A Lion of Journalism
"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.

He collected vintage cars and drove most of them to work at one time or another, alternating Porsches and Rolls-Royces with motorcycles, pickups and other vehicles in his growing inventory.

He worked out daily, lifting weights in a gym he had built at The Times and improvising when he was traveling. On one memorable occasion, a hotel maid walked in on him while he was doing full squats — with his wife on his shoulders in place of a barbell.

More than most high-level executives, Chandler also seemed willing to interrupt the workday occasionally when pleasure beckoned, such as the quick trip to catch some surf.