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Former Union-Tribune Publisher David Copley Dies

Aired 11/21/12 on KPBS News.

The former owner and publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune. David C. Copley, died Tuesday evening following a car crash in La Jolla.

The former owner and publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune, David C. Copley, died Tuesday evening following a car crash less than a mile from his home in La Jolla. He was 60.

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David Copley, former owner and publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Witnesses said Copley crashed his Aston Martin into a parked car on Silverado Street near Eads Avenue around 6:15 p.m. Emergency personnel freed him from the wreckage and resuscitated him using CPR. But Copley died at Scripps Memorial Hospital around 8 p.m., according to his close friend Dr. Robert Singer, who met with reporters about an hour later

Copley left a meeting at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego shortly after 6 p.m. after complaining of chest pains. He chaired the La Jolla institution's board of directors. It's believed that the former publisher -- who underwent heart-transplant surgery in 2005 -- may have suffered a heart attack before the crash.

Singer called Copley "a gentle soul" and "a great San Diegan," according to a story in UT-San Diego. "It's a great loss to the community."

David Copley took over as publisher of the Union-Tribune in 2001, when his mother, Helen K. Copley, retired. She died in 2004 at age 81. Mrs. Copley, a single mother who started as a secretary, married publisher James S. Copley in 1965. She took over as publisher and owner of Copley Press Inc. in 1973, when James Copley died in his early 50s from leukemia.

David Copley sold the newspaper to Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills three years ago; it was bought by developer Douglas Manchester last year.

David Copley never married.

He was heir to a publishing company estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars at its peak. The Copleys owned newspapers from Southern California to Illinois, a television station, a national wire service and a great deal of expensive La Jolla property among other holdings. For many years they published both The San Diego Union, a morning daily, and the Evening Tribune, merging the two papers in 1992.

Their newspapers' influence was deeply felt across San Diego, with its conservative editorial page often helping to act as king maker to Republican candidates, including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.

The Copleys backed many high-profile development projects in the region, including the establishment of UC San Diego. And their philanthropy was well known. From Copley Symphony Hall to Copley Plaza in Balboa Park; to San Diego's many museums, buildings at the University of San Diego, and the Copley Telecommunications Center that that houses KPBS on the San Diego State University campus, the family left its stamp.

David Copley personally backed Broadway musicals, a variety of art projects, and the artist Christo, known for massive public art projects. Copley once gave a $6 million gift to establish a costume department at UCLA's school of drama.

After selling the newspaper as fortunes in the industry waned severely during the past dozen years, Copley traveled the world on a yacht he had built for tens of millions of dollars, and was known to throw lavish parties at his La Jolla home.

During David Copley's time as publisher, the Union-Tribune won the Pulitzer Prize for its exposure of corrupt Republican Congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham.

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