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Co-founder of The Observer dies at 75

| Sunday, November 8, 2020

Robert Sam Anson, Notre Dame class of ’67, a magazine writer who co-founded The Observer as an undergraduate, died Nov. 2, the New York Times reported. He was 75.

He died at a home he had been staying in Rexford, New York, from complications due to dementia.

As a student at Notre Dame, Anson delivered editorials on the evening news through the campus radio station. He was critical of the Vietnam War and Lyndon B. Johnson, which the administration disapproved of at the time, the National Catholic Reporter said in a 2015 article.

Although Anson was chosen to be news editor of Scholastic by the magazine’s previous editor, the vice president of student affairs at the time Fr. Charles McCarragher, who had a say in who was a member of the editorial board, rejected the proposal and chose someone else.

Instead, Anson helped found The Observer with another student, Stephen Feldhaus. The Observer printed its first issue November 3, 1966. Over the rest of his time at Notre Dame, Anson frequently clashed with University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh over the content of The Observer. Hesburgh told one of his biographers, “People were always asking me, ‘Why don’t you expel Anson?’ I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.”

At the same time, both Anson and Hesburgh had great respect for each other. Anson later referred to Hesburgh as “the only father I ever had.”

After graduating from Notre Dame, Anson went on to work for TIME magazine. He traveled to Cambodia and was taken as a prisoner of war in 1970. He was held for weeks by the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge.

Hesburgh reportedly called Pope Paul IV at the time, who was able to help arrange Anson’s release.

Anson went on to write for Esquire, Life, Mademoiselle, The Atlantic and New Times. He also wrote six books including “War News: A Young Reporter in Indochina,” which discussed his experiences covering the war.

At The Observer’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2015, Anson urged the paper’s student journalists to appreciate their time as reporters.

“[I hope] everyone has a great time, doesn’t get pushed around by the administration, resists authority — including that of the president of the United States — and just feels so lucky they are working as journalists,” he said. “I just think it was a million to one shot that The Observer would work, and it did work.”

He was born March 12, 1945, in Cleveland. Anson was raised by his mother, Virginia Rose Anson, who was a schoolteacher.

Anson is survived by two daughters, Christian Anson Kasperkovitz and Georgia Grace Anson, and his son, Sam Anson.

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