Philip Kunhardt, Jr. '50, an editor at Life magazine for nearly three decades, died March 21 from pulmonary fibrosis. He was 78.
Kunhardt, who served as managing editor of Life from 1978 to 1982 and spent much of the last two decades writing and producing documentaries, will be remembered both for his pathbreaking journalism and his good-humored approach to work and life.
Though Kunhardt had struggled with lung disease for about three and a half years, daughter Sandra Basile said he always stayed positive.
"He had an incredible ability to approach his own death with a certain amount of humor and candor," she said. "Even his last night he spent having a steak dinner, a martini and a funny conversation with one of his best friends, Clinton Trowbridge."
Trowbridge '50, who originally met Kunhardt in high school and then roomed with him at Princeton, said his friend seemed more alive than ever that night.
"It was amazing how he managed to detach himself from his body," Trowbridge said. "His body fell to pieces years ago, but his spirit was just as powerful as it had always been. Most people would have given up, but he outlived everyone's expectations."
Kunhardt's humor was evident even in his funeral, Trowbridge said. When doctors first told him he would die soon, Kunhardt began planning his funeral and writing a comical, third-person obituary about himself.
"It was like Philip was there as master of ceremonies," Trowbridge said.
Trowbridge's sister Katharine, who later married Kunhardt, recalled her husband's sense of humor.
"He always made me laugh," she said. "He was intellectually brilliant but you'd never know it talking to him, because he made you feel so comfortable."
At Princeton, Kunhardt studied hard but "beneath the surface," Trowbridge said. Outside of the classroom, he was a member of Cottage Club and the rugby team.
After graduating in 1950, he married Katharine and began working at Life as an editorial trainee. During his 28-year stint at the magazine, Kunhardt worked his way up from an assistant photo editor to managing editor, covering such pivotal events as the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
"He was legendary," Philip Kunhardt III said of his father's career. "Not only was he extremely creative, but he had a great eye for pictures and worked closely with photographers on his pieces. He simply knew how to tell stories in the best way possible."
Roy Rowan, who worked with Kunhardt as a foreign correspondent and assistant managing editor of Life, described his colleague and close friend as "a man of opposites."
"He was lovable but also aggressive, and he was thoughtful but also tough-minded," Rowan said.
While at Life, Kunhardt also conceptualized and designed People magazine — an accomplishment Phillip called "the biggest success in magazine history."
After leaving Life in 1982 for health reasons, Kunhardt continued to write. He completed over a dozen books, on topics ranging from American history to his mother, Dorothy Kunhardt, best known for writing the children's book, "Pat the Bunny."
He also worked with sons Peter and Philip for Kunhardt Productions, a family company based in Chappaqua, N.Y., that makes historical documentaries for HBO, PBS, the Discovery Channel and other major networks.
Jean Herschwitz, Kunhardt's daughter, said her father was able to juggle his own writing with his career and his family. She said she was always impressed with his ability to make time for his wife, his six children and his friends.
"He genuinely cared for so many people," Herschwitz said. "Even his garbage man came to the funeral."
Philip said his father's greatest legacy will be the friends he made.
"He probably touched millions of people through his magazine," Philip said, "but he touched hundreds on a personal level and made them better for it."