Remembering William McSweeney Jr., former NCR publisher

by Dennis Coday

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William L. McSweeney Jr., publisher of NCR from February 1986 through December 1996, died June 28. He was 85. 

In a sense, McSweeney was NCR's first publisher with true business experience. While earlier publishers were more journalists than businessmen, McSweeney came to NCR after a 30-year career as an executive at Hallmark Cards Inc. 

According to Larry Guillot in National Catholic Reporter at Fifty, a history of the newspaper written by Arthur Jones, the mid-1980s were a tough financial time for the company. McSweeney brought stability and financial security to the NCR venture. He introduced modern business and accounting techniques. He computerized NCR's accounting and editorial processes. 

He expanded the publishing base with newsletters, like Eucharistic Ministry, Christian Initiation and Lector, which gave the company solid revenues until the turn of the century. Under his tenure, the company launched its annual appeal, Friends of NCR.

Guillot's account says that McSweeney started his job with a company in red and left it in the black. 

But McSweeney wasn't about money for money's sake. He understood it as tool that could be used to work for the good. He ensured that the company was generous with employees, if not in actual salaries then in benefits and the other intangibles that are so important to any working environment. 

McSweeney hired Wally Reiter, now NCR's chief financial officer, as an accountant. Reiter remembers McSweeney not just as an astute business manager, but as "a gracious, understanding person, a pleasure to work with." 

McSweeney was a Boston native and graduated from Boston College in 1953 with a bachelor's degree in English. He served for decades on the college's alumni association and various college committees, including with the McMullen Museum of Art. After a stint in the Army and brief sojourn into high school teaching, McSweeney joined Hallmark Cards, which brought him to Kansas City, Mo., in 1968.

A remembrance written by McSweeney's family says this: "Two strong currents carried Bill through life -- an insatiable appetite for learning and a tremendous sense of community. He sought to experience and create both wherever he was, living out his deep faith."

Indeed, McSweeney shared his expertise with a number of Catholic institutions, by serving on the boards of Catholic Social Services of Kansas City, Kan.; Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Venice, Fla.; Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.; the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio; and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps of the Midwest.

His civic involvement was also extensive. To name just a few: He chaired the board of advisers of the School of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and the Mayor's United Nations Day Dinner in Kansas City, Mo. He served on the Mayors' Prayer Breakfast Committee, the board of the International Relations Council of Kansas City, and the board of the North American Committee of the International Press Institute.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Anne McSweeney; his six children; and 14 grandchildren. To the McSweeney family: Thank you for sharing Bill with the NCR family. We owe him a debt of gratitude. 

I will leave the last words for Tom Fox, who worked with McSweeney as editor and then succeeded him as publisher: "Bill was always a kind and caring person, his large, outstretched arms extending globally, especially to embrace and support the most needy. He became publisher at a critical time, bringing his professional talents with him from Hallmark. I was fortunate to have collaborated with him. I am so grateful for all he accomplished at NCR, and for having had the chance to become his friend. Many will miss him as they celebrate his life and new life."

A version of this story appeared in the July 15-28, 2016 print issue.

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