Bill Barnhart’s obituary


SABEW Board of Governors

Bill Barnhart was solid as a rock, giving a gravitas to business journalism that inspired those who hoped to follow in his footsteps. On the job, he dressed like a statesman and was intensely professional in his reporting. He possessed incredibly deep background on all he covered and could detect irony and facts others missed. Love and knowledge of business reporting made him a dedicated SABEW president. In observing Bill at two Chicago dailies where he and I both worked, he was an unswerving role model for serious business journalism, but a personable fellow with quick smile and hearty laugh as well.

—Andrew Leckey, founder/past president Donald W. Reynolds National Center/ASU and SABEW board member


Bill was a true gentleman and a terrific writer and editor. His thoughtful questions of guest speakers at SABEW conferences almost always elicited news-making responses. He also was an accomplished Illinois historian.

Bill was a stalwart SABEW leader for decades. We are stronger today because of his work.

—James T. Madore, economics writer, Newsday and SABEW board member


Bill had deep roots in SABEW. Not only was he a long-time member and president of the organization, but he served for a while as interim executive editor. He also worked to establish the SABEW Chair at Missouri. He was one of the first to welcome me when I arrived in 2002. Bill will be missed. He was the consummate business journalist-author, columnist and reporter.

— Marty Steffens, SABEW Chair in business and financial journalism, School of Journalism, University of Missouri, and Ex-Officio Member of the SABEW board


Past SABEW Presidents

Bill’s presence was a gift to SABEW. He served as president. He was a mentor to many young journalists. He was an editor of the newsletter. He was a supporter of the SABEW chair at Missouri. He was a unifying voice. 

Bill had a tremendous work ethic. In his day job at the Chicago Tribune, he wrote columns and appeared regularly on television until retirement. In his spare time, he wrote biographies on former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Bill’s decision to contribute so much of his time to SABEW is a credit to the organization’s continuing ability to provide much needed education, job opportunities and life-long friendships.

—Randall D. Smith, Professor and Donald W. Reynolds Endowed Chair of Business Journalism, Past President of SABEW (1992)


Bill was a role model for generations of business journalists from the Midwest and across the nation. He was smart but not showy, steady as a rock and produced influential columns that were written without fear or favor. His biography of Otto Kerner broke new ground in understanding American politics in the mid-20th Century. 

He graciously opened his home to the SABEW board for a social gathering back in the day and he was the best of the mediocre golfers among SABEW’s past presidents.

As president of SABEW he helped lay the foundation for our success and growth in the 21st Century.

—Henry Dubroff, editor, Pacific Coast Business Times. Past President of SABEW (1997)


In the storied annals of SABEW, Bill Barnhart occupies a special place.

In 2001, the Reynolds Foundation awarded a $595,000 grant to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association’s foundation to train business reporters at small and medium-sized dailes. Bill and Marty Steffens worked closely with the SNPA and Reynolds to develop this program and provide speakers. The grants paid all-expenses for nearly 800 journalists to attend two-and-a-half-day seminars in 20 cities. Many of them wound up joining the society. Bill regarded this initiative as the finest hour of his presidency, but there were many other high moments over the years.

In the early 1990s, he bulked up SABEW’s newsletter, The Business Journalist. In 2001, he worked with survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The list goes on. Bill was a formidable business journalist at the Chicago Tribune for many years, an accomplished author and a highly respected leader. He will be missed.

—Dave Beal, freelance journalist. Past President of SABEW (1983)


Bill Barnhart was a great bulwark of business journalism. Not only was he a superb reporter, editor and columnist, but he was also a devoted advocate of improving the standards of our craft.

He was always a voice of reason in SABEW councils and was a terrific leader and friend.

—Myron Kandel, CNN Founding Financial Editor. Past President of SABEW (1976 and 1996)