David Copley, the last in a line of San Diego Union-Tribune publishers and owners from a family who dominated the city’s media for more than eight decades, died after his car crashed Nov. 20 near his home in La Jolla, Calif.
Mr. Copley, 60, was found slumped in the front seat of his car early in the evening and was rushed to Scripps Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
He had left a board meeting of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, saying that he did not feel well. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack; Mr. Copley had received a heart transplant in 2005.
Mr. Copley’s family influenced nearly every facet of life in the San Diego region during the eight decades of newspaper ownership, with its endorsement of select politicians and support of economic development projects and educational ventures such as the establishment of the University of California, San Diego. His mother, the former Helen Kinney Hunt, married James Copley, who was publisher, in 1965.
For several decades, the Copley Press published the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune; in 1992, the papers merged. After James Copley died in 1973, Helen Copley assumed control of the newspapers. David Copley became publisher in 2001, three years before his mother’s death.
But as the newspaper industry’s economic fortunes waned, David Copley sold the newspapers and, in effect, retired from public life.
The Copley family used the editorial pages of its newspapers to spread its conservative, pro-business views. The Copley name adorns the downtown symphony hall and a plaza in Balboa Park.
David Copley financed Broadway musicals and art projects by the artist Christo. Shy and uncomfortable in public settings, he nonetheless enjoyed world travel, particularly on his yacht, and entertained lavishly at his home in La Jolla.
With David Copley as publisher, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for exposing the corruption of a leading Republican, Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
In 2009, David Copley sold the remaining newspaper interests to a private equity group, which later sold it to developer-hotelier “Papa Doug” Manchester, who renamed the paper the U-T San Diego.
David Copley was born David Hunt in San Diego on Jan. 31, 1952. His mother was secretary to James Copley before their marriage, and David took his stepfather’s surname.
With an estimated fortune of $1.2 billion, David Copley made the Forbes magazine list of 400 wealthiest Americans in 2005. He never married.
He had multiple arrests for drunken driving.
After one arrest in 2002, he published an editorial in his paper that read in part: “There were no unusual circumstances attending my arrest; I ran a stop sign, and a San Diego police officer pulled me over. He and the sheriff’s deputies at the jail where I spent the rest of the night couldn’t have been more professional. They did their jobs well. I emerged chastised and embarrassed.
“I am not a TV celebrity, nor an elected official, but if anyone must undergo the further humiliation of having his name in the paper, it must be the person who bears ultimate responsibility for publishing the names of others.”