Jonathan Paley Wolman, a longtime newspaper man whose career spanned 46 years, including as editorial page editor of The Denver Post from 2004 through 2007, died Monday in Detroit.
Wolman, who was 68, died of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was editor and publisher of the Detroit News for the past 12 years.
The Madison, Wis., native served as Washington bureau chief for The Associated Press and as the AP’s executive editor in New York, leading coverage of some of the biggest national and international stories of our times, the Detroit News said in its obituary of Wolman. With the AP, Wolman directed coverage of the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, the fall of Berlin Wall, the White House under President Ronald Reagan, President Bill Clinton’s two terms and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Wolman was born on Aug. 1, 1950, to Anne and J. Martin Wolman. His father, also a longtime newspaper man who was known as “Murphy” Wolman, spent an entire career — from newsboy to publisher — with the Wisconsin State Journal.
“He had journalism in his bones,” said former Denver Post Editor Gregory L. Moore. “It’s really a loss for journalism.”
Wolman became editorial page editor at The Post in March 2004, succeeding Sue O’Brien, who had headed the editorial page from 1995 until her death from cancer in August 2003. Wolman brought with him to the job an impressive list of national and international contacts, a passion for politics and big-story tested experiences.
“He shared his knowledge and his contacts, the way he operated as a journalist and a human being, for me, it was like going to graduate school,” Moore said. “It was really a privilege, he was terrific, a great guy.”
William Dean Singleton, former owner of The Denver Post, was familiar with Wolman and impressed by his run at the AP. Singleton hired Wolman to run his paper’s editorial page.
“I knew him through the years,” Singleton said. “I consider him a very good friend, a very good business associate and an outstanding newsman.”
Singleton said Wolman was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. The two had stayed in touch through the years, including recent phone conversations and a last get together in Denver.
“He fought to the very end,” Singleton said. “He never gave up, he had continued to seek new treatments, he stayed with it to the very end.”
Wolman had worked up until a week ago Friday, Singleton said. “He went home and never left the house after that.”
As a young man, Wolman attended the University of Colorado in Boulder for two years, returning to Madison and the University of Wisconsin, where he majored in philosophy, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1972.
In January 1973, the AP hired Wolman and he covered the Wisconsin State Capitol. Wolman eventually parlayed his statehouse reporting job into becoming the Washington, D.C., bureau chief.
“Jon lived and breathed politics, it was his favorite subject,” Singleton said. “There’s no one who you could have a more enjoyable conversation about politics with than Jon.”
Dan Haley, former editorial page editor of The Post, who succeeded Wolman after working under him, remembers his former boss as an honest, but sometimes intimidating man.
“He has such a presence about him, he came with a lot of rich experience,” Haley said. “He understood politics better than most people. He made me a better journalist and a better editorial writer.”
Leaving Denver in June 2007, Wolman took the job in Detroit, offered by Singleton, as editor and publisher.
“In his dozen years leading The News, he edited and directed coverage of some of the region’s most consequential stories in the past half century: the bankruptcies of two automakers and later the city of Detroit, the public-corruption conviction of former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the Flint water crisis, the continuing revitalization of Detroit, the improbable victory in Michigan of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race,” wrote Daniel Howes, of the Detroit News, in a news obituary published Monday.
Wolman is survived by: his wife, Deborah Lamm; his son, Jacob; two daughters, Emma and Sophie; two sisters, Nicky Wolman and Ruth Henderson; and a brother, Lewis Wolman.
A service will be held Wednesday in Michigan. Memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Jewish Family Services of Metro Detroit.
The Detroit News contributed to this report.