James S. Copley (1916-1973)
James Copley was born in St. Johnsville, N.Y., in 1916. Both of his parents died in the flu epidemic that swept the U.S. in 1918, and when he was 4 he was adopted by Col. and Mrs. Ira C. Copley. Col. Copley bought The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune from the Spreckels family in 1928.
Copley graduated from Yale in 1939 and started his journalism career at another of his father’s papers, The Culver City Star News, where he solicited ads and circulation as well as sweeping the floor and writing news stories.
When the elder Copley died in 1947, Jim became Chief Executive Officer of the corporation publishing a large family of newspapers, the flagship of which was, and is today, the Union-Tribune. He pursued a dynamic program of expansion of the newspaper plants, both technologically and in size. He took an active personal interest in the editorial quality of his papers. In the 26 years he headed the enterprise until his death in 1973, the Union’s circulation tripled and the Union-Tribune moved into a wholly new plant with new presses in Mission Valley.
Copley’s politics were unabashedly conservative, Republican and pro-American, and still have a deep influence on the voting populace of San Diego.
He was President of the Boy Scouts San Diego County Council, the Navy League San Diego Council, and received so many industry and patriotic awards that they are too numerous to list here. He also was a notable philanthropist to local causes, including large, key gifts to build the Copley Auditorium at the San Diego Museum of Art and Copley Library at University of San Diego.
His widow, Helen K. Copley, continued the tradition of philanthropy through gifts to finance Copley Symphony Hall and the City-County Animal Shelter until her death in 2004.
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