Walter H. Annenberg, the billionaire publisher, art collector, and one-time ambassador to Great Britain who spent his later years giving away a fortune to educational and cultural causes, has died at 94, the New York Times reports. Kathleen Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication, said Annenberg died of complications from pneumonia at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Wynnewood.
Born in Milwaukee on March 13, 1908, the sixth of nine children and only son of Moses Annenberg, a Jewish immigrant who built a highly profitable newspaper publishing business during the 1920s, Annenberg joined the family business in 1929 and became the editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer after his father's death in 1942. Over the ensuing decades, Annenberg developed a reputation as a shrewd boss willing to use his paper to advance his own interests as well as those of the public. At the same time, his efforts to consolidate and expand the family's Triangle Publications business, which he inherited as a debt-ridden corporation upon his father's death, met with enormous success, starting with the creation of Seventeen magazine in 1942 and the acquisition of various radio and television properties in the 1940s and '50s, and continuing through the founding of TV Guide magazine, which eventually became the largest circulation weekly publication in the world, in 1953. A staunch Republican and lifelong patriot, Mr. Annenberg was appointed ambassador to Great Britain by President Richard Nixon in 1969, a post he held until Nixon was forced to resign over the Watergate affair in 1974.
Upon his return from London, Annenberg stepped up his already considerable philanthropic activities, which included the establishment of the M.L. Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania in 1962 and a second communications school at the University of Southern California in 1971. In 1980, he pledged $150 million over fifteen years to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to produce educational TV programs through which viewers could get college credits and followed that with another $60 million pledge to the corporation in 1991 to support mathematics and science programming for K-12 students. His donation of $50 million to the United Negro College Fund remains the largest gift ever for historically black colleges, and his $500 million gift in 1993 to launch the Annenberg Challenge was hailed as the largest gift ever to benefit public education in the U.S. That same year, he donated $365 million to Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Southern California, and the Peddie School, his prep school alma mater, in Hightstown, New Jersey.
One of the nation's foremost collectors of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, Annenberg donated $15 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and $5 million to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1989, then stunned the art world in 1991 when he donated his extensive collection, valued at more than $1 billion, to the Metropolitan.
Annenberg's first marriage, to Veronica Dunkelman, ended in divorce in 1950. In 1951, he married the former Leonore Cohn Rosensteil, who survives him, as do two of his seven sisters, Enid Haupt and Evelyn Hall; a daughter, Wallis, from his first marriage; two step-daughters; four grandchildren; three step-grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a step-great-grandson.