Stanford Lipsey, who sold a chain of weekly newspapers to investor Warren E. Buffett in the 1960s, then guided the papers to a Pulitzer Prize in the 1970s before becoming the longtime publisher of the Buffalo News, died Nov. 1 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Judith Lipsey, who said a specific cause was not determined.
Mr. Lipsey began his career in his home town of Omaha, working for a company that published free weekly papers. He eventually became owner and publisher of the Sun Newspapers before selling the business to Buffett in 1969.
It was the first of many newspaper acquisitions for the investor who founded the Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway holding company. Mr. Lipsey stayed on as publisher and became a Berkshire Hathaway vice president.
In 1972, he and his small staff at the Sun Newspapers, led by managing editor Paul Williams, began to investigate the finances of Boys Town, the well-known institution for homeless and troubled boys near Omaha. Founded in 1917 by Catholic priest Edward J. Flanagan, Boys Town was featured in a popular 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy as Flanagan and Mickey Rooney as a hotheaded teen.
In subsequent years, Boys Town sent out millions of solicitation letters, usually showing a boy carrying a smaller boy on his back, and the donations rolled in. At Buffett’s suggestion, the Sun Newspapers requested the charity’s financial records from the Internal Revenue Service.
“Warren, Paul Williams and I would sit down and brainstorm,” Mr. Lipsey told the Omaha Reader in 2010. “Then this thing came along — it actually came along on a tip from Warren. It made for a great story.”
In March 1972, Mr. Lipsey’s Sun Newspapers challenged the powerful local institution by publishing an eight-page section with the provocative headline “Boys Town, America’s Wealthiest City?”
The special report called Boys Town a “money machine,” with a net worth of $209 million. In 1971, Boys Town had received $18 million in contributions and had a total income of more than $25 million — or four times more than its annual expenses.
The Sun Newspapers’ story won the Pulitzer Prize for local specialized investigative reporting, the first time a weekly paper had won a Pulitzer for investigative journalism. It prompted immediate reforms: The longtime director resigned, an accounting firm examined the books, and Boys Town went on an ambitious expansion program that included new buildings and medical and humanitarian efforts across the country.
Among journalists, the Sun papers’ investigation became renowned as one of the first in-depth examinations of how charities spend their money.
In 1980, Mr. Lipsey moved to Buffalo, not long after Buffett purchased the Buffalo Evening News, a struggling afternoon paper.
“He often said that Buffett told him, ‘I want you to go to Buffalo and run the paper. I’ll feel better if you’re there,’ ” Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper’s former editor, who now is a media columnist for The Washington Post, said in an interview.
Mr. Lipsey launched a Sunday edition of the newly renamed Buffalo News, and by 1982 the rival morning newspaper, the Courier-Express, had folded. Mr. Lipsey was named publisher in 1983, and he made the Buffalo News into one of the leading papers of its size in the country.
The paper had a peak daily circulation of 265,000 in the 1990s, with about 350,000 Sunday subscribers. It won scores of awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for editorial cartoons by Tom Toles, now at The Post.
“Stan Lipsey was the publisher who helped Warren Buffett fall in love with the newspaper business, because he led a newspaper so well,” Donald E. Graham, former publisher and chairman of The Post, said Thursday in an email.
In 1999, when Mr. Lipsey named Sullivan editor of the News, she was one of the few women in the country leading a major newsroom.
“He was an activist publisher,” said Sullivan, who was editor until 2012. “He was a lot of fun, full of jokes. And, because he was so hard-driving, he could be challenging. He often joked — though he wasn’t really joking — that he could do any of our jobs.”
After Mr. Lipsey retired in 2012, Buffett told the News, “I say it’s no exaggeration that The News might now be extinct, save for Stan. . . . He basically saved The News.”
Stanford Lipsey was born Oct. 8, 1927, in Omaha to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father ran a wholesale poultry and meat market.
At the University of Michigan, from which he graduated in 1948, Mr. Lipsey was a photographer for the campus newspaper. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War, then began working for the Sun Newspapers.
His first marriage, to the former Jeanne Blacker, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 14 years, the former Judith Hojnacki of Buffalo and Rancho Mirage; two children from his first marriage, Janet Lipsey and Daniel Lipsey, both of San Rafael, Calif.; and two grandsons.
Mr. Lipsey was a well-known civic booster who led efforts to build an airport terminal and to preserve historic buildings in Buffalo, including the Darwin Martin House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
He gave millions of dollars to the University of Michigan, as well as educational, medical and animal-protection groups. He helped organize a summer jazz festival in Buffalo and a program that has donated more than 2 million books to low-income children since 1995.
“We had unbelievable fun together,” Buffett told the Buffalo News this week. “We jogged together, we ate ice cream, and we ran The News together.”