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Vince Casanova, former president and COO of Tribune Media Group, dies at 60

Vince Casanovwas president COO Tribune MediGroup

Vince Casanova was president and COO of Tribune Media Group

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Updated: August 26, 2013 4:31PM

Vince Casanova was the kind of boss who came in on Thanksgiving to thank the employees who had to work the holiday and make sure they got a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

Mr. Casanova, a top Chicago Tribune executive, routinely dropped in on Thanksgiving to visit the press operators who got the newspaper out, and would “shake hands with everyone who worked,” said Becky Brubaker, a former colleague.

“We had hundreds of employees who worked on the holiday, and he thanked them,” said Brubaker, now a newspaper manager in Alabama. “He was instrumental in making sure they had holiday meals when they were working. . . . It meant a lot to people.”

Mr. Casanova, 60, who during a 33-year career mentored staffers who went on to success at the Chicago newspaper and other employers across the country, died Wednesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in May, just before he was to retire, said his wife, Nancy.

Though his professional achievements were impressive, he will be remembered for his warmth and mentoring, said Tribune Publisher Tony W. Hunter.

“He never stepped on anybody,” he said. “He always pulled everybody up.”

“When he retired, and he was talking to Nancy, his wife, she told me he said what he was most proud of was the people he worked with, and the people he helped. . . . He instilled confidence in people that they could do great things, and then he created the environment so they could do great things.”

His kindness prevailed as his responsibilities grew, Hunter said. In his last role at the company, as president and COO, “he was responsible for the daily operation of all of the assets in Chicago Tribune Media Group,” including RedEye, Chicago magazine, the Tribune, Hoy, all our websites, Tribune Direct. He, in effect, on a day-to-day basis, ran the Chicago Tribune Media Group.”

His effect on workers’ careers was driven home at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, when a woman stopped in to tell Mr. Casanova’s family that he had changed her life, Hunter said. When she interviewed for a job at the Tribune, she wasn’t completely fluent in English. “He hired her, and he said, ‘The way you speak does not matter — it’s how hard you work,’ ” Hunter said. “He always, always acknowledged when people did hard work. . . . This woman, with two young children, he hired her; he mentored her, he built her confidence — and she worked for our company 20 years.”

He was “brilliant” at printing, distribution and circulation, said Tribune Editor Gerould Kern. And he was supportive of growth strategies, even when they meant an investment in resources or a possible price increase, Kern said.

“It’s rare that you find a combination of someone who’s that accomplished and recognized in that way, and also, in the same personality, somebody who’s warm and open and listens and is a people person,” Kern said.

Last year, Mr. Casanova announced the suspension of the Tribune’s use of Journatic, a hyperlocal content provider, after phony bylines and plagiarism came to light. Later, he said the company would resume use of Journatic, but with renewed supervision and monitoring, and only for items such as community listings.

“The strategy is sound,” he said in 2012. “There were problems with the way we executed it. This will get it back on track.”

Mr. Casanova grew up on California Avenue in Humboldt Park, a little boy who loved to read. He went north on California to attend Gordon Technical High School. His mother was a seamstress and his father cleaned smokestacks for a living. He was the first in his family to go to college.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University and received an MBA from the University of Chicago. He also was a certified public accountant. Before joining the Tribune in 1979 as manager of auditing, he worked at the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, said Phil Doherty, CFO of Chicago Tribune Company.

Until 1980, he was a bachelor, living in a Mount Prospect man cave he rented with his buddies. They nicknamed the house “Sports Central.” But when he went out on his birthday, he met Nancy Kiskunas at She-Nannigan’s on Division Street. She thought he was cute. They wed in 1982.

A Prospect Heights resident, Mr. Casanova belonged to Rolling Meadows Country Club, Doherty said. He enjoyed playing golf there and at a golf club in Arizona, where he had a home in the Tucson area, Doherty said.

He was vice chairman of the board of Lambs Farm in Libertyville, which serves adults with developmental disabilities.

The flag at the top of the Tribune Tower was flown at half-staff in his honor.

In addition to his wife Nancy, Mr. Casanova is survived by his sons, Tom and Mark, and his brother, Bruce.

Visitation is from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Oehler Funeral Home, 2099 Miner St., Des Plaines, and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Alphonsus Church, 411 N. Wheeling Rd., Prospect Heights. His funeral mass will begin at 10:30 a.m.

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