Born: May 28, 1918, in Rochester, New York
Died: December 1, 1997, in Tewksbury, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2019-20: Arts & Letters
In his 31 years as editor of the Star-Ledger, Mort Pye never shied away from using his position to advocate for the things he believed in. Often that meant throwing the newspaper’s support behind unlikely projects like the Meadowlands sports complex and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Born in upstate New York, Pye earned his B.A. degree at the City College of New York and began his journalism career in 1940 at the Long Island Daily Press. After serving as an Army sergeant during World War II, he returned to the Press. He rose to associate editor, before taking a job in 1957 at what was then called the Newark Star-Ledger.
Pye was named editor of the Star-Ledger in 1963. He held that position until his retirement in 1994. According to Pye’s obituary in The New York Times, the Star-Ledger’s daily circulation grew during his tenure from 200,000 to a high of 483,000 on weekdays and 717,000 on Sundays.
As editor, Pye emphasized local news coverage throughout the paper’s northern and central New Jersey circulation area. By 1972, the Star-Ledger’s chief competitor, the Newark Evening News, had closed.
With the Star-Ledger’s reach and influence growing, Pye used the editorial pages to promote initiatives he felt would benefit the state. He kicked off the idea for a sports complex in the Meadowlands with a Star-Ledger editorial and ultimately convinced then-governor Brendan Byrne to get on board with the ambitious project. Similarly, Pye pushed for completion of Interstate 80 across northern New Jersey in the late 1960s. His advocacy gave the road a nickname: the “Interstate Pyeway.”
Other pet projects promoted by Pye included the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which became a centerpiece for Newark’s revival, and the Liberty Science Center.
While some criticized Pye for his boosterism of New Jersey, there was no question the state’s leaders paid attention to his ideas. “Any New Jersey governor behaved like a dutiful child when Mort Pye was on the phone,” former governor Thomas H. Kean said at Pye’s memorial service in 1997.