The Buffalo News is in rare company for having had just seven publishers in its nearly 135 years. The loss of one of those leaders so integral to the newspaper and community is significant, and so we note the passing of Henry Z. Urban at age 94.
As publisher of The News from 1974 to 1983, Mr. Urban led the paper through turbulent times, and he did it with grace and aplomb. He was the quintessential gentleman in the face of adversity.
He was the historic link between the newspapers’ founding Butler family and its current era under Warren Buffett, head of Berkshire Hathaway and chairman of The News. In announcing Mr. Urban’s retirement after 30 years at The News, Buffett said: “Mr. Urban is one of the reasons we came to Buffalo. We liked what we saw and we still like what we see. Our association with Mr. Urban is as satisfactory as any we’ve had with any key executive.”
He rose from an assistant business manager to business manager, treasurer and corporate director before being named president and publisher in 1974, after the death of Kate R. Butler.
Said Stanford Lipsey, who worked with Mr. Urban for several years before succeeding him as publisher of The News: “He was just the most cordial, kind, friendly individual. He was a true Buffalo gentleman. That was his persona.”
Mr. Urban is properly remembered, with great fondness, for his meticulous attention to this newspaper and its subscribers. Mr. Urban would shepherd this newspaper through the Blizzard of ’77, delivering newspapers himself to subscribers in his neighborhood; the tough battle for survival between The News and the Courier-Express; and then the transition to new ownership. Mr. Urban never compromised his demand for excellence, and he did it in a way that endeared him to employees accustomed to his regular rounds visiting every department at the paper. He was thinking of his subscribers as he combed through the newspaper for typographical errors, which he immediately phoned in to the production department to be fixed for the next edition.
Mr. Urban, a member of the Urban Milling Co. family, served his community and his country. After graduating early from Yale, he enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served as a gunnery lieutenant on the USS Canberra.
He truly was a “people’s publisher,” the epitome of grace under pressure, and a man who loved Buffalo. His legacy is in the strong newspaper you are reading.