EASTON — A champion from the heyday of print journalism on the Eastern Shore died Saturday, April 30, 2016.
Bob Blank, a 45-year veteran senior partner of Whitcom Partners, owners of The Star Democrat, the Kent County News and other newspapers on the Eastern Shore and southern Maryland, along with an array of additional holdings, was 75 years old.
Blank was a businessman who had many interests and investments in a wide variety of pursuits, but held a special place in his heart for the newspaper business, particularly on the Shore, according to his colleagues and former employees.
Those who worked for him here remember him as a strong leader and steadfast supporter.
“He was as comfortable in the board room in New York carrying our torch as he was visiting with us at a patio picnic on a tributary to the Chesapeake,” Blake Wilson wrote in response to Blank’s New York Times obituary. Wilson worked for the Chesapeake newspaper group in the 1970s.
Blank was born Nov. 28, 1940 in Philadelphia to Samuel Allen Blank and Ruth Saler Blank. He was a member of the Class of 1958 at the Haverford School in Pennsylvania.
He graduated from Cornell University in 1962 and obtained a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Blank began his law career as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, from 1965 to 1968.
He decided to try working in finance when he got a job in the mergers and acquisitions department at Goldman Sachs.
In 1972 he joined the Whitney Communications Corp. as a partner, investing in television stations, radio, cable, magazines and newspapers.
The primary partner and founder of Whitney Communications was John Hay “Jock” Whitney, publisher, philanthropist, sportsman, investor and U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, among others.
Whitney Communications’ significant interests, at one time or another, included Art in America magazine; Interior Design, a trade magazine; Parade, a Sunday newspaper supplement; the International Herald Tribune Co.; 25 small newspapers, five television stations and six radio stations.
One of their newspapers in Camden, Maine was owned by famed television journalist Walter Cronkite, according to retired Cecil Whig editor Don Herring.
In 1975 Whitney Communications purchased newspapers on the Shore and southern Maryland. They called their Maryland group the Chesapeake Publishing Corp.
“And Bob pretty much oversaw the newspapers,” said Tom Bradlee, who was president and chief operating officer of Chesapeake Publishing.
He said Blank always looked forward to driving down from Philadelphia to Easton, and of all the newspapers that Whitney owned, The Star Democrat was Blank’s favorite.
“Kind of like you are not supposed to have favorite children but you do,” Bradlee said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that his favorite was The Star Democrat.”
Editors and reporters who remember Blank recall a boss who was easy to talk to and showed a deep respect for journalism.
“He was very kind to me,” said Denise Riley, editor emeritus of The Star Democrat. “And you know, some of the business partners could be a little intimidating, but he was not.”
She said Blank would often send her a personal, typed note of praise for editorials or projects that he liked and took a personal interest in those who worked for him. When he came to visit, he always had a lot of questions to ask, she said.
“He was interested in everything — every aspect of the newspaper,” Herring said. “How we gathered the news, the paper, what we intended to do. He never dictated editorial policy, never told us to do one thing or the other as far as editorial. That was not his policy.”
“The newspaper business has plenty of business things to worry about — the printing end, a tricky component, the production end and all that,” Bradlee said. “So the business end is where he focused his attention, but he loved the editorial side of it.”
“He pushed for excellence, but was very fair,” said Larry Effingham, former publisher of The Star Democrat.
“He was a great owner; gave us all the economy in the world,” Effingham said. “I can honestly say that the best years of my career were under his ownership.”
Bradlee said Blank was an understated person who was proud of his family and talked mostly about them.
“He spoke often of his family ... and always asked about ours,” Wilson wrote. “Taking the effort to remember specific things about family relationships that were important to us.”
Bradlee said Blank was a modest man who was very, very bright.
“He had a very dry sense of humor, a keen wit and was very sharp,” he said.
He said that when Blank was not working, he enjoyed being outdoors and was an avid tennis and golf player.
Along with being a partner in Whitney, Blank was also director of the Toll Brothers Inc. real estate corporation, director of the Devon Group Inc., and the director of Advanta Corp., according to Bloomberg.
He was a dedicated alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania, the son of Penn graduates, and was proud that his three children also were Penn grads, according to David Cohen, who is president of the board of the University of Pennsylvania, and others.
Cohen left condolences along with other Penn board members and deans online after reading Blank’s New York Times obituary.
Blank served as a Penn trustee and was an emeritus trustee when he died.
He served for many years as an overseer for the university’s law school and Wharton School, and on the university’s medicine board.
Blank and his wife endowed professorships, provided student financial aid and supported several areas of the university.
Blank is survived by his wife of 42 years, Nancy Blank; three children, Wendy, Samuel and Matt; and seven grandchildren, according to his obituary. His funeral was held May 4 at Temple Emanu-El in New York City.