As dashing as a movie star and one of the giants of 20th century journalism, James Fulton Hoge Jr., died Tuesday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 87.
No cause of death was provided. His passing came in the wake of the death of his younger brother, 82-year-old Warren Hoge, a former foreign correspondent and editor at The New York Times, who died in August.
Hoge started his career as a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times in 1963. It was still a rough and tumble newsroom, filled with cigar-chomping characters in wrinkled and rumpled clothing.
That was not Jim Hoge, who maintained a cultured manner befitting his upbringing. He was born in New York City on Dec. 25, 1935, one of the four children of James Hoge Sr., a successful attorney, and Virginia (McClamroch) Hoge, a patron of the arts.
The family lived on Park Avenue. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy and Yale University, graduating in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 1961, he received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.
He did not consider himself to be a gifted writer at the newspaper and, though prolific as a reporter, he was drawn to editing. Before turning 30, he became the paper’s city editor, four years later its editor in chief, then added the title of publisher at age 44. He was also later named editor/publisher of the Sun-Times’ sister publication, the Chicago Daily News.
With a sharp eye for talent, he helped launch and nurture the careers of then-youngsters Bob Greene, Ron Powers, Roger Simon and Roger Ebert.
Simon, now retired after a distinguished career as a columnist for the Sun-Times, Tribune, Baltimore Sun and politico.com, said Wednesday, “I sent Jim a note a few years ago, apologizing for giving him such a hard time, while he was treating me so well, with my picture on the trucks, on the coin boxes, but most of all letting me write what I wanted to write the way I wanted to write it. That said, I remember watching him edit one of my columns, pencil in hand, and realizing that for all his other multitude of talents, he was the best editor I ever saw, the best I ever had.”
Hoge was a prominent fixture on the local social scene, especially after his marriage in 1962 to Alice Albright, a journalist with a deep print pedigree as the granddaughter of Joseph Medill Patterson, who founded the New York Daily News. Living in a house near Lincoln Park, they would have three children, all of whom survive him, Robert, James Jr. and Alicia. A talented athlete, Hoge often played tennis with newspaper pals and later became accomplished at racquetball.
At the paper, Hoge oversaw such notable investigations as that of the Catholic Church’s Cardinal John Cody and the 25-part series in 1977 centered on the Mirage Tavern that detailed city inspectors taking bribes and kickbacks.
“After my decades as an investigative reporter in both print and television, he was the smartest, most supportive boss I ever had,” said longtime Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Pam Zekman, who helmed the Mirage series. “He provided whatever additional staff and time we needed to fully research the long-term projects we tackled.
“Just think of all the decisions about story content involving huge local, national and international issues that this editor of two major newspapers had to make every day. Jim once eloquently wrote to me about the value he placed on the newspapers’ commitment to ‘average folks who can so easily be victimized if someone with some power isn’t watching … that there is a vigilant press in this community, that here is a press which with all its faults, will be courageous.’ ”
Few worked more closely with Hoge than Gregory Favre, a lifelong journalist who was managing editor of the Daily News and Sun-Times. He would later become executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and in an email wrote, “No one could capture in a few words what Jim meant to many journalists who owe him their careers. For me he was a dear friend and a wonderful mentor.
“He may have come from a rarefied background, but he was equally at home here. He left his mark on Chicago journalism in so many ways. He had a keen sense of recognizing talent in young journalists and giving them an opportunity to blossom.
“He also was unafraid, as an editor or publisher, to green light investigative projects. He was as comfortable confronting the highest-ranking officials in the city, state or national governments as he was sitting ringside at an Ali championship fight, or on the racquetball court with friends. And, yes, he was Redford handsome and always looked like a Ralph Lauren model, until he took off his coat and he would have a paper clip holding his shirt cuff together.”
Hoge was a dynamo, urging the staff to livelier writing and introducing new sections devoted to entertainment, arts, business and fashion.
These innovations continued at the Sun-Times after the death of the Daily News in 1978. In 1984, he attempted to put together a group to purchase the paper, which had been put up for sale by its owners, Marshall Field V and his younger half brother, Ted. Hoge’s group raised the millions to match the offer by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but Murdoch was able to swoop in and complete his purchase.
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Favre remembers, “I will never forget the day it was announced that Murdoch, instead of his group, was buying the paper. He and I were in his office and there were a few tears in his eyes. He loved the Sun-Times and he loved Chicago.”
Though Hoge’s name was often floated in discussions of possible candidates for such lofty political office as U.S. senator, he left Chicago to become editor of the Tribune-owned New York Daily News, where he dealt with a five-month strike in 1991 that damaged the paper and Hoge’s reputation.
“I have rarely run into people who had the integrity of Jim Hoge,” said attorney and former Ald. Bill Singer, a longtime friend. “He cared about so many issues that I believe he might have become a significant American diplomat.”
In 1992, Hoge became editor/publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine and soon enlivened the previously stodgy publication. He left there in 2010 and, in addition to some writing and consulting, was board chair of Human Rights Watch and a senior adviser at Teneo, a consulting firm.
Hoge was twice married after his 1971 divorce from Albright. His second marriage in 1981 to Sharon King, a consumer reporter, ended in divorce in 1999. That same year he married Kathleen Lacey, a senior managing director at Teneo, who survives him, as does a son, Spencer, from a relationship with television reporter Cynthia McFadden. He is also survived by sister Virginia Verwaal, two stepsons, five granddaughters and three grandsons.
Funeral and memorial arrangements are pending.
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