An appreciation: Richard Nenneman

The former editor in chief of The Christian Science Monitor had a high-octane intellect and love of world affairs.

When Richard A. Nenneman first joined this newspaper as its business editor in 1965, he made quite an impression on his staff. He usually arrived well after the worker bees, and he instructed them not to talk to him on mornings when he wrote. Then, he thumbed through The Wall Street Journal, put his feet on the desk, pondered, and in roughly an hour, pounded out an insightful column on his portable Smith Corona electric typewriter.

This, from a man with no prior professional journalism experience, but with a high-octane intellect. His writing won him top awards in business journalism and access to key contacts on Wall Street and in Washington. He later became the managing editor of The Christian Science Monitor, and then its editor in chief. Mr. Nenneman died on Dec. 27.

The Monitor was the much-loved center – but not the exclusive focus – of his varied professional life. The tall and refined Harvard graduate came to the paper after service as a US Army counter intelligence operative in Germany and an early career in banking. He left in 1974 to return to the business world, rising to become senior vice president of Girard Bank in Philadelphia. In 1983, he rejoined the paper for a decade in leadership positions.

He had a quiet demeanor that masked a wry sense of humor and a keen interest in mentoring young staffers, whom he often invited to the home he shared with his wife, Katherine, and their three daughters – Ann, Kate, and Mary.

Congressman Lamar Smith (R) of Texas spent time as a young reporter working for Nenneman. "He taught by example and you never wanted to disappoint him," Representative Smith said.

Regardless of the personal or professional challenges he faced, Nenneman seemed always engaged in the life of the mind. "Whenever I saw him, I recall him mentioning some book he had been reading – usually something hefty, deep, and ponderous – with great enthusiasm," said Jeremy Cattani, who worked with Nenneman when he oversaw the Monitor's TV operations.

Nenneman turned his trademark candor and well-honed analytical powers on the Monitor's own business challenges in ways that sometimes made him a controversial figure among newsroom colleagues. He oversaw a challenging period in which the paper expanded into television and radio, and senior editors resigned. Looking back, he observed in a 2001 interview with the Harvard Crimson, "Print [media] has to adjust to the new world in which it is primarily interpretive and investigative."

In 1993, soon after the Monitor's expansive broadcast activities were shuttered, Nenneman retired.

"The Monitor's mission was very much in Dick's heart," said Richard Bergenheim, the Monitor's current editor. "His interest and desire to contribute to the Monitor's progress and its impact on the world never diminished."

Nenneman's idea of retirement included researching and writing a biography, "Persistent Pilgrim," about Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science and this newspaper. It followed on other book projects, including "The new Birth of Christianity: Why Religion Persists in a Scientific Age," which he authored, and "How Peace Came to the World," a collection of Monitor essays, which he co-edited with former Monitor editor Earl Foell.

This fall, Nenneman was still "booking" it. Earlier this month he completed editing and writing the preface for "In the Nation's Service," a compendium of essays by his fellow members of the 1951 Harvard class on their military and public service.

And he took special joy in his work for the Executive Service Corp., providing pro bono consulting to nonprofit organizations including the National Braille Press.

His well-lived life brings to mind words he spoke while moderating a panel discussion of Monitor journalists in 1984. "No matter how comfortable each of us may be at home," Nenneman said, "the demands of authentic love should impel us all to enlarge our tents, to include that sense of family that knows no division of time or place."

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