Lee Bollinger was a gentleman of the greatest generation, raised in Sonoma County, who took aspirin to remedy the rejection of his first attempt to serve his country in World War II, and who was unable to not to see newspaper ink running through his veins.
Bollinger, who delivered The Press Democrat as a child and then worked for most of his 50-year career as an executive and pillar of the newspaper, died on October 8. The disciplined but mild-tempered Marine Corps veteran was 96 years old.
“In many ways, my father’s story is classic American history,” said his senior, Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University in New York for nearly 20 years.
His father helped support his family as a child during the Great Depression and, shortly after graduating from Santa Rosa High School in 1943, attempted to enlist in the United States military.
“They turned him down because he had a heart murmur,” said his son Brad Bollinger, who was for decades a columnist and editor of the Democratic Press and who retired at the end of the year. last year as the editor of a sister publication, the North Bay Business Journal.
He said his father was not discouraged by his medical exemption from the military, and simply went home and took some aspirin.
He then applied to the US Marine Corps and was accepted. He will carry out dozens of combat missions in the Pacific and will be decorated as a machine gunner in the belly of a Grumman TBM Avenger, a torpedo bomber.
Lee Bollinger was only 12 years old and the Depression was raging when he started making some money delivering The Press Democrat. Over time, just about everyone in three generations of their family would work or make a career in the newspaper.
“It was a family affair,” said Tami Bollinger Edwards of Santa Rosa, Lee Bollinger’s only daughter.
She worked at the newspaper for over 30 years and retired in 2012 from the retail advertising department. His grandmother, Sue Bollinger, Lee Bollinger’s mother, operated the PD switchboard in the 1940s and then set up the newspaper’s news library, or more commonly known among staff members, “the morgue.” .
Lee Bollinger Jr., the president of Columbia University, was a young lawyer when he began to focus on press freedom.
“I knew it in my bones. It was part of me because it was part of him (his father), ”he said. As a leading First Amendment scholar, he teaches, speaks, and writes books on the subject.
His father was still a teenager when he went to work in the PD building, doing whatever needed to be done. He reread the news copy and also read aloud to Senator Herbert Slater, who was blind and wrote a column for the newspaper.
If young Lee Bollinger wasn’t busy with PD or his homework, he was probably playing tennis. “He was a very good tennis player; he almost became a professional player, ”said Brad Bollinger.
It was at Santa Rosa High that the athletic Press Democrat employee met and fell in love with her classmate Patricia Young. They were both 18 when they married in 1943. The following year, they shared a tearful goodbye before he went to war.
“It was a really tough time for him,” said Tami Edwards. His brother Brad said their father returned after his honorable release and never spoke much about the war.
The 20-year-old combat veteran returned to the Democratic press in late 1945 and worked in the broadcast department, becoming its director. He and Patricia had welcomed three sons into the world when an opportunity took them out of state.
In 1957, the owners of The Press Democrat, Ruth Finley and her son-in-law, Evert Person, purchased an Oregon daily, the Baker Democrat-Herald. They asked Bollinger to become its editor and publisher.
So the Bollinger’s and their sons Lee, Mark and Brad moved to central Oregon. Lee Bollinger Sr. has become a mainstay of community life in Baker City. A memorable day was when the editor of the newspaper welcomed John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy there during a campaign stop.
The Bollinger family has grown by three in the 10 years Lee has led the Democrat-Herald. In 1967 the newspaper was sold and Bollinger returned to The Press Democrat as the new classifieds manager. His family relocated to Santa Rosa.
At this time, the classifieds – offering or searching for used cars, pets, apartments, jobs, etc. – were an important source of income for the PD and other newspapers. Bollinger gained national notoriety by developing the newspaper’s classifieds department.
In 1979, his team sold over a million classifieds, more than any other newspaper of similar size in the country. A decade later, PD breaks records again by selling 2 million classifieds in one year. Today, most of these advertisements have migrated to the Internet.