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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
Editing and publishing began early for E.W. Scripps Co. Chairman William R. (Bill) Burleigh as ink – and a love for the Ohio River – seemingly always were in his blood.
Raised along the Ohio River in Evansville, IN, he first ventured into publishing at 9 years of age, producing the “Neighborhood News” on a Hectograph printing press purchased from the Sears Catalog. The “Neighborhood News” sold briskly for 25 cents, and its first headline was “Knowledge Is Power,” foreshadowing a remarkable connection to the Scripps corporate slogan of “Give light and people will find their own way.”
By age 14, he was working as a sports reporter for the Evansville Press, a Scripps-owned newspaper, giving up his other love – basketball – to pursue the dream of one day serving as a newspaper editor in Evansville, long regarded as a hotbed for outstanding journalism.
While studying at Marquette University, he served as editor of the college paper and worked summers in various departments at The Press. He earned his degree in journalism magna cum laude, and was named the outstanding graduate in journalism by Sigma Delta Chi. Following graduation in 1957 and U.S. infantry service, he returned to The Press as a general assignment reporter. Specializing in education and labor, he covered early school integration conflicts in the South in the late 1950s.
He became the newspaper’s first urban affairs reporter and earned a series of promotions: assistant city editor in 1960; city editor in 1962; managing editor in 1969; and then to editor and president in 1975, while also serving as corporate secretary of the Evansville Printing Corp. Just 15 months later, though, after fulfilling his childhood dream, Scripps-Howard called and asked Burleigh to move to Cincinnati to breathe new life into the newsroom at The Cincinnati Post.
“We had a bunch of real Fourth Estate characters with great talent,” Burleigh recalled of his days at The Post. “Our journalistic quality was wonderful.”
Seven years later, in 1984, Scripps asked Burleigh to step away from what he affectionately calls his “bully pulpit” at The Post and promoted him to vice president and general editorial manager of the corporate offices in Downtown Cincinnati. Through the years and up through the ranks – as senior vice president/Newspapers & Publishing in 1986, executive vice president in 1990, chief operating officer in 1994, president and COO in 1994, CEO in 1996 and chairman of the board in 1999 – he led the transformation of Scripps from primarily a newspaper enterprise into a thriving, diverse media concern with interests in national cable networks, newspaper publishing, broadcast television stations, electronic commerce, interactive media, and licensing and syndication.
A highlight of his corporate leadership was arranging a trade with a Texas-based media conglomerate for a two-thirds stake in the Food Network in exchange for Scripps’ San Antonio TV station. That move propelled Scripps successful foray into lifestyle cable networks that now includes HGTV, Food Network, DIY, Fine Living and GAC. He retired as CEO in September of 2000 but remains chairman of the E.W. Scripps executive committee.
Throughout his career, Burleigh has been a national leader in the media and related industries, serving as vice chairman of the Associated Press, chairman of the American Press Institute, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation, a Pulitzer Prize juror for a number of years and is the current chair of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., among many other important national posts. Locally he has chaired the Chamber, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and is chairman emeritus of Good Samaritan Hospital.
He has served on numerous boards, including as former chair of the Greater Cincinnati Technology Initiative, now CincyTechUSA; former vice-chairman of Legatus; director of the Hebrew Union College Ethics Center; and closest to his yearning to maintain his Ohio River roots, as trustee of the Rabbit Hash Historical Society.
He was a founding co-chair of the Metropolitan Growth Alliance, which served to launch collaboration across the three-state, 15-county region. In his speech to the Chamber’s Annual Luncheon in 1997, he underscored the need for regional collaboration, saying: “We need to remind ourselves of Ben Franklin’s words as he signed the Declaration of Independence, ‘We must all hang together, or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.’”
He has earned numerous awards, including: the Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1996; Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, 1996; Cincinnati Journalism Hall of Fame, 1998; Marquette University Alumnus of the Year, 1998; Lincoln Award, Northern Kentucky University, 1999; American Jewish Committee, Human Relations Award, 2000; Anvil of Freedom Award, University of Denver, 2000; Isaiah Thomas Award, Rochester Institute of Technology, 2000; Alexis DeTocqueville Award, United Appeal of Greater Cincinnati, 2006; and the Metropolitan Award, 2006.
From 2002-2004, he served as a member of the National Review Board for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and as co-author of “A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States,” prepared by the board for the protection of children and young people. He continued to serve as the court-appointed co-special master in the $84-million settlement of the John Doe class action suit vs. the Diocese of Covington.
He and his wife, author and free-lance writer Anne Husted Burleigh, had three children: David, an attorney with the firm of Deters, Benzinger & LaVelle; Sister Anne Catherine, O.P., a Dominican sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville, TN; and Margaret Brecount of Cincinnati. They had six grandchildren at the time of this writing.
Of the Great Living Cincinnatian honor, Burleigh notes he was proud to be an “adopted son” who is “flattered, humbled, surprised and unworthy.” “I’ve had a great ride,” he said. “Working for Scripps has given me a lot of great opportunities.”
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization