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The Last Roar of the Lion

  How often have we heard the phrase "larger than life" and believed it ? Usually
labels such as that spring from publicists, pr agents and their ilk. So when one
does meet an individual that truly is larger than life, you remember it. Such was
Otis Chandler. The best summary I ever read on the man came from a story in the
Christian Science Monitor. The writer stated that if Otis didn’t exist, Hemmingway
would have created him. I always thought of him in one of those bull fight
renderings that Picasso used to toss off in a free moment. Otis was a man of
action, never stationary. In a digital age, he was the fine Swiss movement, that
split second of decision that one knows is a chance. More often than not, Otis
Chandler made all the right moves.

Stop the presses, get me rewrite…
  The man known as Big Oats, Oats or simply Otis to a great many people, passed
away quietly at home in Ojai on February 27. A memorial service was held
yesterday at All Saints Church in Pasadena and the crosscurrent of individuals
that attended spoke volumes of the man's influence and the respect he
commanded. Naturally it was those from the publishing world that had the most to
say as this was where Otis truly made his mark. In today's world it is easy to forget
that L.A. was once considered a cultural backwater to the publishing barons of the
East Coast. The Chandler family owned Los Angeles Times was hardly a
newspaper to be taken seriously. Otis changed all that. This was no Charles
Foster Kane with a new toy, Otis Chandler, 32, was named publisher of the Los
Angeles Times in 1960 and wasted no time in turning the paper around in one of
the most dramatic and successful stories in the history of journalism. The
landscape immediately was littered with ex-employees that couldn’t cut it or meet
the standards that the new publisher demanded and quite frankly, expected. That
same fire in the belly competitiveness that carried him through his school years
had extended in to the pressroom and the results made the Times one of the
great newspapers of the world during Otis' time at the helm. Not content with the
usual wire services, the paper opened it's own bureaus in the major cities
throughout the world. One of his most important additions was a revamping of the
Time's editorial page that among other things gave us cartoonist Paul Conrad
whose sharp wit and pen later put him on Nixon's enemies' list. Hotcha !

  Otis cut across all the known boundaries. For all his public image, this was an
intensely private man. However, it was that rare ability he possessed of making
one feel that they mattered to him. There are plenty of individuals born to wealth
and power, always have been and always will, but it is what they do with it, how
they make their mark that shows how their time on the planet will be judged. Otis
made his mark and to many, he made us proud to be from L.A. His departure from
the Times years later started the paper on a slow decline that has made it less
relevant. Otis was "The Man" to many and the weight he carried couldn’t go on
forever. The quality of the newspaper was matched by the quality of the man and in
the faceless corporate world of today, credibility and responsibility have been

  Otis surfed, rode motorcycles, hunted big game, collected art and Dusenbergs
among the other usual trappings of the wealthy. What set Otis apart from his
contemporaries were his passion, taste and his knowledge. The Otis I knew
raced Porsches. My favorite memories were the times he would rent Riverside
Raceway and invite a few friends to bring their cars out for the day. Hey, who
wouldn’t want to share track time with Otis when one of his friends is Dan Gurney
? The sight of a pair of Porsche 917 Panzerwagens was a rarity back in the 70's.
His personal favorite was the ex-Mark Donohue Penske 917-30 that is still thought
of by many as the most important post war race car ever built. The 917-30 was not
an easy car to drive but Otis showed that he was no dilettante during a vintage
race at Riverside one weekend. The field was packed with Lola's, McLarens,
Porsches, the usual fire-breathing Can Am and group 6 machinery. Otis, as
Donohue showed so often, took the "30" to P1 and opened up a huge lead on the
field and cruised to the win. The pro guys took notice and that was that.

  One of the funnier adventures with Otis came at the Porsche Parade held in San
Diego in 1977. His 904 had won it's class in the concours and several of us
jumped in to get the car cleaned up for a run at best overall. I lifted the front hood
and found that a large area of paint had lifted from the fiberglass and was clearly
obvious. I quickly closed the hood and walked around the 904 where Otis was
cleaning a doorsill. He listened, paused, took stock of the situation and said don’t
worry about it. When the judges came around and it was time to open the front
hood, Otis calmly picked up a towel, folded it and draped it over the offending area
while holding the hood up during the inspection. The judges never noticed it. Otis
and the 904 didn’t win best of show but the next day he drove the Porsche from
home to his parking spot at the Times to celebrate.

No jacket required…
  Otis didn’t suffer fools but would always take the time to talk if one could
converse in a relevant manner. A mixture of aloofness with intimacy, he scared
people but never pushed them away either. One day I stopped by the Times and
his secretary asked if I could wait a few moments as he was on the phone with the
President. Five minutes later I was in his office. This came back to me as a
reporter asked for my thoughts about Otis after the service. Turns out he saw that I
was one of the few not wearing a suit and thought I would make good copy. The
Otis I knew would never have judged a person that way.

Life down here on earth…
  The last time I saw Otis was last year at the wedding for his daughter Carolyn to
noted author Randy Leffingwell. It was a quiet affair at the Chandler Ojai ranch and
Otis was in good form, greeting the guests, enjoying himself. It is how I will
remember him. He was an influence to many without us even realizing just how
much. Otis was a student of all things worldly and I can say that even in the
briefest of conversations with him, you would learn something and be all the

                                                                        Kerry Morse
                                                                         March 2006

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