Herbert M. Sandler, founder of ProPublica and a devoted supporter of investigative reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism—among many other passions, from medical research to human rights—died on June 5 at the age of 87.
The extraordinary roster of projects and programs either supported or started by the Sandler Foundation runs too long to list, but a 2008 article in The New York Times entitled “Self-Made Philanthropists” describes one that would turn the investigative reporting distribution model on its head: the launching of ProPublica. “They chose a path … that few other philanthropists had trod. Rather than give money to someone who approached them, they did the approaching. Rather than finance an organization that already existed, they started their own outfit. They found a star to run it. They seemed almost to relish the thought that they risked failure with this new, unproven model of journalism, though if truth be told, they don’t think they’ll fail. And they gave a lot of money — $30 million for the first three years, with the expectation of continuing that commitment, if not more, for years to come.”
Sandler served as chairman of ProPublica from its inception until 2016, a time when it won a series of Pulitzer Prizes. He was also its most loyal reader and biggest champion.
UC Berkeley Professor Lowell Bergman, holder of the Reva and David Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Reporting, says, “He was critical not just to ProPublica but to the Investigative Reporting Program, providing matching grants and fellowships. But most important he was no bullshit and so empathetic that I was always floored by his recognition that all we do is about people!”
“Herb Sandler became a remarkably generous and farsighted force in journalism of the digital age, and is one of the precious few philanthropists whose giving has enabled tough, high-impact journalism to survive despite the industry’s own strongly adverse climate change,” said Berkeley Journalism Dean Edward Wasserman. “He will be greatly missed.”
Herb Sandler grew up in New York’s Lower East Side, graduated from the City College of New York in 1951 and Columbia Law School in 1954. After law school, he worked for the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and as an attorney at a small firm in lower Manhattan. He married Marion Osher in 1961, and they moved to California in their early 30s, with Marion convinced they could run their own savings and loan more effectively than others. Together, the couple operated Golden West Financial Corporation from 1963 to 2006.
According to an obituary released on the family’s behalf, “He was a voracious reader throughout his life, and for many friends and colleagues became a regular news clipping service of interesting and pertinent articles, usually preceded by a commentary like ‘can you believe this?’ or ‘what an outrage’ (or, more precisely, ‘what a *#$#@ outrage’).”
The obituary continues: “Any telling of Herb’s life must reckon with the sheer force of will that he alone represented. Anyone who interacted with Herb — in business, philanthropy, politics, or otherwise — immediately recognized his intellect, his intense preparation, his direct and pointed comments and questions, his curiosity, his fervor, his charm and wit, his business and political instincts, his expectation for (and appreciation of) excellence, and ultimately his deep humanity, unbounded integrity and fundamental decency.”
Marion Osher Sandler, “the love of Herb’s life,” died in 2012. An oral history of Herb and Marion Sandler’s lives and careers is available at UC Berkeley’s Oral History Center.
They are survived by daughter Susan Sandler (Steve Phillips), son James Sandler (Gretchen Sandler), grandchildren Leah and Elijah, and brothers-in-law Bernard Osher (Barbro Osher) and Harold Osher. Friends and colleagues who wish to share with the family remembrances of Herb – or of Herb and Marion –may do so at email@example.com.