Robert C. Maynard, 56, a former editor and publisher of the Oakland Tribune and the first black person to own a daily general-circulation newspaper in the United States, died of prostate cancer Aug. 17 at his home in Oakland.

A high school dropout from Brooklyn, N.Y., Maynard had a career that took him to the highest councils of American journalism, and his influence extended far beyond the San Francisco Bay area that his newspaper served. He was a member of the boards of directors of the Associated Press and the Pulitzer Prizes and a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Foundation for American Communications.

His credentials included six years on the York (Pa.) Gazette & Daily; a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University; and a decade on The Washington Post. At The Post, he covered a variety of topics, from crime and proverty to the White House. During the Watergate crisis that ended with the resignation of President Nixon, he was The Post's ombudsman, serving as a mediator between the newspaper and its readers. His last assignment at the paper was as a member of the editorial page staff.

During his tenure at the Oakland Tribune, the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for its photographic coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which devastated parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

Maynard and his wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, a former reporter on the New York Times, were co-founders of the Institute for Journalism Education at the University of California at Berkeley, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for minority journalists. Graduates of the IJE now work in newsrooms across the country, and Maynard remained a mentor to many of them and others.

His message always was that minority journalists must change the way that blacks are perceived in America. In the process, he meant to change the complexion of management in American newspapers.

In the 1970s, he served a co-director of a training program for minorities at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. During the same period, he was credited with persuading the American Society of Newspaper Editors to adopt as a matter of policy the diversification of the nation's newsrooms by the end of this century. It was a goal he never abandoned.

"This country cannot be the country we want it to be if its story is told by only one group of citizens," he told students at the Freedom Forum in Arlington in May in what proved to be his last public address. "Our goal is to give front-door access to the truth."

Maynard got an opportunity to run a newspaper himself in 1979, when the Gannett Corp. named him editor of the Oakland Tribune. Gannett had acquired the Tribune the previous year, and it knew Maynard by reason of his having been a consultant to the media giant on affirmative action.

In 1983, Maynard and his wife bought it. Gannett had to sell because it had acquired a televison station in San Francisco and was prohibited by federal law from owning two major media outlets in the same market. To make it possible for the Maynards to buy, the company "leveraged" the deal by putting up $17 million of the $22 million purchase with the newspaper's assets as collateral. The other $5 million was obtained from a local bank.

A barrel-chested figure who brimmed over with confidence, Maynard was once described as a person whose "smoky voice and eloquence {could} lift the spirits of friends and disarm opponents." At the Tribune, he threw himself into his task. It soon became apparent that he would need all of his formidable gifts -- and perhaps something more.

One of his early moves was to convert the Tribune from an afternoon paper to a morning one. He also improved news coverage on every level. He expanded sports coverage and added new comics. Many employees hailed his charismatic style.

He became a presence in Oakland as well as in his newsroom, getting involved in a variety of matters, from public education to relief for earthquake victims. And he reached beyond the bay area with a nationally syndicated, twice-weekly column. He appeared frequently on such programs as "This Week With David Brinkley" and "The MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour."

But the problems of his newspaper worsened. Without the deep pockets of Gannett, it became necessary to cut costs, and the Maynards won $10 million in concessions from unions. Zoned editions were started in an effort to attract readers from the largely white and middle-class suburbs while the paper still sought to serve the large minority population of Oakland.

In 1991, the Tribune almost folded. It was rescued by an infusion of more than $9 million from the Freedom Foundation, which was the former Gannett Foundation. At the time, Maynard owed the Gannett Corp. about $31.5 million from having bought the paper.

Last year, when his health worsened, Maynard took the decision to sell the Tribune for about $10 million. Circulation, which had stood 220,000 in the late 1960s, had fallen to about 103,000. The buyer was the Alameda Newspaper Group, publisher of several small papers in Alameda County, Calif. The new owners vowed to keep the paper going, but said about 400 jobs would be lost.

At Maynard's death, Leonard Downie, executive editor of The Washington Post, issued the following statement:

"Bob Maynard was a leader of our profession -- for African Americans seeking careers of influence in the mass media and for media executives taught by Bob to value diversity. He led the way with his wit, intelligence, determination and persuasive charm. He leaves us a large legacy."

In addition to his wife and their two children, David H. and Alex Caldwell Maynard, all of Oakland, Maynard's survivors include another daughter, Dori J. Maynard of Detroit.

Although he had to give up his newspaper, Maynard abandoned neither his interest in the nation's problems nor his ability to describe them in unvarnished terms. This was evident in an address he gave last December at the East-West Center in Honolulu entitled "Reflections on the Post-Cold War Era."

He said he believed a "new moral authority is straining to be born" in America, and he went on to outline how he thought it should look.

"Our institutions of law and governance must be made to reflect the fact that we have enormous differences of perspective based on race, class, gender, age and location," he said. "To me, the meaning of the creation of the American community is the achievement of healthy accommodation of our differences. It does not mean pretending those differences do not exist. . . . It means building a society of equity and inclusion to replace one replete with inequality and exclusion."