By: E&P Staff
Bill Block, as he was known to all, died yesterday at the age of 89. His old paper in Pittsburgh, which he co-published for 47 years, recalls him not as a Citizen Kane type figure but rather for his “humility, grace and good heart.” But, to the end, “he was a newspaperman.”
The editorial in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Newspaper publishers have always been figures of power and prestige, and history offers many examples of those who were in the Citizen Kane mold, using their influence crassly to promote mean and selfish causes. But not always. Sometimes the position falls to someone of humility, grace and good heart, as was proved all his days by William Block Sr., who died yesterday at the age of 89.
Bill Block, as he was affectionately known to all inside the paper and out, was co-publisher of the Post-Gazette from 1942 to 1989 and chairman of Blade Communications until he stepped down in 2001. Even in retirement, he remained one of the defining characters of this newspaper, a Citizen Pittsburgh who was a symbol of decency and fair play.
Bill Block did not have the brilliant business and scientific mind of his brother, Paul Block Jr., a renowned chemist who was the force behind The Toledo Blade for many years, but he had the common touch combined with an acute personal sense of social justice — and that was its own great gift. This empathy for his fellow man lent his convictions their thoughtful humanity and made him a talented writer with a wry sense of humor on those relatively few occasions when he appeared under his own byline.
A product of Yale and Hotchkiss and other private schools, and the son of a powerful publisher in the heyday of the newspaper business, Bill Block could have remained a product of his class, never thinking much of others not so favorably placed by the accident of birth. But that wasn’t Bill Block.
From the earliest times when he was in the Army, he showed solidarity with those who were looked down upon. For daring to stand up for the right to have lunch with three African-American officers, he got himself transferred out of his unit.
He never wavered in his support of people who he did not think were getting a fair deal. He carried this ideal to Pittsburgh when he came here after the Second World War to take up his duties at the Post-Gazette. Among the paper’s staff and its retirees, many people can remember anecdotes concerning his personal kindness.
In a union environment not always favorably inclined to bosses, Bill Block always got a special pass from any ill feeling directed toward management. He was known as someone of pure motive and good intentions, someone who could be trusted. This made a real difference when it came time to buy out The Pittsburgh Press after the bitter strike of 1992. The unions were happy to see the new flowering of the surviving Post-Gazette under Bill Block. They knew whom they were dealing with.
Bill Block was in the typical mode of newspaper publishers in one respect: He was a fervent patron of the arts, first as a founder and president of the Gateway to the Arts program and in later years as a collector of contemporary glass pieces and a supporter of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Last month, in a fitting and timely gesture, Pittsburgh City Council declared a Bill Block Sr. Day and he was honored at the Andy Warhol Museum.
But to the last he was a newspaperman — to use the honorable old-fashioned name that best fits him — who saw this occupation less as a business than as a sacred calling. That will be his lasting epitaph. Let the city and region join in our mourning and extend its sympathies to his wife Maxine and their children and the extended family. An uncommonly good man has died.