Ruth Sulzberger Holmberg, Newspaper Publisher Born for the Job, Dies at 96

Her brother, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, who died in 2012, became publisher of The New York Times and chairman and chief executive of the Times Company. One sister, Marian Sulzberger Heiskell, became a New York civic and philanthropic leader. Another, Judith P. Sulzberger, who died in 2011, became a doctor affiliated with the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.

A Smith College graduate who had been a Red Cross volunteer in England and France during World War II, Mrs. Holmberg (her name from a second marriage) was a 25-year-old Sulzberger heiress when she and her first husband, Ben Hale Golden, arrived in Chattanooga in 1946 — not to take over her family’s newspaper but to begin Mr. Golden’s career on it. With no journalistic experience, he was to be groomed for the publisher’s post.

Chattanooga, a city of 140,000 in southeastern Tennessee, was nothing remotely like the New York City where Mrs. Holmberg had grown up, in Manhattan. It did not welcome Eastern liberals or Jews, even secular Jews who were married to Christians, as she was. Racial segregation was practiced there and “outsiders” were distrusted. Music, art and other cultural offerings were limited.

But the couple settled there, and after a long apprenticeship, Mr. Golden was named publisher in 1957. During his seven-year tenure, The Chattanooga Times, a morning paper with a circulation of about 40,000, turned profits but was shunned by many readers and advertisers, who preferred a rival paper that often skirted local controversies and offered a deeply conservative viewpoint.


Mrs. Holmberg, second from right, with her siblings, from left, Dr. Judith P. Sulzberger, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger and Marian Sulzberger Heiskell, in 1991.

Vic DeLucia/The New York Times

Mr. Golden resigned in 1964 and was succeeded by his wife. The couple, who had four children, were divorced in 1965. Thrust into the publisher’s suite, Mrs. Holmberg, who had written feature articles and art criticism for the paper but had subordinated herself for years to her husband’s career, took charge decisively. “I was born into the Sulzberger-Ochs family,” she declared, “and am deeply committed to the quality of journalism that these two names have come to exemplify.”

The Chattanooga Times championed the racial integration of schools and universities, supported civil rights legislation in Congress and backed clean-air laws, provoking anger in a city where industrial pollutants shrouded scenic mountain backdrops and whose air, according to a 1969 federal report, was the dirtiest in the nation.

The Times also endorsed reforms to root out corruption in government, expand the voting franchise and give black residents, a third of the population, a larger voice in municipal affairs.

In the 1970s, The Times…

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