Jack Loftis, a former editor of the Houston Chronicle who shepherded the newspaper through 15 years of changing ownership and technology, has died. Loftis was 80.
The newspaper said Loftis died Monday night at a nursing home in suburban Bellaire.
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A native of Hillsboro in Central Texas, Loftis wrote stories for his hometown newspaper while a student at nearby Baylor University, an early start to what became a half-century in the newspaper business. He joined the Chronicle in 1965 as a copy editor and rose through the ranks until being named editor in 1986. He retired in 2002.
A year after Loftis became editor, Hearst Corp. purchased the Chronicle from the nonprofit Houston Endowment. A newspaper long known for its close relationships with Houston's top officials and business elite now faced a changing mission as a part of a national media group.
Loftis distinguished himself for "an approach to fairness that really stood very well for the Chronicle and also for Houston during that particular time," said Tony Pederson, a former Chronicle executive editor who met Loftis in 1974.
"When he first became editor, it was a sea change for the Chronicle," said Wendy Benjaminson, a former Chronicle political editor and assistant managing editor who now works for The Associated Press. "Now it was going to be an independent newspaper."
During Loftis' tenure, the Chronicle invested heavily in national and international reporting, opening bureaus throughout Texas and Latin America to pursue stories of interest to readers in Houston.
Loftis sought to position the Chronicle as one of Texas' strongest voices during a particularly newsworthy time for the state. During his tenure, the Chronicle reported on two Bushes heading to the White House, the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle explosion and the multibillion-dollar financial scandal at Houston-based Enron Corp.
Former colleagues recalled his sharp wit and the stories he would tell about Texas' most notable people.
Pederson laughingly mentioned one Loftis misfire: He initially declined to run a new strip, "Garfield," in the newspaper because it was "just another cat comic."
That aside, "he knew more about comics than any other newspaper editor in the country," said Pederson, now a journalism professor at Southern Methodist University.
Benjaminson, currently an assistant Washington bureau chief for the AP, said Loftis could often be seen in a seersucker suit, bowtie and the other accoutrements of Southern attire.
"You could spot him coming from Memorial Day to Labor Day," Benjaminson said.
He is survived by his wife, Beverly. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.