1990 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Young people should try to find out what they want to do and pursue it through education."
Born Helen Kinney in 1922 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Helen Copley never imagined in her wildest dreams she would one day be at the helm of the world's largest privately held newspaper groups. The daughter of a signal supervisor on the Rock Island Line, Copley was one of four children. By the time she was 12, she began babysitting to earn extra money.
After high school, Copley took a job in the accounting office of the Borden Company in Cedar Rapids. Her two older siblings had gone to college, but there were no funds to send her. After attending an older sister's wedding in California, she became convinced the West Coast held her future. She worked for the Santa Fe Railroad and then became a secretary with Copley Newspapers. She worked her way up to the position of secretary to the publisher, James S. Copley, whom she eventually married. When her husband died eight years later, Copley was forced to take over as publisher.
It was a difficult transition. Copley had to deal with inheritance taxes and pay off large charitable gifts that had been pledged. To secure the funds needed, she sold the corporate jet, the family home in Illinois, and several newspapers that were not profitable. She worked tirelessly assuring internal managers that the company would survive. Copley soon learned to trust her instincts and relied on what her husband had taught her about publishing in their short time together. She also took counsel from her eastern counterpart, Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post. Eventually, Copley presided over one of the country's most highly regarded newspaper groups, which included 13 dailies and 38 weeklies.
Helen Copley, the first woman elected to the board of directors of the California Chamber of Commerce, once said, "The future is promising, but to fully participate a good education will be necessary. Anything we can do to help America's youth receive a college education will benefit us all."* Deceased