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D. Herbert Lipson, longtime owner of Boston magazine, dies at 88

Chris Crisman

D. Herbert Lipson died on Christmas afer a brief illness.

By Danny McDonald Globe Staff 

The longtime owner of Boston magazine, D. Herbert Lipson, was not easily impressed.

He knew what he liked in his publication, and when his expectations were not met, he did not hesitate to make his opinion known, those who knew him said.

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“He’s a tough guy to satisfy,” said his son, David Lipson, chief executive and chairman of MetroCorp, which owns Boston and Philadelphia magazines.

Lipson died on Christmas Day after a brief illness, the magazine reported Tuesday. He was 88.

David Lipson said his father had been admitted to the hospital last week for surgery. The type of surgery and illness were not disclosed.

The elder Lipson was never troubled by what people thought, was confident in his vision for his magazines, and was passionate about the content they produced, his son said.

He wasn’t concerned about publishing “nice magazines,” he said Tuesday. He wanted to put out magazines that people couldn’t ignore, he said.

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“Boston is the Athens of America,” Lipson proclaimed in 1991. “Boston should be the best city magazine in the country.”

Lipson, who grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, pioneered the idea of a city magazine, his son said. After finding success with Philadelphia magazine in the 1950s and ’60s, Lipson bought Boston magazine in 1970 from the city’s chamber of commerce, its previous publisher.

A father of three and grandfather of seven, Lipson never wanted to retire and had no hobbies, his son said. “He lived for the magazines,” he said.

Despite print journalism’s financial struggles in recent years, Lipson remained optimistic about the industry, his son said.

“Magazines will make a comeback — he believed that to his dying day,” Lipson said.

David Rosenbaum , who worked at Boston magazine from 1983 to 1991, including a 5½-year stint as editor in chief, said Lipson had “one good idea,” which was that city magazines should cater to people who lived in the suburbs.

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“So that they could think they knew the city without having to go there,” he said.

Under Lipson, Boston magazine angled for audiences in well-to-do suburbs such as Newton, Wellesley, and Needham, Rosenbaum said.

There was a time, Rosenbaum said, when Boston magazine was the city’s third-most-important news publication, after the Globe and the Boston Herald.

“I don’t know if it still is or not,” said Rosenbaum, who lives in Arlington. “No publication is as important as it used to be.”

Lipson was known as a demanding owner, and turnover on the magazine’s masthead at times was high.

“It was like being the manager of the Red Sox; you knew how it would eventually end,” Rosenbaum said.

Tom McGrath, the chief content and strategy officer for MetroCorp, said he did not think city magazines would exist without Lipson’s vision.

“He was a tough guy to work for, particularly if you were an editor at one of his publications,” McGrath said.

The only thing Lipson would ask to see before publication was the issue’s cover, McGrath said. He would offer his thoughts, and vigorous debates would sometimes ensue.

“He loved great journalism — that was what he was looking for,” McGrath said. “It was only when he wasn’t getting what he was looking for that things would get difficult.”

Lipson’s health had been declining for about a year, but he still read everything published in his magazines and had opinions on the stories.

McGrath did not anticipate any significant changes to either magazine in light of Lipson’s death. Boston magazine has a monthly print circulation of about 90,000, McGrath said.


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.