Helen K Copley

Published Date: 28 August 2004

The former publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Helen K Copley, has died at the age of 81. She had began working at the newspaper as a secretary, and was publisher of the newspaper and its predecessors for nearly three decades.

Copley took over as publisher after the death in 1973 of her husband, James S Copley. Upon her retirement in 2001, she handed over the Copley Press Inc to her son, David C Copley.

"Not only was she a great mother, but she was a great mentor, teacher and colleague," said David Copley. "As she did, I will proudly keep our newspapers going."

Born Margaret Helen Kinney, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she served in the navy and married in the 1940s. After the marriage ended, she moved with her mother to San Diego in 1951.

She was hired as one of three secretaries to James Copley, who had become chief executive officer in 1947 after his father's death.

Helen and Jim Copley married in 1965. Eight years later, he died of brain cancer.

Copley worked to keep the business in family hands. In the early 1990s, she merged the morning newspaper, the San Diego Union, and the afternoon Tribune. It is the third-largest newspaper in California.

While she was publisher, her newspapers won two Pulitzer Prizes. She remained publisher emeritus of the newspaper and chairman emeritus of the company. The Copley Press owns nine daily newspapers and other publications in California, Illinois and Ohio. It also operates the Union-Tribune's website.

Copley also was involved in philanthropy, helping secure a home for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and underwriting the library at the University of San Diego. She also was appointed as one of eight trustees to oversee the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a biomedical research and education organization that grew to have an endowment of $11.3 billion last year.

She was listed last year by Forbes magazine as 279th among the nation's richest Americans, with assets estimated at $960 million.

In addition to her son, she is also survived by two stepchildren from her husband's first marriage.

Frank Kinney, is a well known artist and a brother of Helen Kinney Copley.  Frank's watercolors used to hang in the Lobby of the Casa del Zorro.  Frank's son, Christopher,  died tragically in an auto accident in 2005.