It is fitting that this service is taking place in a gymnasium, a place of competition. Was there ever a more competitive man than Frank Batten! I met Frank Batten in 1952 at a newspaper meeting and we have been friends ever since. Outside of my family, I know no one I respected, admired and enjoyed more. Though it’s hard for those of you who knew Frank well to imagine, we discovered at our first meeting that after midnight we thought we were both pretty good at singing. Scotch helped. We entered the newspaper business at the beginning of a golden age. Frank Batten was the personification of the adage “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Frank’s business acumen and success enabled him to give back in so many ways, not just financially - but the use of his judgment and wisdom in helping organizations and individuals set and achieve goals.
During his working years I think Frank Batten was probably the most-respected active newspaperman by other newspaper people. He was a publisher who knew that news is paramount to success. When he was only 27, he became Publisher of The Virginia Pilot and Ledger Star. In a few short years Virginia was hit with the massive resistance movement to desegregation and the public schools were closed. My colleagues were impressed by the personal leadership that Frank took with other enlightened folks in Norfolk to help break the “wrong-headed” idea of closing public schools.
As one of the early entrants in the cablevision world, Landmark set a high bar for the ethical way to get franchises – never bending the rules to gain an advantage.
Frank was a leader who led by listening to what others had to say. He synthesized and massaged the ideas with them until they developed a clear and concise vision of what needed to be done and how to communicate it. And then his help was crucial in helping to create an environment that made people want to work together.
Cancer of the larynx took away his voice and his raucous laugh but not his sense of humor. It also caused him to shelve the idea of a 24-hour TV news channel for cablevision. While he was recuperating and learning to talk, CNN was launched. He learned to talk so well that folks who first met him thought he had a bad case of laryngitis. I’ll never forget the story of his being told that someone was praying for him and his great friend Mort Clark, who had been badly injured in an accident. Frank called up Mort and said, “Mort, I found out what happened us – we were prayed for – the Lord saw how much fun we were having and struck us down” but nothing could keep either one of them down. The Weather Channel opportunity came along - he seized it and all of you know the great success that followed.
In 1982 Frank became the Chairman of The Associated Press, now the world’s largest news organization. When Frank stepped in, it was a tremendously important news organization owned by newspapers but was financially insecure. He looked ahead, envisioned what needed to be done and over the next few years, he set the ship right, identified the key people to run the organization and The AP became the leader of its competitors.
Frank was comfortable with presidents and royalty. I remember Frank telling me that Lyndon Johnson called him at home to thank him for the newspaper’s endorsement – Frank said he thought it was Brad Tazewell pulling his chain. Later he traded quips with President Reagan at The White House and introduced former President Nixon at a luncheon – Frank said Nixon never talked during lunch but made notes and then spoke without once needing to refer to them. At one point, The Associated Press Board met in England and Frank introduced Princess Anne at the Guild Hall to a glittering array of folks, including all the media swells in England. Princess Anne proceeded to tear the hides off of the media barons like Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell for their treatment of the royal family.
Frank was a fabulous man who did extraordinarily fabulous things in a low-key way. He sailed, skied, hunted, played tennis and golf. Frank had a lot of virtues – patience with himself was not one of them. After a 20-year layoff, Frank returned to golf, probably because he got tired of losing to folks at tennis and had a bad shoulder. He never could understand why he couldn’t get his handicap under 10. I remember one time we were playing with our wives and Frank 4-putted after lining up each of the putts forever. He got so angry that he whirled around and tripped and fell down. Nothing like a media mogul sprawled on his ass in the grass.
Frank took great pride in the success of others, in particular when Frank, Jr. hit a homerun with his investment in Red Hat. Frank wrote the Board of Directors telling us that his son had proposed that Landmark make an investment in Red Hat but the father thought it was a bad idea for Landmark so Frank, Jr. did it personally.
We all know the various adages about husbands and wives. Frank married Jane when she was young enough that he thought she was trainable. Well, he was right, there was an opportunity for training and boy, did she ever do a job on him – no question about it.
We shouldn’t mourn Frank Batten – his last months were painful - but we will. We all will surely miss his great sense of humor and quick smile - and his willingness and his innate desire to help others. We are all better for having known Frank Batten.