Alvah H. Chapman Jr.: Former Bradenton resident, newspaper CEO dies

Alvah H. Chapman Jr., a third-generation newspaperman and former Bradenton resident, died on Christmas at the age of 87.

Mr. Chapman, born March 21, 1921, in Columbus, Ga., moved to Bradenton at the age of 5 when his father, Alvah H. Chapman Sr., was named publisher of The Evening Herald, which eventually was renamed The Bradenton Herald.

The former publisher of The Miami Herald and CEO of Knight-Ridder Newspapers was the grandson of R.W. Page, whose company owned the Herald before selling to Knight Newspapers Inc.

A graduate of Bradenton High School, where he was quarterback on the football team, Mr. Chapman went on to attend The Citadel in South Carolina.

After graduating from college in 1942 with a degree in business administration, Mr. Chapman joined the U.S. Army Air Corps, becoming a B-17 pilot during World War II.

Mr. Chapman worked for his grandfather’s newspaper in Columbus before venturing out on his own and, at one stage of his career, was vice president and general manager of the St. Petersburg Times.

He eventually moved to Miami to become publisher of The Miami Herald and then CEO of Knight-Ridder, owner of the Bradenton Herald before the Bradenton Herald was purchased by The McClatchy Company newspaper chain in 2006.

“He had a very distinguished career in Dade County,” former state Sen. Ed Price said of his friend. “He was a really fine man and excellent newspaperman.

“A lot of his time was spent working for civic and social causes, especially children and the homeless,” Price said. “But he never blew his horn about it. He was always humble about the things he did.”

Price said Mr. Chapman also left a real footprint growing up in Manatee County.

Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, a former executive editor of the Bradenton Herald, said Mr. Chapman always cared what happened in his hometown.

“He made sure the Herald was the best it could be,” Poston said. “He was a regular reader of the paper, because I would get calls from him about something he saw in the paper.”

Former Herald publisher Dot Ridings, also remembers Mr. Chapman as being concerned about the future of his local paper and the community.

“My memory of Alvah was he cared so much about his community, which included Bradenton as much as Miami, that when I was hired as the first woman publisher of the Herald, he worried about how I would fare in what he knew was a town ran by powerful men,” Ridings said. “At the end of the interview I recall so well, he said I would do just fine and that I would ‘tie them up in pink ribbons’.”

Mr. Chapman’s civic activism was renowned throughout Florida and the nation, as well as the Miami-Dade metropolitan area.

That kind of recognition does not surprise Bradenton resident Gene Page, Mr. Chapman’s cousin.

“He was a newspaperman all his life,” Page said, “but he also was a great philanthropist, especially in Miami where he helped the homeless.”

Page also remembers his cousin as being a person who believed in the excellence of the other person.

“To him there was no reason that a person’s ability couldn’t be pulled to the front,” Page said. “He was a very hard worker who inspired others to work hard.”

Dr. Joe Ganey Jr., son of Dr. Joseph Ganey Sr., who was a childhood friend of Mr. Chapman, remembers their two families spending boating vacations in the Bahamas.

“He was a very big part of my life and my family’s,” Ganey said. “I grew up with his daughters.”

Ganey said Mr. Chapman was a very influential man.

“I remember one trip, when I was about 25 years old, we were in the middle of nowhere and my brother and I were trying to fix the toilet on Mr. Chapman’s Bertram boat, but having no luck,” the Bradenton doctor recalled. ”He said don’t worry about it, he would take care of it.”

About two hours later, a helicopter with the chief mechanic of Bertram Boats landed to fix the toilet, Ganey said.

“I thought then, you had to have pretty good influence to do that,” he said.

Bradenton Herald Publisher Bob Turner said Mr. Chapman will be remembered for his management of Knight-Ridder.

“Alvah Chapman was one of those larger-than-life people,” Turner said. “He was a dedicated newspaperman who took every job seriously.

“Mr. Chapman was held in high regard by employees for his balance between managing quality daily newspapers and being a strong fiscal manager,” he said. “He set an example that no one could go wrong following.”

In recent years, he was afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, suffered several strokes and broke a hip in March.

According to The Miami Herald, Mr. Chapman spent a traditional family Christmas Eve this week at his Coconut Grove home, reading the Bible with his wife, Betty, their two daughters and several grandchildren, then succumbed to pneumonia.

Mr. Chapman is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Betty; two married daughters, Dale Webb and Chris Hilton; sister Wyline Sayler, of St. Petersburg; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be 2:30 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, preceded by a private burial. The family suggests contributions in his memory to Community Partnership for Homeless.

Related stories from Bradenton Herald