Obituary: Randolph Hearst
Cornwell, Rupert, The Independent (London, England)
RANDOLPH HEARST was a considerable newspaper proprietor in his own right, a notable philanthropist and one of America's richest men. But for most of his countrymen his life was defined by the doings of his father and his daughter: the legendary press magnate William Randolph Hearst, who served as model-cum-caricature for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane; and Patricia Hearst, whose kidnapping by a revolutionary group in 1974 was one of the most sensational news stories of the era.
Randolph Hearst had been raised as a scion of one of the great US media empires, and heir to a huge gold, silver and copper mining fortune. He started his career in the boiler-room of the family newspaper business, as a cub reporter on the Hearst-owned San Francisco Call-Bulletin covering the courts and city hall. By 1973 he had become chairman of the company which ran the entire $4.5bn Hearst group. But nothing could prepare him for the extraordinary chain of events which began on 4 February 1974.
That day Patricia, a 19-year-old student at Berkeley University, was kidnapped from her San Francisco apartment and gagged and bundled into the boot of a car by a far-left extremist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. A string of ransom notes followed, demanding the distribution of food to the poor of San Francisco, and then a tape, released by the SLA in which his daughter described herself as a "prisoner of war".
Randolph Hearst complied, pledging $2m to found the People in Need donation scheme, which after a chaotic start handed out more than 90,000 food parcels. The drama however was only beginning. After 57 days locked in a clothes cupboard, Patricia was released - only to abandon her family and join the SLA under the nom de guerre of "Tania". In 1975 she was arrested and convicted for her role in a San Francisco bank robbery for which she served 21 months in jail. She then denounced her former captors, married a San Francisco police officer and moved to Connecticut where she has two children and still seeks a presidential pardon for her crime.
Her father withstood the ordeal with quite remarkable composure. As president of the San Francisco Examiner, the flagship family paper, he would appear before the media throng almost daily to discuss the latest communique from the SLA. In public at least he was the epitome of calm and patience as he pleaded for Patricia's return.
Randolph Apperson Hearst and his twin brother David (who died in 1986) were the youngest of five sons of William Randolph Hearst. Randolph was educated at Lawrenceville private college in New Jersey and Harvard University before joining the family newspaper business in the late 1930s, first on the now-defunct Atlanta Georgian, and then on the Call-Bulletin. A talented pilot, he served as a flight instructor in the army's Air Transport Command in the Second World War, rising to the rank of captain before his discharge in 1947.
Then it was back to newspapers - but it was already apparent that in many respects he was the polar opposite of his turbulent father. Where William Hearst was flamboyant and megalomanic, the son was self- effacing and unusually ready to listen for one born to such privilege and power. …