Here’s a look at some of the biggest moments that marked the life and career of Neil Morgan, Voice of San Diego’s co-founder and longtime journalist and chronicler of San Diego, who died at his home Feb. 1.
1924: Neil Morgan is born in Smithfield, N.C., on Feb. 27.
1943: Morgan graduates from Wake Forest College, now known as Wake Forest University, in North Carolina. He serves a stint as an assistant state editor at the Raleigh paper and then joins the Navy, which brings him to San Diego.
1946: Morgan begins his newspaper career as a columnist at the San Diego Daily Journal, a newspaper with a Democratic tilt. He works with Lionel Van Deerlin, who later became a South Bay congressman, and for a time wrote under the pseudonym Terry Nolan.
1950: Morgan becomes a columnist at the Evening Tribune when the Union-Tribune Publishing Company buys the San Diego Daily Journal. He continues writing a column called “Crosstown” and writes columns for the Evening Tribune until 1992. He also writes for its sister paper, The San Diego Union.
1951: Morgan writes his first book, “My San Diego,” a collection of vignettes about the city.
1963: Morgan writes the book “Westward Tilt: The American West Today,” cementing his reputation as an interpreter and analyst of the West.
1964: Morgan marries Judith Blakely, a journalist at The San Diego Union. They have one child, Jill.
1972: Morgan writes a book called “San Diego: The Unconventional City,” which describes San Diego as a “stumblebum with character.”
1981: Morgan is named editor of the Evening Tribune.
1985: Morgan falls victim to a memorable hoax when he writes about a supposed tell-all book chronicling illegal behavior among local judges. Morgan had been conned by a recalled judge who’d sent him an anonymous tip on April Fool’s Day.
1987: Under Morgan’s leadership, the Evening Tribune’s John Freedman wins a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for a series of editorials urging passage of immigration reform. It’s the Tribune’s second Pulitzer and only the third awarded to any local paper up to that time. (The other went to the San Diego Sun.)
Here’s an archived interview with Morgan from KPBS in 1988. “We still have a chance to be a good city or even possibly a great city,” he said. “San Diego people are doing sophisticated things but we’re still a small town at heart. There’s no central urban core here. There’s no city. There’s a bunch of communities. We are thirty communities of strangers linked by the climate.”
1992: After years of struggling to survive as an afternoon paper, the Evening Tribune publishes its last edition on Feb. 1. The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune merge into The San Diego Union-Tribune amid job cuts.
Morgan stays on but is not named editor of the new paper. Instead, he becomes associate editor of the U-T and a senior columnist.
Ken Stone, a former colleague, has posted a video of Morgan addressing the staff on the last day of the Tribune’s publishing.
1995: Morgan and his wife, Judith, write “Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel,” an authorized biography of the late La Jolla resident who was known as both Theodor “Ted” Geisel and Dr. Seuss. The Morgans describe their friend as a man plagued by black moods who vigorously protected his work from commercialization.
The New York Times names the biography one of the “notable books” of the year.
2004: The U-T fires Morgan on March 31, ending his 54-year career with the Copley Newspapers. The newspaper staff gives him a standing ovation as he leaves the paper’s Mission Valley office.
Morgan, who was 80 at the time, holds a press conference to announce that he’s been sacked. “I’m not retiring, I’m not sick and I’m not resigning,” Morgan says. “I got fired.”
The reasons behind his dismissal never become public, although Morgan says he received a settlement.
2004: Morgan begins discussions with a friend, entrepreneur Buzz Woolley, about creating an online news organization that would be a trustworthy and reliable source of news for San Diegans.
2005: The news organization, Voice of San Diego, makes its debut in February with a staff mostly made up of young journalists. As the site develops a national reputation for its unique brand of investigative and explanatory journalism, Morgan writes columns that are intensely critical of the city’s establishment and leadership.
2013: Voice of San Diego establishes the Neil Morgan Fund for Investigative Reporting.
2014: Morgan dies at the age of 89 at his home in La Jolla.