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Former Elkhart Truth Publisher Tony Biggs dies; remembered for contributions to newspaper

He served from 1980 to 1999 and is remembered as creative, community-oriented and bold.

Posted on March 24, 2014 at 5:45 p.m. | Updated on March 24, 2014 at 6:34 p.m.

He lived and breathed newspapers.

He enjoyed riding the roadways on his motorcycle.

He trekked, camped and traveled the globe, climbing mountains and diving beneath the seas.

He ran the Elkhart Truth at a time when competition with television news was growing increasingly fierce.

Anthony Harcourt Biggs, publisher of the Elkhart Truth from 1980 to 1999, loved adventure and made his professional mark in the newspaper world, most notably during his 19-year stay here in Elkhart. He passed away Monday, March 24, and those who knew him remember a multifaceted leader, innovative and bold. He was 80.

"He was a terrific publisher," said Truth Publishing Co. President John Dille, who hired Biggs. "He had a commanding presence about him. He was an in-charge kind of guy."

Ron Schmanske, former director of marketing for the Elkhart Truth, recalled a creative man with a deep sense of the Elkhart community. "That was a number one priority for him — his involvement in the community," said Schmanske.

Larry Murphy, a former Elkhart Truth editorial page editor, remembers eye-opening experiences traveling the world with Biggs, fodder for international coverage Murphy crafted for the pages of the Elkhart Truth. "I got to tell you, Tony was the best boss I ever had. He was just marvelous," said Murphy.

Biggs moved to Hawaii after retiring from the Elkhart Truth and most recently lived in Albuquerque, N.M. He is survived by wife Joan; three daughters, Erin vander Zee, Lauren Stenvick and Allison Ratzlaff, all of California; 11 grandchildren, all in California; and one brother, Timothy Biggs of Brooklyn, N.Y. He was preceded in death by another brother, Michael Biggs.

AFTERNOON TO MORNING DAILY

Biggs was born Feb. 3, 1934, in San Francisco, a fourth-generation Californian. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1956 and served two years active duty as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He worked for NBC television in Burbank, Calif., and started his newspaper career in 1965. He initially worked for the Oakland Tribune in California and Little Rock Newspapers, Inc., in Arkansas, serving at the latter during Bill Clinton's first term as governor of the state. In 1980, his stay in Elkhart began when he took over as publisher of the Elkhart Truth.

Among the notable developments under his leadership here was the conversion of the Elkhart Truth from an afternoon newspaper to a morning publication. "Afternoon newspapers were becoming a thing of the past as television news took hold," Dille said.

Also during Biggs' stay, the Elkhart Truth went from publishing six days a week — every day but Sunday — to seven. "There was a market," explained Dille. Elkhart County residents wanted a publication of their own to read each Sunday.

Bob Watson, former chief financial officer of Truth Publishing Co., praised Biggs' ability to juggle the technical aspects of being a publisher and the public relations duties. He even made sales presentations at times to major advertisers and retailers starting up on Grape Road in South Bend.

"He could see the big picture and yet see all the details that went into successful completion of any venture," Watson said. "He was responsible for the Truth getting and keeping significant business."

Biggs largely left management of the news side of things to the newspaper's managing editor and other editors, Murphy said. But the publisher was interested in helping shape the newspaper's editorial stance, a "fairly conservative position."

Schmanske noted that Biggs, a pianist, served on the Elkhart Jazz Festival organizing committee. He was also active and supportive of local service clubs and other organizations.

Broadly, Murphy said he seemed to see his mission as sustaining and fortifying the Elkhart area community. "That was probably Tony's biggest ambition, to be supportive of the community," Murphy said.

'A MAN OF HIS WORD'

That said, he also had a more personal impact on those around him.

Murphy said he felt he had leeway to do his work. "I felt I had a lot of support from him," Murphy said.

Schmanske said Biggs seemed to be able to draw the best out of people. "He was not only a publisher, he was a friend," Schmanske said. "There was a lot of loyalty to Tony as well as respect as a leader."

Melodie Halvorsen, an assistant to Biggs and now assistant to Brandon Erlacher, the current publisher, remembers learning a lot working with Biggs. "I learned a lot about the newspaper business from him. I learned a lot about customer service from him. I learned a lot about professionalism from him," Halvorsen said.

Even adversaries respected him, Watson said.

"He was considered firm but fair," Watson said. "He was a man of his word. If he said he would do something, he did it. This didn't always mean good for the recipient, but you could take him at his word."

Biggs' professional involvement didn't end with his Elkhart Truth publishing duties.

He was past director of the Hoosier State Press Association. He was co-founder of PAGE, a cooperative purchasing network for independent newspapers, and had served as president and director of the group. He served seven years as a member of the holding company of Independent Newspapers, Inc., which publishes numerous newspapers in Delaware and Maryland. He served as instructor to Caribbean journalists at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, having been picked for the job by the Organization of American States.

'ON THE ROAD'

Outside his formal work duties, Biggs lived large, searching out new experiences.

He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 1985 with Dille. In 1988, he dived Truk Lagoon in the Caroline Islands in the South Pacific, grave of numerous Japanese ships and airplanes from World War II. He hiked the world famous 35-mile Milford Track in New Zealand in 1994, later returning to the nation to track family roots there.

Dille remembers Biggs' claim to have made some sort of appearance, a brief non-speaking cameo, in a Clint Eastwood movie. The former publisher also enjoyed golf and riding around on a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

Biggs maintained a Route 66 road sign in his office and "it sort of was a symbol for his life, on the road," Dille said.

Biggs had been a member and former director of Elcona Country Club in Bristol. He also was a member of the Monterey Peninsula Country Club and the Spanish Bay Club, both in Pebble Beach, Calif.; the Bohemian Club in San Francisco; and the Faculty Club at the University of California in Berkeley.

There will be no services, at Biggs' request. After cremation his ashes will be scattered in several places meaningful to the family.


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