Wilmott "Bin" Lewis; Star Production and Business Manager - September 10, 2012
Willmott Harsant Lewis, Jr., aka Bin passed away peacefully Sept.10, 2012 at the Genesis Health Center in Lebanon, NH surrounded by loved ones.
Bin grew up in Washington, DC, graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1945 and attended Yale University. Bin then went to work for the Washington Evening Star for 25 years in many capacities including Production Manager and Business Manager. He was also a director and vice president of the Washington Star Communications. In 1980 he moved to the Upper Conn. River Valley to be publisher of the Valley News. He ran the Valley News until 1993 taking it from an evening paper to a morning paper and adding a Sunday edition. He is credited with taking both newspapers to the forefront of technology in the industry. He was one of the founders of the “PAGE”, Publishers Associated to Gain Economies that he co-founded to help the small newspapers.
Bin always felt it important to give back to the communities that he was involved in. In Washington he served on many boards including Suburban Hospital, National Capital Gun Club, and the American Newspaper Publishers Association. . He had a great presence in the Upper Valley including Rotary International, United Way President, Steering committee that started ILEAD (Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth), President Eastman Community Board, The Montshire Museum, and Lebanon College.
His hobbies and passions included tennis, skiing, fly fishing, skeet shooting, and bicycling. When Bin thought that his community could use something he did it as evidenced by his being instrumental in professional tennis coming to the Washington area in 1969. Bin took the most pleasure in helping people to grow into confident people who could make intelligent decisions on their own.
Bin was a descendent of newspaper royalty. Bin was the only child of Sir Willmott Lewis, the Washington Correspondent for the Times of London and his mother, Ethel Noyes, daughter of Frank B. Noyes, President of the Washington Star and cofounder and president of the Associated Press. He is survived by longtime companion Barbara Jones, Grantham, N.H., Alexandra “Sandi” Deutsch and her husband George Taylorsville, KY, Willmott “Bill” Lewis III and his wife Meg of Ridgewood, NJ, and Brett Noyes Lewis and his wife Cappy of Shelburne, Vt. He has nine grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.
*Grantham *— Bin Lewis, a descendent of newspaper royalty who led a transformation of the Valley News in the 1980s after a difficult change of ownership, died yesterday morning at Genesis Health Care in Lebanon. Lewis had been in a period of declining health after falling on the tennis court in early August. He was 85. After arriving in the Upper Valley at the end of 1980 to serve as publisher of the Valley News, Lewis began to reshape the newspaper. It had been purchased earlier that year by Newspapers of New England, the small, family-run chain that still owns it, from longtime owner-publisher Walter Paine. He effectively made the paper what it is today. During Lewis’ tenure, which lasted until 1993, the paper turnedswitched to computers, installed its current presses and hired or promoted some of the long-tenured employees who have steered the publication. He also presided over a vast expansion of the newsroom.
In doing so, Lewis instilled in the paper some of his steady, unruffled demeanor, he learned over the course of more than 25 years at the Washington Evening Star, where he led a large, fractious production unit through a series of major technological upgrades.
“Bin was a pivotal figure at the Valley News,” said current publisher Mark Travis, who was a cub reporter at the paper when Lewis landed. “I was a young and uncertain reporter here when he arrived, and his calmness, his experience and his professionalism gave us all a good feeling about the paper’s direction under Newspapers of New England. Decisions he made years ago continue to shape the paper every day, and his commitment to great community journalism continues to guide us.” Lewis was “a guy who was very level-headed, calm, knowledgeable, an incredible listener, very unthreatening,” said Mike Pride, who served as interim editor of the Valley News and worked with Lewis as the new owners took control. “All of these things were very important to a place in transition.”
When Pride, then editor of the Concord Monitor, arrived in West Lebanon, the Valley News was in a rough patch. “I had never seen a group of such beleaguered souls trying to report the day’s news,” he wrote in a Jan. 31, 1981, column, saying that when he’d arrived, six months earlier, the paper’s staff was “passive, indecisive, uncaring, defeatist, listless.” Pride fired four people, including the managing and city editors, and hired seven. That was just the start of the changes at the paper, which Bill McCartha, Lewis’ newly hired managing editor, said had grown “a little bit lazy, a little bit soft.”
McCartha, who’d been hired away from the Monitor, doubled the size of the newsroom during the 1980s. As the paper set out to cover news it had once ignored, he said, it ruffled some feathers among officials and advertisers who had come to expect a certain level of deference.* *Lewis’ support of the newsroom was total and unequivocal, said McCartha, now semi-retired in South Carolina. “I never had any doubt, and I was never disappointed,” McCartha said.
More important, Lewis made the case to the community that a news room with unquestioned integrity was better — not only for the general public, but for advertisers — because readers would trust the news and support the paper. He was rewarded with a sizable increase in circulation, from around 12,500 to around 19,000, before he moved out of the corner office.
The first years were trying, Lewis said in a 1993 interview. “There was at least one surprise every day for about two years. And they weren’t necessarily minor surprises,” he said, without elaborating.
Lewis was well-prepared. The old saying about having ink in one’s veins certainly applied in his case. Working His Way Up Born March 5, 1927, Willmott “Bin” Lewis Jr. was the only child of Sir Willmott Hansart Lewis, the Washington correspondent for the The Times of London, and the former Ethel Noyes, a daughter of Frank B. Noyes, president of the Washington Star and a co-founder and president of The Associated Press.
His nickname came from his mispronunciation of “Bill” as an infant, said Barbara Jones, Lewis’ companion of the past 28 years. He grew up in Washington, and the family summered in posh Winter Harbor, Maine. His parents divorced when he was 12, and even before then he was raised mainly by his grandfather, Frank Noyes, known as “Grumpy,” and a helper called Honey, Lewis’ son Brett said. He moved in a rarified social set - Jacqueline Bouvier, two years his junior and the future first lady, was an occasional tennis partner. “Bin being Bin, he would say, ‘Listen, she only called me up when she didn’t have anyone else in mind,’ ” Jones said.
Lewis was educated at St. Paul’s School in Concord, and at Yale, though he left without taking a degree to go back to Washington, to the Star. He worked primarily in production, working his way up to production manager, a post he held for 18 years before becoming business manager of the Evening Star Newspaper Co., and a vice president and director of the company.
As production manager, Lewis oversaw a composition staff of 300 and a pressroom of around 95, said Crosby N. Boyd Jr., another member of the Noyes family who worked under Lewis in the 1960s. “Bin had, along with the approval of the Star, wanted to make the Star one of the most technologically advanced papers in the country,” Boyd said in a telephone interview from his home in Sanibel, Fla.
To that end, the Star was among a group of newspapers that worked with IBM to computerize some of their printing processes in an attempt to cut costs. Lewis also deployed higher-speed telephone lines to receive Associated Press copy. The changes were of a piece with the emphasis Lewis placed on technological advantage and fiscal discipline while at the Valley News. But the Star was doomed.“The fact is, we were being killed because we were an afternoon paper,” said Jack Germond, the legendary political reporter who was at the Star for its final eight years. The paper was known as a haven for writers, but it couldn’t compete with the Washington Post.
Lewis helped engineer the sale of the Star to Houston businessman Joseph Allbritton in 1975. At Allbritton’s request, he went to work at the Paterson Evening News to try to turn it around, Brett Lewis said.
Throughout his time working at the Star, Lewis was married to Suzanne Alexander, daughter of a prominent Washington doctor. Their wedding took place in the National Cathedral in Washington. They had three children, Alexandra, Willmott III and Brett. The marriage ended around 1980.
After working for Allbritton, Lewis moved to Florida, where he considered buying a marina. “He always loved boats,” Brett Lewis said. But the marina deal fell through and he headed back into newspapering, at theValley News. A headhunter who kept tabs on newspaper executives gave his name to Newspapers of New England, said Marily Wilson. Her late husband, George Wilson, the longtime CEO of the family-owned company, visited Lewis in Florida.
A hallmark of Lewis’ career was a knack for looking into the future and for spotting potential. He came to the Upper Valley because he saw potential in its newspaper, Jones said.
With the new owners, Lewis began planning the paper’s transformation. He knew from painful experience that an afternoon paper faced an uphill battle against television news or a competing morning paper. And Newspapers of New England very much wanted to expand publication to Sundays. Those changes took more than a decade to implement.
First, Lewis had to address a paper that had what Pride, the interim editor, called a “negative environment.” There’s a familiar story about a manager from the paper’s distant past —never identified — who required employees to turn in the stub of a pencil in order to receive a new one. Not the kind of thing that inspires confidence or loyalty.
Lewis turned that around by listening to his employees and supporting their efforts. “Bin was always extremely approachable,” said Bob Mathewson, the paper’s longtime operations manager. “Even though he had all that big-time experience, he was just a good person.”
Lewis promoted several people who became mainstays at the paper, including Mathewson, longtime press foreman Larry Leonard, and Jim Fox, the former editor and current editor-at-large.
Lewis and Jones, who met while serving on Lebanon College’s board of trustees, lived together in Grantham for many years. But when he moved to the area, Lewis rented places in Norwich, Quechee and Hanover, so he could get to know different towns, Jones said.
Having an Impact Outside the newspaper’s offices, Lewis was an enthusiastic supporter of several organizations. He was a member of the steering committee that founded the Institute for Lifelong Learning at Dartmouth, served on the board of the Eastman Community Association, Lebanon College, the Montshire Museum of Science, was president of the United Way of the Upper Valley, and was a member of Rotary. His biggest impact was on the newspaper. On his watch, the editorial operation started using computers in the early 1980s, and circulation followed in 1984, Mathewson said. Lewis also was involved in the decision to put in a flexographic press that uses water-based inks, which are more environmentally friendly. “Bin knew the technical aspects of printing to a far deeper degree than any of us,” said Donald Dwight, a former Lyme resident and a director of Newspapers of New England since 1955.
Lewis was also a co-founder and a director of Publishers Associated to Gain Economy, a purchasing cooperative for independent newspapers intended to give them the same economies of scale as big newspaper chains.
His emphasis on cost fit with a conservative bent that occasionally set him at odds with the paper’s editorial page. Twice Lewis held out for Republican presidential candidates — Reagan in 1984 and George H.W. Bush in 1988 — and the paper didn’t endorse anyone in those years, McCartha said.
After leaving the Valley News, Lewis served as interim publisher of the Westerly (R.I.)Sun, and continued to play tennis and work with nonprofits. He spent more time with his family, and stayed involved in the nonprofit world. Through it all his style was gentle and avuncular.
“Sometimes, in conversation, he could be a little cryptic, Delphic almost,” Fox said. “Sometimes, in the moment, it was hard to parse what he was saying.” But his message would become clear later on, and the time delay, the circuitousness, would have served its purpose. “Sometimes …requiring someone to think about what you’re saying is the best way to get your point across,” Fox said.
The development of the people he was working with was always paramount, said Brett Lewis, who has lived near Burlington since 1983. “What dad loves to do is see people grow,” he said.
Lewis said as much. After leaving as publisher, in May 1993, he stayed on for several months to work on projects. In his exit interview, published in January 1994, he was asked about the most satisfying part of his tenure.
“I guess the growth of the people and seeing their development is far and away the most satisfying thing to me. … When I first arrived here, there were a lot of people who knew very little about newspapering but wanted to do a good job. Many of those are still here, and seeing how they have developed over the years has been just wonderful.”
Lewis is survived by Jones, his children, nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.