Kay Fanning died Thursday night at 73. She was an exceptional
woman and an exceptional Alaskan. Her passing has special meaning for the
Anchorage Daily News as she was owner, editor and publisher of the paper in
years past, but she was also a friend, neighbor and colleague of hundreds of
Alaskans, especially here in Anchorage.
Kay Fanning came to Alaska in 1965, a
middle-aged woman who drove the Alaska Highway in a station wagon with her kids.
Like thousands of other immigrants, she wanted to change her life dramatically,
although few immigrants have left behind a life that, at least on the face of
it, seemed so enviable.
Kay was born into a comfortable version of the
American dream. Her father was a small-town Illinois banker of affluence, if not
riches, who sent his only daughter to private school and then on to elite Smith
College. At Smith, Kay pursued an interest in literature and writing with an eye
on a magazine career, but, school finished, she accepted her family's advice and
returned to Illinois.
In Chicago, she met Marshall Field IV, heir to
the Field publishing and business empire.
They soon married, and she settled in to the
life of a society matron.
Kay learned a great deal about journalism from
Marshall Field. But as she freely admitted in interviews, she found the kind of
life she led stuffy and the marriage eventually ended in divorce. Alaska now
beckoned as a fresh start.
''I wanted adventure, the outdoors, the sheer
beauty of the place,'' Kay remembered. ''I liked the general feeling of energy,
the feeling that it was the frontier, the sense that it didn't make any
difference that you came from a family with a big name. What mattered is that
you had something to offer.''
Once at home in Anchorage, Kay took a job as
the librarian at the Anchorage Daily News. She was paid $2 an hour. Her salary
and surroundings were light years away from the world in which a columnist
called her ''the Grace Kelly of Chicago.''
In the fall of 1966, Kay married veteran
Chicago newspaperman Larry Fanning, an editor for Marshall Field. In a moment
that changed Alaska journalism, she convinced her husband that they should buy
the Anchorage Daily News.
The history of Kay's newspaper career is well
known to longtime Alaskans. It's a tale of how he she and Larry hired energetic
young reporters and hit the street with enterprising journalism. Of how they
both had to play multiple roles at the paper to keep it alive. Of how Larry
Fanning died suddenly in 1971 and left the Daily News to Kay. Of how the paper
continued to lose money despite its improved quality. Of the joint operating
agreement with The Anchorage Times that kept the News alive but ended in a
lawsuit that terminated the agreement.
And of how Kay Fanning and her reporters won
the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for their reporting on the Alaska Teamsters' Union.
Yet even the most prestigious award in American
journalism did not stop the flow of red ink. In January, 1979, Kay Fanning sold
the Anchorage Daily News to McClatchy Newspapers of Sacramento, Calif.
Kay stayed on as publisher until May of 1983,
when she became publisher of the Christian Science Monitor. During her years as
Daily News publisher under McClatchy, both she and the paper thrived in a period
of unprecedented growth.
During the later years of her journalism
career, Kay not only edited the Monitor, but served on numerous national boards
and received many honors for her commitment to good newspapering. But she always
retained her ties to Alaska and was writing a history of the early Daily News
when she died.
Kay led a life of repeated and at times
dramatic change. But some things never changed. Her sense of fairness. Her
commitment to hard work, however important or humble. The grace with which she
carried herself. Her insistence that people who approached her newspapers should
be treated with respect. And her conviction that newspapers have a mission of
public service that must never be compromised.
Kay had many questions for life. Some of them
were answered by her Christian Science faith. She also had questions for herself
as a professional journalist.
''I think it is important to assess our own
motivation often along the way. Am I in this purely for self-gratification? Do I
simply want to enhance my own ambitions? Or is there a larger purpose?''
Kay Fanning found a larger purpose in this
community -- and the many friends she leaves here will tell you Anchorage was
blessed that she did.
Source: Anchorage Daily News, 21 October 2000