Mary Junck, a 45-year-old veteran newspaper executive and former publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, was named yesterday as publisher and chief executive officer of The Baltimore Sun.
Ms. Junck, who went on leave from the St. Paul job 10 months ago to spend time with her 4-year-old daughter, will delay beginning her new job until Jan. 1. She replaces Michael J. Davies, who resigned March 15 to move to New York, where his wife is a television anchor.
"We are very pleased to have an executive of Ms. Junck's proven caliber, with broad background in newspaper publishing, join The Baltimore Sun at this challenging time in the newspaper's history," said Richard T. Schlosberg III, senior vice president of Times Mirror Co. of Los Angeles, owner of The Sun and The Evening Sun. He said he recruited Ms. Junck over a period of several months before persuading her last month to take the job, in part by agreeing to the January start.
"In the long term, in the '90s in Baltimore, I thought she'd provide extraordinary leadership," Mr. Schlosberg said, making her absence over the next eight months "a non- issue." Of Ms. Junck's insistence on spending time with her daughter, he said, "I think it shows the best in her and reflects positively on her. I thought it was a plus."
Consultants on women in the workplace said yesterday that Ms. Junck's leave arrangement was a sign of changing attitudes in the business world. "I think it's groundbreaking," said Felice Schwartz, a New York consultant who stirred controversy in 1989 by writing about the so-called "mommy track" for mothers in executive positions.
Ms. Junck, who visited the newspaper to meet the staff yesterday, said she was attracted to the job by "the national stature of The Baltimore Sun and the appeal of this market as a place to live."
As publisher, Ms. Junck will have responsibility for both the business and news operations of the newspapers but will not supervise daily news coverage.
She is the first woman to be named chief executive of The Sun since it was founded in 1837 and will be one of a handful of top female executives running large daily newspapers in the country.
Ms. Junck has spent 20 years in marketing, advertising and management positions with Knight-Ridder Inc., like Times Mirror one of the nation's largest media companies, and she had expected to return to an executive job with Knight-Ridder next year.
"We would love to have had her back," said Jennie Buckner, Knight-Ridder's vice president for news. "Mary will do a great job. She's smart. She's an excellent marketer. She gets people excited and was an excellent team-builder."
Unlike her two most recent predecessors, Mr. Davies and Reg Murphy, Ms. Junck has never worked as a reporter or editor, though she said the appeal of reporting originally attracted her to journalism.
She grew up on a corn-and-cattle farm near Ogden, Iowa, graduated with a degree in English from Valparaiso University in Indiana and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Though she had job prospects as a reporter after finishing journalism school, she accepted what she considered to be her best offer: marketing research manager for the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte News, Knight-Ridder papers in North Carolina. She rose to advertising director before moving in 1977 to the Miami Herald, where she held a number of top advertising posts and oversaw the launch of "Neighbors" supplements with local news zoned for individual communities.
In 1982, Ms. Junck became assistant to the senior vice president for operations at Knight-Ridder's headquarters in Miami. In 1985, she was named senior vice president and general manager of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, advancing to the post of president and publisher in 1990.
She announced her decision to take a leave of absence at an emotional meeting with the newspaper's staff in June, reporters said yesterday. She called her decision "the toughest decision I've ever made in my life" and told her colleagues: "You can reach me in the sandbox."
She began her leave with a six-week camping tour of Western national parks with her daughter, Betty Gibson, and her stepson, Scott Gibson, 18. Her husband, Ralph Gibson, is president of Motorbooks International, a publisher and distributor of books on motoring, aviation and military topics.
He sold the business recently and intends to leave his job to pursue business interests in the Baltimore area after Jan. 1, Ms. Junck said.
The St. Paul paper has a circulation of 205,000 daily and 270,000 Sunday. The combined daily circulation of The Sun and The Evening Sun was 343,208 in the three months ending March 31 and 488,183 for Sunday.
At The Baltimore Sun, Ms. Junck faces a number of unresolved questions.