Walter Annenberg, philanthropist, dies

Former publisher, 94, was art collector and ex-British ambassador

October 02, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Walter H. Annenberg, the philanthropist, art collector and former ambassador to Britain who at one time presided over a vast communications empire that included TV Guide and The Philadelphia Inquirer, died yesterday in Wynnewood, Pa. He was 94 and had homes there and in California.

The cause was pneumonia, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the years, Mr. Annenberg became one of the country's biggest philanthropists, giving away more than $2 billion in cash, according to Christopher Ogden, the author of Legacy: A Biography of Moses and Walter Annenberg, to say nothing of his art donations.

Raised as a rich man's son, Walter Annenberg multiplied his heritage many times over. "I started out with an awful lot handed to me," he once told an interviewer.

As chief executive of Triangle Publications, which he inherited as a debt-ridden corporation at the death of his father, Moses, in 1942, he forged one of the communication world's great powers, with newspapers, radio and television stations, national magazines and racing sheets.

In 1988 he sold the remaining portions of Triangle to Rupert Murdoch for $3.2 billion, saying he planned to devote the rest of his life to education and philanthropy.

Mr. Annenberg was a fervid patriot and Republican whose close friends included Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, to whom he gave considerable financial support.

In 1969, Mr. Nixon named Mr. Annenberg ambassador to the Court of St. James's, a coveted U.S. diplomatic post. The appointment was criticized on grounds that Mr. Annenberg had little experience in foreign affairs.

The lavish way of life enjoyed by Mr. Annenberg and his wife, Leonore, was most visible at Sunnylands, his 240-acre compound in Rancho Mirage, Calif. A mock-English country landscape in the desert, with trees, hills and waterfalls, it was also the setting for the bulk of the Annenberg art collection, a group of Impressionist and post-Impressionist works that is one of the world's great holdings.

Walter Hubert Annenberg was born in Milwaukee on March 13, 1908, the sixth of nine children. In 1920, Moses Annenberg moved his family to New York, where he quickly established himself. To his own holdings in the newspaper distribution business, he added the New York-based Daily Racing Form. In time he owned virtually every racing publication in the nation.

Walter spent a desultory year at the Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania, then dropped out in 1928 to pursue the stock market, where, through his own acumen, he had already established a portfolio worth $3 million, according to Mr. Ogden's book. His father, bent on "making a man" of him, brought his 21-year-old heir into the company in 1929.

In 1939, Moses was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago for evading $3.2 million in income taxes. Walter was also indicted. But a guilty plea by Moses, whereby he agreed to pay $9.5 million in taxes, penalties and interest and serve three years in jail, saved his son. As part of the settlement, charges against Walter were dropped.

Sentenced to three years, Moses was released in two, afflicted with a brain tumor that killed him a month later.

After his father's death in 1942, Walter took over as editor and publisher of the Inquirer. Mr. Annenberg's successful efforts to expand the Triangle Publications empire included the start-up of Seventeen magazine in 1944, the founding of TV Guide in 1953 and the purchase of radio and television stations.

Mr. Annenberg's first marriage, in 1938, to Veronica Dunkelman of Toronto, ended in divorce in 1950. The couple had a son, Roger, who committed suicide in 1962 at age 22, and a daughter, Wallis Annenberg of Los Angeles, who survives him.

In 1951, Mr. Annenberg married Leonore Cohn Rosenstiel, who also survives him, as do two of his seven sisters.

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