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Former U-T publisher remembered for philanthropy, quiet leadership

David Copley

David Copley was remembered Wednesday for his contributions to the arts and his quiet stewardship of the city's largest newspaper.

Copley, the last in a family line of San Diego Union-Tribune publishers and owners who dominated the city's media for more than eight decades, died after crashing his car Tuesday night near his La Jolla home.

Copley, 60, was declared dead at Scripps Memorial Hospital at about 9 p.m., some three hours after he crashed his Aston Martin sports car into a parked vehicle, the newspaper now known as U-T San Diego reported (http://bit.ly/UUG6Xf). Copley's close friend Dr. Robert Singer announced the death outside the hospital.

"It's shocking to everybody," said Bob Witty, a longtime editor and former head of Copley News Service. "It's so tragic and so sad.

"David was reserved. He had a good sense of humor and was proud to be the publisher. The people who worked there all respected him."

Police working at a nearby rally heard the crash and found Copley alone in the car and unconscious at about 6:15 p.m., fire department spokesman Maurice Luque said. Copley was resuscitated and taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The cause of the crash wasn't immediately clear, but police told the newspaper it may have stemmed from a medical emergency. Copley had a heart transplant in 2005.

Copley took over as owner and publisher of the Union-Tribune, the main newspaper in the nation's eighth-largest city, from his mother in 2001. He held the position until 2009, when parent company Copley Press Inc. sold the newspaper to the private Beverly Hills-based firm Platinum Equity, ending an 81-year San Diego dynasty.

Copley and his family also were major benefactors to art and charity in San Diego. Their name is on many of the city's cultural institutions, including its symphony hall and modern art museum.

Witty said Copley was quiet when attending editorial staff meetings, but he took an interest in all the stories being discussed.

"He was very supportive and wanted to know what people were doing," Witty said. "He was a good man to work for."

Witty said Copley will be remembered for his philanthropy and love of the arts.

The family had four publishers spanning three generations. Ira Copley, an Illinois businessman, bought The San Diego Union in 1928 and was publisher until 1947. His son, James Copley, took over until 1973 and James Copley's wife, Helen, was publisher until 2001, when she named David Copley to replace her.

The Union, a morning newspaper, merged with the Copleys' afternoon paper, the Evening Tribune, in 1992.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this story

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