Journalist Bradford Jacobs dies at 76 He rose through ranks to edit Evening Sun

April 07, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Sheridan Lyons and Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

Bradford McElderry Jacobs, retired Evening Sun editorial page editor whose front-page endorsement helped catapult Harry R. Hughes from obscurity to the governorship in 1978, died Saturday afternoon of complications from lung surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Stevenson resident was 76.

In his distinguished 44-year career as a journalist, editor and author, there was perhaps no more thrilling moment or greater achievement than securing for Mr. Hughes the Democratic nomination for governor.

"It's amazing how much of a difference we did make. It's history, and Brad was very definitely the moving spirit in that," said Dudley P. Digges, who in 1981 succeeded Mr. Jacobs as Evening Sun editorial page editor.

In the 1978 primary, Mr. Hughes, a former state senator, was facing Blair Lee III, acting governor after Marvin Mandel was indicted on corruption charges; Baltimore County Executive Theodore G. Venetoulis; and Walter S. Orlinsky, president of the Baltimore City Council.

One political observer described Mr. Hughes as "a lost ball in high grass."

Mr. Hughes was last in The Sun's election polls when Mr. Jacobs convinced Joseph R. L. Sterne, editor of The Sun's editorial page, that Mr. Hughes was the best candidate. They agreed to jointly endorse him.

"Both Brad and Joe drove down to see me at my home in Annapolis. The thing really caught me by surprise," Donald H. Patterson, former publisher of the newspapers, said yesterday.

"Their argument was logical and sensible, and endorsing Harry Hughes was the proper thing to do," he said.

Mr. Hughes said the newspapers' endorsement aided his election "because it gave me credibility."

"There were two things," Mr. Hughes said yesterday. "One was the Aug. 1, 1978, television debates because I didn't have any money. That was the first turning point. And the second was the Sun endorsement. I always understood that he was instrumental in that. I knew that he was supportive."

After the endorsement, Mr. Hughes' standing in the polls rose, and he handily won the primary and general election.

"The editorial's second, perhaps more durable impact was not so instantly apparent," Mr. Jacobs wrote in The Evening Sun's last edition, in September 1995. "Only later it emerged that the Hughes election had smashed, apparently forever, the antique Democratic machine -- buyer of votes and coddler of bosses, briber of the frail and patron of the strong -- which had run all-weather in Maryland since the end of the Civil War."

Mr. Jacobs was born and raised in Ruxton. His maternal great-grandfather was Augustus W. Bradford, pro-Union governor of Maryland from 1862 to 1865, whose North Charles Street residence, now part of the Elkridge Club, was burned by marauding Confederate troops in 1864.

His paternal great-grandfather was Joseph M. Streett, a noted late-19th-century Harford County lawyer and publisher of the Harford Democrat.

Mr. Jacobs' interest in writing began when he was a youngster at Gilman School, where he wrote poetry.

He graduated from Gilman in 1938 and earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1942 from Princeton University.

After four years as an Army intelligence officer in Europe during World War II, he joined The Evening Sun in 1946.

He sat in the paper's city room for several days, ignored by editors who gave him no assignments. Then Mr. Jacobs wrote several letters to the editor that were published.

"Ed Young, the city editor, reading the paper, said, 'Who is this guy Brad Jacobs?' " recalled James H. Bready, retired Evening Sun editorial writer and Sun book columnist. " 'He's that guy sitting over there,' came the reply."

Thus began, Mr. Bready said, Mr. Jacobs' "rapid rise" in the newspaper business. He went from police reporter in 1946 to part of The Sun's 1948 team, including H. L. Mencken, that covered the Democratic, Republican and Progressive conventions in Philadelphia.

Mr. Jacobs covered 15 presidential conventions. He was chief of The Sun's London bureau from 1954 to 1956, then was assigned to the Washington bureau. In 1957, he joined The Evening Sun's editorial staff as a political columnist, and in 1968 he succeeded A. D. Emmart as editorial page editor.

"I think he was perhaps the youngest political correspondent the paper ever had, at least in modern times," said Harold A. Williams, retired Sunday Sun editor and author of "The Baltimore Sun, 1837-1987."

Said Mr. Sterne: "He was a newspaperman who had an encyclopedic knowledge of Maryland politics, and a very lively and sparkling writing style that made politics come alive."

Mr. Jacobs "set standards in the profession," Mr. Sterne said. "He was tough-minded, as his book on Gov. Marvin Mandel showed, and as editor of The Evening Sun reinvigorated the voice of that newspaper."

He routinely arrived at the office before dawn. After a 7 a.m. meeting with his staff, assignments were given out. Writers had little more than 30 minutes to produce editorials for an 8 a.m. deadline.

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