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Al JaCoby, 1927-2008
July 2008 | by Carol Mason


We lost a treasure this month when Al JaCoby, 81, died in his sleep. He was an original: A bon vivant; a crusty-heart-of-gold newspaper man; a wine maker; a theater buff; an enthusiastic world traveler; and an admirer of Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken.

He had worked at the Union Tribune for 39 years in positions ranging from reporter to city and Sunday editor to ombudsman. Always professional, it was as if he had been born to the role. He could scowl with a reporter's skepticism, and laugh heartily at some brilliant twist of the English language. In later years he even wore suspenders and an eyeshade-like baseball cap.

As Karin Winner, UT editor, said, "I always thought they used stories about Al to craft Ed Asner's character on 'The Lou Grant Show' ". He appeared to be a curmudgeon but had the heart of a puddy cat. Conversation with Al was always interesting and ranged diversely from his Armenian boyhood in Long Beach to tasting fine wines in the Loire Valley. He was concerned about print newspapers in a digital age. He loved the Padres and enjoyed Petco Park even when they didn't win. He gibed old friends on the ancient merits of Long Beach Poly versus Long Beach Wilson. He could recall literary passages relevant to the location of his travels: The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County on a wine tasting trip or the Count of Monte Cristo while traveling in France. He loved the theater and could quote and misquote Shakespeare.  

Pat JaCoby, his wife of 38 years, and his daughters Ann Karen Willens and Julie Johnson Lambdin gave an unforgettable party for his 80th birthday. The guests' nametags revealed a variety of groups counting Al as a member. There were Chateau Del Mar Wine makers, the Harry's of La Jolla Lunch Group, the Travel Group, the Newspaper Gang, the Gourmet Lunch Group and others.

Last week at Al's memorial service many of the county's most interesting people paid tribute to Al just as they had toasted him at his party. The tributes and wishes ranged widely and included recognition of his humor and humanity. He is survived by his wife, Pat, the two daughters, son R. Scott Johnson and eight grandchildren. At last year's party, those grandkids honored their grandpa by wearing identical tee shirts with his picture on the front. There was more than one misty eye when the oldest one, Brian, toasted Al. 


Donations in Alfred JaCoby's name can be made to the Old Globe Theater.



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