Herbert Lipson spent his life transforming Philadelphia magazine and, with his death, left behind a legacy of city magazine journalism.
He died at the age of 88 following a surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on Dec. 25.
Those who knew him remember him as an opinionated man, never afraid to speak his mind.
“He was just so comfortable in his own skin,” said Lipson’s son, David, chairman of Metrocorp, the company that owns Philadelphia magazine. “He was comfortable in his own point of view, and he was just himself, and without apologies. He would say things like, ‘Everyone’s entitled to my opinion,’ or ‘Often wrong, never in doubt.’”
Raised in Easton, Lipson moved to Philadelphia to work for his father at what was then called Greater Philadelphia magazine. Lipson’s father, S. Arthur Lipson, bought the magazine from the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and, in 1963, Lipson became the publisher. He wanted the magazine to focus less on business and resemble publications such as The New Yorker or Esquire.
Together with Alan Halpern, Lipson created a new kind of storytelling. They hired investigative reporters and ran articles that told news in the style of a novel. They also moved the magazine’s office, which was still in the Chamber of Commerce.
“He was a guy who pioneered an industry,” David Lipson said. “I have heard from so many people, from the city magazine business from all over the country, tell me that when they started, they called for advice — he was so helpful — that he was an inspiration to them to launch their magazine.”
For the magazine’s editors, Lipson’s strong opinions made him a contentious figure.
“He was not easy to work for,” Philadelphia editor Tom McGrath said. “On the other side of it, he pushed you in really good ways, and I ended up having enormous respect and even affection for him.”
David Lipson started working for his father in high school, in the mailroom, in circulation, in advertising and eventually as a publisher. For him, there was never any question that he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
Though David Lipson eventually took over his father’s role as CEO of Metrocorp, Herb Lipson remained involved in the magazine almost until his death, including writing a recurring column called “Off the Cuff.”
Though Herb Lipson was not observant and didn’t belong to a synagogue, David Lipson said his father was always proud of his Jewish identity.
Herb Lipson’s drive for perfection, extraordinary taste and sense of humor made mundane moments with him remarkable, David Lipson said. Even going grocery shopping could be an experience with the multitude of questions he asked the salespeople.
“At the office, it was the best article,” David Lipson said. “At home, it was the best martini.”
Herb Lipson is survived by his wife, Carol; son David; daughter-in-law Susan; daughter Sherry Litwer; son-in-law Marty; daughter Debbie Claremon; son-in-law David; sister Joanne Lipson Beck; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.