Austin H. Kiplinger, a Washington publisher, civic leader and philanthropist who sustained the growth of his family’s media empire and whose interests ranged from raising wheat to collecting memorabilia of the city’s history, died Nov. 20 at a hospice in Rockville, Md. He was 97.
The cause was cancer that had metastasized to his brain, said his son, Knight Kiplinger.
Mr. Kiplinger was the son of a prominent journalist-entrepreneur and the father of two others. After an early career as a reporter and broadcast news commentator, he joined the family business and oversaw its steady expansion.
Kiplinger Washington Editors, founded in 1920 by his father, Willard M. Kiplinger, included business and economics forecasting publications that carried great influence. Many columnists, particularly those writing on finance, cited the company’s findings as authoritative.
The company, which Austin Kiplinger led for more than three decades as president or chairman, was valued at more than $100 million when he passed control to his sons, Todd and Knight Kiplinger, in about 2000. Mr. Kiplinger then served as board chairman for several years.
Under Mr. Kiplinger’s stewardship, the family’s cluster of publications was known for three things: surviving and prospering even after Time Inc. began Money magazine in 1972; steadfastly remaining a private company; and paying generous profit-sharing bonuses to employees each year.
The Kiplinger business approach was slow and steady wins the race. The company has never changed the staccato, news-you-can-use tone of its self-titled publications. The foundation of its various enterprises was unabashedly free market and driven by Mr. Kiplinger’s desire to make its subscribers savvy investors and consumers.
“We were trying to help people make decisions in their own self-interest,” Mr. Kiplinger told Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in 1997. “A lot of readers owned small business and they’d write to us to say, ‘Why in the world are you telling consumers how to deal with us business people? You’re making it harder for us.’
“I’d write back and say that the person’s business had a purchasing agent whose job it was to buy materials at the lowest price, and we wanted consumers to do the same thing. In other words, the best markets are made by well-
informed buyers and well-
A dapper, poised and highly sociable man with a ready smile and a mellifluous baritone, Mr. Kiplinger was a fixture on the Washington black-tie social scene.
To celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Kiplinger Washington Letter in 1988, Mr. Kiplinger invited three former presidents to a bash at the Capital Hilton hotel. Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford attended. Richard M. Nixon did not. Regardless, Mr. Kiplinger gave $100,000 gifts that evening to each of the three presidential libraries.
As a fundraiser, Mr. Kiplinger was personally generous — but also strategic.
In 1978, when the National Symphony Orchestra faced racking financial troubles during a lengthy strike, Mr. Kiplinger hit on the idea of seeking federal support. He sought, lobbied for and won a $1 million appropriation from Congress. The symphony had never received a federal grant before.
Mr. Kiplinger was a relentless volunteer for boards. He chaired the Tudor Place Foundation, which operates a historic property in Washington’s Georgetown neighborhood, and served on boards of institutions including the private Landon School in Bethesda, Md., the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington International Horse Show.
He was a founder and board member of his family’s Kiplinger Foundation, known for its support for local arts and culture. Mr. Kiplinger maintained a large collection of Washingtoniana and donated much of it to the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Mr. Kiplinger was a benefactor of Cornell University, where he graduated in 1939 and served on the board. During a public debate in the mid-1980s over Cornell’s millions of dollars of investments tied up in apartheid South Africa, Mr. Kiplinger defended the university’s decision not to withdraw money from the country.
Drawing on his interest in finance, Mr. Kiplinger told the New York Times that “embargoes, pull-outs and [economic] sanctions have never — not in one instance — had the effect for which they were intended.”
He said trustees would be “abdicating responsibility” by divesting, adding, “There’s no evidence in the world, as far as I know, that shows any benefit [to South Africa’s blacks] from the sale of the stock.”
Austin Huntington Kiplinger was born in Washington on Sept. 19, 1918. He said he knew from an early age that he was destined to follow his father into journalism. He was “practically living” in his father’s office as a young boy, he often told interviewers.
“I never had any question about it,” he told the Working Press magazine. “It was second nature for me to become a newspaper man and a journalist.”
But first, he was an adventurer.
As his mother watched from shore, he and his father took a canoe trip on the Potomac River when Mr. Kiplinger was 2. The boy did not wear a life preserver. The excursion “may, I suspect, have contributed to my father and mother’s subsequent marital split,” he later wrote.
Mr. Kiplinger was also an early entrepreneur.
In 1930, at age 11, he and a friend wandered over to the White House gate on the day of the annual Easter egg roll. As he explained in a 2001 essay in Washington History magazine, adults could not enter unless they were accompanied by a child. Many adults had not realized this. So Mr. Kiplinger and his friend rented themselves for 25 cents a customer.
Because his father was a history buff, the family took car trips to many historic American sites. “I think we braked for every historical marker in America,” Mr. Kiplinger told the Working Press.
Back at home, Mr. Kiplinger made a habit of attending presidential inaugural parades, beginning with Calvin Coolidge’s in 1925. He met Bonus Marchers in 1932, he recalled in Washington History, and he was front and center for the funeral processions of Gen. John J. Pershing in 1948 and President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Mr. Kiplinger began his journalism career in 1940 as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. He did not begin in Washington or at Kiplinger, because he did not want to be a “hothouse flower,” he later told Washingtonian magazine.
After serving in World War II as a Navy aviator, Mr. Kiplinger helped his father start the company’s personal finance magazine, now known as Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
Mr. Kiplinger was then a news commentator in Chicago for ABC and NBC before his father beckoned him back to the family business in the mid-1950s as executive vice president.
Like his father, Mr. Kiplinger was known as “Kip” throughout his life. And like his father, he was an active editor and writer throughout his career, even when executive issues consumed most of his time.
In 1944, he married the former Mary Louise “Gogo” Cobb. Mr. Kiplinger and his wife settled on Montevideo, a 382-acre farm near Seneca in northwestern Montgomery County, Md. There, Mr. Kiplinger and the family rode horses and raised wheat and corn.
Mr. Kiplinger’s wife died in 2007. Their son Todd Kiplinger died the next year. Survivors include another son, Knight Kiplinger of Washington, who is chairman and editor in chief of all Kiplinger publications; six grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; and his companion of seven years, Bonnie Barker Nicholson, of Bethesda.
Mr. Kiplinger collaborated with his father on the best-selling book “Washington Is Like That” (1942), a 522-page guide to the city’s political and cultural life. Writing in the New York Times, journalist Samuel T. Williamson called the book “admirable, entertaining, important and useful.” Mr. Kiplinger later co-wrote three more books about Washington and finance.
“Business,” Mr. Kiplinger once said, “is everybody’s business.”