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Record's first editor dies

By Barbara Bedell
Times Herald-Record


Avrom "Al'' Romm, the first editor of The Times Herald-Record and later vice president for news for its parent company, Ottaway Newspapers Inc., died Wednesday [12/29/99] in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 73.

Ottaway Newspapers board Chairman and CEO James H. Ottaway Jr. said Romm as "one of the founding editors of The Record, when it was a revolutionary idea in American journalism to use the first large scale offset printing process for newspapers in 1956.

"Al also was a great teacher and inspirer of young reporters, like me, who worked with him during the early 1960s and 1970s," Ottaway added.

Romm was born April 8, 1926, in Minneapolis, Minn., and grew up in Holyoke, Mass. He was a World War II veteran, having served in Europe with the 13th and 82nd Airborne infantry divisions.

He returned to school after the war and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1948. A year later, he earned a master's degree in public law and government from Columbia University.

Romm began his journalism career as a reporter for the Springfield (Mass.) Union. In June 1957, he was named city editor of the Daily Record in Middletown, the world's first cold type, offset daily newspaper. When The Record merged with The Times Herald under the Ottaway banner in October 1960, Romm was named editor of the resultant Times Herald-Record, a post he held until he was named editorial page editor in 1976.

During his tenure as editor, Romm attracted talented reporters, editors and photographers who shared his love of community newspapering.

"He was a journalist of great intellect, great conviction and uncompromising ethic,'' said David E. Brace, who succeeded Romm as vice president/news in 1991. "Everyone who worked with Al Romm, whether in a newsroom or a journalism workshop, ended their day a better journalist.''

Newsroom employees also remember the many social gatherings that took place in the Romm house on Highland Avenue in Middletown.

"It was a great way to unwind,'' said Chris Farlekas, longtime Record reporter. "Every staffer looked forward to being there.

"Al was like a professor-in-residence," Farlekas added. "He conducted workshops and sparked interesting conversations on current events and issues.''

Romm wasn't everyone's cup of tea. He had a gruff appearance, was demanding and usually sat in an office that smelled from a well-chewed cigar.

"But once you got to know him, he wasn't brash and arrogant,'' said George Shepard, former Orange County Community College dean of students. "But it was clear, he was always the boss.''

When he left The Record 18 years ago, he became director of news quality and training for Ottaway Newspapers Inc., based in Campbell Hall, a job he held until retirement in 1991.

Romm left his mark not only on journalism but on the community he lived in. He believed that the best way to know a place is to pitch in and get involved. He practiced what he preached.

He championed opportunities to spotlight people for their talents and services through a newspaper-sponsored Citizen of the Year award. He led United Way campaigns and rolled up his sleeves to serve pancakes at the annual Kiwanis breakfast in Middletown.

He also played an integral part in creating the Greater Middletown Arts Council in 1961, said Marvin Feman, whose late wife, Marian, was the council's first executive director. Mrs. Feman also was the music-drama editor of The Record.

"Al Romm was a very forceful figure,'' said Marvin Feman, a retired Orange County Community College department head. "He was a dynamic speaker for the Arts Council. Through the newspaper space he provided to promote the arts, the Arts Council grew.''

Romm also was an active member of the Middletown Kiwanis. "Each year around Election Day, he organized a debate with the candidates,'' said Sal Napolitano, a member since 1959 and a past president. "He was a natural. It was excellent. To this day, no one has done it better.''

Romm also was a master bridge player, and was very competitive.

"He loved the game and was good at it'' said his long-time friend and bridge partner Morris Borenstein of Middletown.

"Some of those shoot 'em and kill 'em games started on Friday afternoon and continued through Sunday,'' Borenstein said. "The screaming and yelling at each other could be heard in Canarsie. But when it was over, we were friends again.''

Romm not only played tournament and rubber bridge, he taught the game in a Bridge Studio he owned in the Town of Wallkill. He also directed games at The Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake during its heyday, and directed numerous bridge cruises.

"We had a lot of good times together,'' Borenstein said. "Al and I were very close. I loved him very much and I'll miss him.''

Romm is survived by his wife, the former Diane Kandel in Boynton Beach, Fla., and three sons by a former marriage: David, Daniel and Joseph.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. today in Beth Israel Memorial Chapel in Delray Beach, Fla.

In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made to Hospice by the Sea, 1531 West Palm Parkway, Boynton Beach, Fla. 33437, or to The Alzheimer's Community Care Association, 800 North Point Parkways, Suite 101B, West Palm Beach, Fla. 33407.

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