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Robert Morrisey, 78; Retired Marine Officer, Public Relations Executive Founded Wine Spectator Magazine

Times Staff Writer

Robert Morrisey, the founder and first editor and publisher of the Wine Spectator, an influential lifestyle magazine for wine consumers, has died. He was 78.

Morrisey, who had a 25-year career in the Marines before retiring with the rank of major, died of congestive heart failure Saturday at a hospital in San Diego, according to his daughter Michele Morrisey.

In the early 1970s, Morrisey developed an interest in fine wine and started writing a column for the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 1976, he decided to start a publication devoted to his passion.

The publication, a biweekly tabloid, was started in San Diego on April 1 -- April Fool’s Day. It had an inaugural print run of 3,000 copies.

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“For the few of us who struggled to launch the original 12-page tabloid newspaper ... it was no April Fool’s joke,” Morrisey wrote in the magazine’s 20th anniversary issue. “It was an undercapitalized commitment. Of necessity, it had to be a labor of love.”

By 1979, the undercapitalization was taking its toll and Morrisey was faced with either finding a buyer or shutting it down. He turned to Marvin R. Shanken, the publisher of a trade newsletter called Impact, which was for the wine, spirits and beer industries. A fan of the publication, Shanken had the deeper pockets to help make the Wine Spectator thrive. It now has a circulation of 400,000.

“Bob was the original visionary who saw the possibilities of the Wine Spectator’s future,” Shanken, the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher, said in an obituary posted on the publication’s website. “He had the faith to sacrifice whatever was necessary to keep it going in the early years.”

Born in Wheeling, W.Va., Morrisey was raised in Joliet, Ill. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marines and saw service with the 3rd Marine Division in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, he returned to Joliet, where he edited a weekly newspaper. Called to active duty during the Korean War, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1951 and served as a combat correspondent and public information officer.

Morrisey continued to serve in public information posts throughout his military career, eventually serving on the staff of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene Jr.

After retiring from active duty in December 1967, he joined Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical in San Diego as chief of its news bureau. He was eventually named corporate manager for public relations, advertising and marketing support.

He started his own public relations firm -- the Morrisey Group -- in San Diego after leaving Teledyne in 1977.

In addition to his daughter Michele of Santa Ana, Morrisey is survived by another daughter, Kathleen Cueva of La Mesa; two grandchildren; and a sister, Janice Gordon of Utah.

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