Thursday, May 23, 2024

William G. Connolly, who over a long career as an editor at The New York Times raised its journalistic standards, opened new opportunities for a more diverse range of employees and in 1999 brought that experience to bear in a wholesale revision of the newspaper’s venerable style guidebook, died on Tuesday in Maplewood, N.J. He was 85.

His daughter, Kathleen, confirmed the death. He was in a rehabilitation facility recovering from a fall, she said.

After more than 20 years at The Times — minus a few in the early 1980s, when he left to work at a Virginia paper — Mr. Connolly was elevated in 1987 to a new senior position in which he managed training and recruitment.

In that role he oversaw the paper’s ethical guidelines, brought in new faces from a broader pool of applicants and turned a critic’s eye to the newspaper’s daily output with a newsletter that he took over called “Winners and Sinners.”

He kept his colleagues to high standards, but also entertained them with his dry wit and punctuational preferences; he especially loved the semicolon.

Mr. Connolly was particularly irked by the old manual’s use of a single English male name — John Manley — in all its examples. He replaced them with a long list of surnames, all of which mean “Lamb” in different languages: Cordero (Spanish), Agneau (French) and Kikondoo (Swahili), among others.

William Gerard Connolly Jr. was born on Oct. 12, 1937, in Scranton, Pa. His father worked for the U.S. Post Office, and his mother, Loretto (Blewitt) Connolly, was a teacher.

He studied philosophy and English at the University of Scranton, graduating in 1959, and then entered the U.S. Army. He spent three years as a news announcer and disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio from its offices in New York City.

Remaining in New York, he worked as a copy boy at The Times while studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University’s school of journalism. After graduating in 1963, he worked brief stints at a long list of newspapers — including The Minneapolis Tribune, The Houston Chronicle and The Detroit Free Press — before returning to The Times in 1966.

He married Clair Connor in 1964. She died in 2013. Along with their daughter, he is survived by his sons, William G. Connolly III; Harold Connolly; three grandchildren; and his sister, Sister Jane Marie Connolly.

Though he wrote his fair share of news articles, Mr. Connolly was primarily an editor, with postings on the foreign desk, The New York Times Magazine, the real estate section and the metropolitan desk. He was also the founding editor of the Science Times section.

By the mid-1980s The Times was coming under both public and internal criticism for its stodgy editorial style and lack of diversity in its staff and its coverage, and Mr. Connolly, with his particular combination of management experience and insider awareness of Times culture, was a logical candidate to begin turning that around.

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