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Media Tycoon Gave Fortunes to Others

WALTER H. ANNENBERG: 1908-2002

October 02, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walter H. Annenberg, the publisher and philanthropist who founded TV Guide in 1953 when only 9% of U.S. households had television sets and built the weekly magazine into a household staple that made him one of the wealthiest men in America, died Tuesday. He was 94.

Annenberg, who amassed an impressive collection of art and shared his millions with educational, medical and art institutions, died at his home in Wynnewood, a suburb of Philadelphia, of complications from pneumonia. He also maintained a 205-acre estate in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

His wife, Leonore, known as Lee, was with him when he died, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, who announced his death.

The founder of Seventeen magazine as well as TV Guide, Annenberg also had published the Philadelphia Inquirer. He founded the Annenberg School for Communication at Penn in 1958 and the Annenberg School for Communication at USC in 1971 and donated nearly $300 million to each. The largest single donor in USC history, he also created the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC in 1993 to mesh and promote communication technologies.

Geoffrey Cowan, dean of USC's Annenberg School, said the philanthropist's "vision of communication as a tool for public good shall continue to inspire and motivate students and faculty ... for generations to come."

USC President Steven B. Sample called Annenberg "a pioneer, a visionary, an exemplary philanthropist and, above all, an extraordinary human being" and praised his "devotion to the ideals of promoting greater human understanding through education and communication...."

Annenberg, former ambassador to Britain and courtier to presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower on, was praised by former First Lady Nancy Reagan on Tuesday as "an individual who had a generous heart and a lifelong compassion for the young people of our nation. He gave of himself as a statesman, a philanthropist, a patriot."

"Walter Annenberg's legacy is not the fortune he amassed," she said in a prepared statement, "but the unprecedented gifts he bestowed on the youth of our country. Walter Annenberg accomplished what no government program ever could. His life was spent with meaning and purpose--through his singular efforts in the arts, education and in charitable circles from coast to coast."

President Bush issued a statement Tuesday calling Annenberg "a shining example of generosity, patriotism and dedication to serving others."

"As a business leader and an innovator, he understood the media's impact on American culture and encouraged television to be a positive influence on society," Bush said. "Mr. Annenberg firmly believed that strong education was the key to a quality citizenry, and his commitment to education reform has benefited innumerable lives through research, support for scholarships and greater accessibility to educational programming through public television."

Annenberg held many titles and won many awards during his long life--including the Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Reagan in 1986--but the most important to him was that of U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James, where he served from 1969 to 1974. The coveted diplomatic position, which was bestowed by President Nixon, symbolized what the son of a poor Jewish immigrant had sought throughout his life--acceptance by the powerful.

"This man has given me the greatest honor of my life," Annenberg said of his friend shortly after Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 because of the Watergate scandal. "For that I shall be always grateful to him."

Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of the late president, said Tuesday that the family and the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace would remember Annenberg most "for his extraordinary friendship."

"At the lowest point in my father's life, in the months following his resignation," she said in a statement issued by the library, "Walter Annenberg called or wrote almost weekly, reminding his old friend ... that there were still ways he could serve his country. Annenberg's loyalty, optimism and adherence to the credo 'Never give up' inspired my father and so many others whose lives Walter influenced."

Annenberg returned to the White House in 1993, where President Clinton announced that the billionaire had donated $500 million to advance elementary and secondary education in the nation's schools.

Matched by private and federal funds, that grant provided an eventual $1 billion for five-year projects at 18 school districts in large cities and rural areas from New York to Los Angeles.

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