. USAT either needs to die, be sold to a company that values journalism or turned into the ultimate idiotic publication/website that is run by and caters to complete morons.

    1. Maybe Bradlee will buy it, but certainly not for the $1B Murdoch allegedly once offered. Maybe $75M-100M?

    2. I'll offer ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

    3. It is already run by and caters to morons. Has been for several years now.

    4. Then you can identify with the target market, 2:05. Does the paper serve you well?

    5. Oh, please, 6:10. Spoken like one of the morons running the place or one of their favored ones (you're so transparent). And I used to work there, so I know the morons well, which is the main reason I left (no, I wasn't laid off or fired).
      I stopped reading the rag several years ago.
      Today, I won't even bother picking it up for free at a hotel. I'd rather pay for the WSJ or NYT.
      Sounds like you're a fan, though, so I guess that makes *you* the target market. Good luck with that.

    6. If you're paying for a paper rather than getting the paper YOU ALREADY PAID FOR at a hotel, you must be a moron.

      You didn't answer the question. How is the paper serving you, member of the target market?

  12. Big Al, larger than life, ...

  13. Richard Michem6/22/2013 7:20 AM

    Let see Jim< everything I wrote that you killed last post can be VERIFIED, threw so source> According to court's records Al did have Money putting into Jan's farm. In his column, he talk about how with one daughter, he bought his family house with her together, the trips they made together, and if kyou fine Deb Regan, Bradlee old secretary, she will Verified, of a phone call I had with Ben. Just remember Jim, I am the ONLY person, that post to this board, that is totally OBJECTION to ALL parties involved, What you have been told about me, (how I know that just look up the Ohio Shield Law), is not necessary true.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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