By: M.L. Stein
MARGARET LESHER, FORMER chairwoman of Lesher Communications Inc. in the San Francisco Bay area, was found drowned in an Arizona Lake where she and her husband were camping.
According to authorities, Lesher, the widow of Dean Lesher, founder of the Lesher group, was legally drunk when she died. The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as ruling out foul play “at this time.”
County medical examiner Phillip Keen said tests showed that the alcoholic content of Lesher’s blood was 0.10 ? the legal definition of drunken driving in Arizona ? when her body was found May 14.
Lesher, 65, had been camping with her husband of six months, Collin “T.C.” Thorstensen, 38, a rodeo rider and buffalo trainer. He reported that he awoke at 3:30 a.m. and found her and their boat missing. Several hours later, a television crew in a helicopter spotted her body in the crystal clear water of Bartlett Lake, a wilderness area 30 miles from Scottsdale.
She was wearing only underwear. Her other clothes were in the boat, which was found about two miles from the campsite.
Thorstensen told police he and his wife had been drinking alcohol before retiring for the night. The sheriff’s office said Thorstensen, the son of South Dakota ranchers, allowed them to search the couple’s Scottsdale home without a warrant.
The Lesher chain, which included the flagship newspaper the Contra Costa Times, and four other East Bay dailies, was sold to Knight-Ridder in 1995 for a reported $360 million.
Dean Lesher, a Harvard-trained lawyer, built his chain with a shrewd business sense and a true vision that Contra Costa County would become a major commuting area for San Francisco and Oakland. At one time, he owned several other dailies and weeklies in Northern California.
Lesher was among the most civic-minded publishers in the country, giving away thousands to charity and community projects. Currently, the Times said, the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation has $37 million in assets.
After Lesher’s death, Margaret Lesher continued his philanthropy, giving to such causes as the Battered Women’s Alternatives, Richmond Rescue Mission and the Contra Costa Food Bank. Much of her charity was anonymous, including her hosting of Christmas parties for underprivileged children.
“Our organization is stunned at the news,” said George Riggs, CEO of Contra Costa Newspapers and a longtime friend of the Leshers. “Margaret was someone we all knew and worked closely with over the years. She was an integral part of our extended newspaper family, and even after the sale of Lesher Communications . . . we’ve followed her changes in lifestyle. She seemed to have finally found happiness and we were happy for her.”
Knight-Ridder CEO Tony Ridder told the Times that it was difficult for Margaret to sell the Lesher group.
“It was a sad day for her when she turned over the newspapers to us. She loved the newspapers and the community,” he said.
At the time of the sale, Margaret Lesher said that of all the potential buyers for the chain, she trusted Knight-Ridder to carry on her husband’s commitment to high-quality community coverage and involvement.
Margaret Lesher was born to a poor family in Texas. She became a local beauty queen, dance instructor and flight attendant. She had ended her first marriage when she met Dean Lesher, 30 years her senior, while working as an arranger of meetings for a hotel chain.
A story in the Times said she was reluctant at first to marry him, not because of their age difference, but because of his prominence.
The story said she preferred to use the last name of Lesher when in Contra Costa County to keep her roots in the community.
Lesher also is survived by four daughters from her first marriage.
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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 24, 1997)