Still writing his weekly column in the weekender edition, Al wore his chevrons with politeness. I knew him during the 50s when he was a Miami Herald reporter and editor. Located on South Miami Avenue near the Miami River, its employees made their second home the restaurant across the street, where Frank Eidge found his lady love Lois. Popular as a waitress, she became a veritable beacon for newspaper folk after marrying Frank
Lee Hills was one of Al's editors in those days. Neuharth changed the look of American newspapers by filling USA Today with breezy, easy to read stories and bright graphics. He had the last laugh at those newspapermen who called his "baby" McPaper, because there was no "jump" to another page. And news was delivered in short, tight bites.
Al was accused of dumbing down American newspapers. After he retired from Gannett, Neuharth continued to write "Plain Talk", a weekly column in his own talkative style.
In 1966, he founded "Florida Today", the Space Coast's newspaper. He followed that with "USA Today" in 1982, which is now the nation's largest-circulation paper. He was chairman and CEO of the Gannett Co. The company's revenues increased from $200 million to more than $3 billion.
Those who knew Al well, said he "never got over being poor"--his father died when he was 2. Al had journalism in his blood; as many of us started by delivering papers. My photographer brother Paul Nielsen and Al Short, who played trumpet in the band at Edison High used to meet afternoons, once finished with making missiles out of folded newspapers.
Devilishly handsome, Al married three times. The first marriage to his high school sweetheart Loretta lasted 26 years. They had a son, Dan, and daughter Jan. He married Fla. Sen. Lori Wilson in 1973. They divorced the year he started up USA Today.
His last wife Rachel, a chiropractor and he adopted six children, who survive. Al wrote about each of the adoptions with such pleasure his smiles reached beyond miles.
He once sent me a letter asking if I'd be interested in becoming Woman's Editor of his "Cocoa Today" newspaper. I declined so my children wouldn't be deprived of their loving grandparents' daily care. Not to mention their fun days filled with hilarious encounters. Where do you think we got our sense of humor? They were great Danes.