Neil Morgan, noted journalist, author and civic force in San Diego for more than six decades, died Saturday at age 89.
Morgan died at home in La Jolla after a long illness, according to his wife, writer Judith Morgan.
With his column, first in the San Diego Daily Journal and later the San Diego Evening Tribune, Morgan chronicled the city’s coming-of-age beginning after World War II.
“In quite suddenly becoming a metropolitan area, San Diego has accepted the missile, the atom, the laboratory, the campus and even a casual California sophistication, which World War II visitors thought foreign to its nature,” he once wrote.
Morgan was named editor of the Tribune in 1981 and remained in that position until the newspaper merged with the other Copley family-owned newspaper, the San Diego Union, in 1992.
With Morgan at the helm, the Tribune was known as a “writer’s paper,” said longtime San Diego journalist and Morgan friend Bob Witty. He considered the mentoring of young reporters a primary duty of an editor; he loved both a news “scoop” and a well-written feature story.
Morgan was co-author, along with Judith, of a well-received biography of La Jolla resident Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He also wrote books about San Diego and the Western U.S., among other topics.
He was an unabashed San Diego chauvinist but not above pointing out the city’s occasional silliness and scandal. He poked and prodded the city to move beyond its historic provincialism.
Among other topics, Morgan campaigned for the city to forge closer ties to neighboring Tijuana. He exposed the grip that an organized crime figure had on San Diego. He was also awarded the Ernie Pyle award for human interest writing.
“Neil was a force for good in San Diego,” said Dean Nelson, director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University. “He was an old-school journalist who believed in speaking truth to power.”
On matters of politics, Morgan was a moderate in a city where the journalism establishment for decades was dominated by conservatives and business interests.
“He was a voice for people whose voices were not often heard in San Diego,” Nelson said.
The son of a North Carolina minister, Morgan moved to San Diego while serving as a Navy officer in World War II. He counted major figures in American journalism and letters among his friends: Walter Cronkite, Andy Rooney, James A. Michener and Art Buchwald.
After being forced out of the merged Union-Tribune in 2004, Morgan helped investor Ralph B. Woolley Jr. found the Voice of San Diego website devoted to investigative journalism and commentary.
Woolley, in an interview in 2012 with U-T columnist Logan Jenkins, described the meeting with Morgan that led to founding the website.
“I started the conversation by saying: ‘San Diego cannot afford to lose your voice,’” Woolley said.