Roy E. Larsen, former vice-chairman of Time Inc.'s board of directors and long one of the most influential men in publishing, died last week in Fairfield, Conn. at the age of 80. From the company's inception in 1922 until his retirement last April, Larsen was more responsible for the progress of Time Inc. than anyone except founders Briton Hadden and Henry Luce. In a wide variety of executive roles, including 21 years as company president, Larsen oversaw the growth of TIME, FORTUNE, LIFE, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. He was also chiefly responsible for launching our Oscar-winning newsreel series, The March of Time.
Not the least of Larsen's interests was SI. In 1954 he queried a group of TIME readers in Minnesota about whether they would subscribe to a national sports magazine. " Larsen's package included a miniature SI in dummy type, about the size of a 3 x 5 card," says SI Art Director Richard Gangel, who designed those mini-magazines. "The response was very good, and we went ahead with SI on that basis."
SI appealed to what Larsen called his "amateur spirit." He defined this as "a sense of wonder, adventure and fun." A fitness buff long before it became fashionable, Larsen could do 20 one-handed push-ups in a row. He was also concerned with preserving the environment. In 1965 he organized the Nantucket Conservation Fund to solicit land donations and outbid developers for tracts. Larsen set the pace with a donation of 513 acres, and the foundation went on to amass 83 more parcels, or about 16% of the island's area.
In 1973 Larsen was elected to the board of the Nature Conservancy, a wildlife management group. Within five years he had persuaded businesses to create a 220-member advisory board that, through purchases and donations, accumulates land to be left undeveloped. In tribute to Larsen, Time Inc. subsidiary Temple-Eastex gave the conservancy a 2,000-acre tract in East Texas now known as the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary.
Conservation, Larsen once said, "is not just a luxury, but is absolutely necessary to the sanity of generations to follow." That is a view SI has always subscribed to, and Roy Larsen's strong and active support of it is a special reason why this magazine and environmentalists everywhere deeply mourn his passing.