me.otis

Otis Chandler took a newspaper that had generated almost as much ridicule as revenue and turned it into one of the nation's best. (Los Angeles Times / October 15, 2014)

Norman, the eldest, went through an executive training program and rose to be composing superintendent -- a position overseeing much of the physical production of the paper -- before leaving in 1989, when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He died in 2002.

The youngest son, Michael, also worked in the paper's production departments, ultimately taking early retirement in a companywide buyout. He lived out one of his father's fantasies when he became a professional race car driver, but nearly died in 1984 when his car slammed into a wall at the Indianapolis 500. He eventually recovered from serious head injuries.

"When I came," recalled Day, the former editorial page editor, "I thought [Otis] was going to build a progressive newspaper dynasty like the Washington Post or the New York Times. And it became clear over the years that he did not have any such intention.

"He told me several times, and other people, that no Chandler would again be publisher of The Times," he added, "and I thought that was a curious thing to say, especially since some of the Chandler children ... seemed perfectly suited to be publisher, at least as suited as Otis."

In 1977, Chandler brought Tom Johnson, publisher of the Dallas Times-Herald and a former aide to President Johnson (no relation), to Los Angeles as president of The Times and heir apparent for publisher.

On March 5, 1980, Chandler announced that Johnson would become the fifth publisher of The Times -- and the first since the paper's infancy who was not a member of the Otis or Chandler families. Chandler would assume the newly created position of editor in chief of Times Mirror and, on Jan. 1, 1981, he would succeed Murphy as chairman.

Chandler insisted that he wasn't giving up the journalistic chase or losing his competitive edge, simply assuming a larger corporate responsibility.

"Together," he wrote to Johnson after the changing of the guard, "we are going to push the New York Times off its perch."

But most of his friends and associates said he didn't really have his heart in his new jobs. Both Thomas and Johnson said he hated being chairman. He missed the day-to-day challenge and the interaction with the editors and with the news.

In 1986, Chandler surrendered the titles of chairman and editor in chief, although he remained on the board and took on the largely ceremonial role of chairman of the board's executive committee.

There was widespread speculation after he gave up his corporate titles that he had been gently nudged aside by long-disgruntled family members.

But Thomas said "it really didn't take much persuasion, because he really did want to go."

Chandler himself said: "I think some of the family members and some of the corporate people were hoping I would step aside ... although I don't recall that there was strong pressure."

Heirs to other great newspaper dynasties have felt an obligation to remain deeply involved with their papers, virtually until their dying day, and Chandler's decision not to do so remained a topic of curiosity among his peers long after he left.

Katharine Graham, who became publisher of the Washington Post three years after Chandler took over The Times, and who relied on him as a mentor in her first days on the job, said in a 1999 interview -- the day after her 82nd birthday, when she was still very much involved with the Post -- "I'm so committed to the company and so is 'Punch' [former New York Times Publisher Sulzberger] that I can't imagine one of us actually leaving.

"I thought Otis was committed in the same way," she said. "I never understood how he could just opt out like that."

But Chandler, asked often about his decision to leave, said: "I gave 40 years of my life to The Times and Times Mirror. I decided it was time to be a little selfish, to give myself full time to the things I'd always enjoyed doing in bits and pieces."

He may also have been frustrated by his inability to reach his stated goal of supplanting the New York Times as the most widely admired American newspaper. "I wanted to be No. 1," he said in a 1997 television interview. "I wasn't satisfied."

Even when he was publisher, Chandler wasn't one of those workaholic bosses who could never let go.

He put in long hours, but he managed to have dinner with his family most nights, even if it meant doing more work at home after dinner.