Conservative PR guru Hugh Newton dies at 76

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Hugh Newton, a longtime Washington promoter of conservative causes who helped open up the nation’s liberal op-ed pages to ideas and thought from the right, died Monday night after a long illness. He was 76.

For more than a quarter of a century, Mr. Newton — a former newspaperman whose list of clients was a veritable who’s who of the conservative movement — was senior counsel at the Heritage Foundation, where he was able to get the think tank’s conservative proposals and studies into the editorial and op-ed pages of hundreds of mostly liberal newspapers.

After graduating from Washington and Lee University, Mr. Newton went to work as a reporter for the Danville Bee in Danville, Va., in 1955. He worked in public relations and as a writer for a succession of corporations and public relations firms before founding his own, Hugh C. Newton & Associates, in 1968.

His success in promoting Heritage’s work to reform government and fix national problems from health care to Social Security helped the think tank gain global renown for its intellectual depth and grow into a multimillion-dollar-a-year enterprise that has helped shape policies and programs from the Reagan administration to the Bush administration.

Edwin J. Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation, who was traveling in South Korea yesterday, said that Mr. Newton’s work was responsible for “putting us on the map.”

“The way public-policy groups do their media outreach today can be traced back to what Hugh Newton started doing with Heritage and our ‘Mandate for Leadership’ series 30 years ago.”

His tribute was echoed by others.

“Two things were important to our success over the years,” Herbert Berkowitz, former vice president of public relations for Heritage, who worked closely with Mr. Newton until the two retired in 2001, said last night. “We believed in talking to everybody in the news business. This was in sharp contrast to most conservatives at that time, who were not going to talk to liberals who disagreed with them. Our attitude was these are the people we should be talking to.

“We went out on the road and met with everybody in the newspaper business, mostly liberal editors, suggesting that they put more opposing views on their op-ed pages. They’d say, ‘Send us something.’ ”

At The Washington Times, which has published columns from Heritage’s scholars as well as pieces written by Mr. Newton himself, Commentary editor Mary Lou Forbes said Mr. Newton “forged a distinguished track record of identifying emerging topics of interest and filling in the blanks for so many of the major issues of our time, either as a writer or purveyor of articles written by others. He brought to his craft professional devotion and good humor cherished by all of us who knew and worked with him.”

Fran Coombs, the managing editor of The Times, employed the whimsical name Mr. Newton’s close friends called him: “The Captain was a life force and a Washington political education.”

Sometimes, his friends called him “Captain Smasheroo.”

In addition to his work for Heritage as a consultant, Mr. Newton’s clients over the years included the National Right To Work Committee, Reader’s Digest, the Amway Corporation and Taiwan and South Korea.

After leaving Heritage in 2001, Mr. Newton continued working part time for 60 Plus, the senior citizens lobby.

Pat Boone, the group’s national spokesman, last night said, “In my 50 years of dealing with the media, I’ve met no one who knows the business like Hugh Newton or brought a kinder heart to it.”

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