Jay Lovinger, an Emmy Award-winning editor and mentor to a generation of journalists, died Sunday at Westchester Medical Center of complications from kidney disease, his family said. He was 75.
Lovinger helped launch ESPN.com's Page 2, a former section devoted to humor, satire, pop culture and columnists, where he assumed the role of "Jackpot Jay" to chronicle his year as a pro poker player. He later edited national writers and dozens of longform feature stories during his 15-year career at ESPN. He retired in December 2017.
"Jay believed an editor's job was to help a writer find his vision of the story and get that vision down on paper," said his wife and fellow author, Gay Daly. "He believed an editor should try never to get in a writer's way."
A native of New York City, Lovinger attended college in Binghamton, New York, and began his journalism career at age 28 when he took a sports desk job at the Binghamton Sun-Bulletin. He also wrote for trade publications.
Tony Kornheiser, a friend and former Binghamton University classmate, helped Lovinger land his first national job, working for John A. Walsh as an editor for Inside Sports magazine.
"Great editors are worth their weight in gold, and I know this, because like most writers, I hated most editors," said Kornheiser, co-host of ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption." "Jay's great gift was in pre-editing. He got you to where you totally understood the story before you wrote it. Suddenly, all your notes made sense.
"To make a football analogy, it was like your team started out with the ball on its own goal line and when they finally handed you the ball around your own 30, there was no defense at all. You've got a clear path to the goal line. That's what it was like working with Jay."
After Inside Sports folded, Lovinger worked as a senior editor at People magazine. Ben Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, later hired Lovinger to re-envision The Washington Post Magazine, where he served as managing editor from 1985 to '89. Lovinger worked for many years as an assistant managing editor of Life magazine, until he became the managing editor in 1997.
Lovinger loved harness racing and spent thousands of hours at the poker table. His interest was sparked early.
"In first grade, he was so bored that the teacher started playing chess with him, gambling for cookies," Daly said. "They started gambling for nickels, and when his mother found out, she went to the school and raised hell. He admired his mother's ethics, but he missed the nickels."
Lovinger won four Sports Emmys for his work on multimedia stories at ESPN.com.
In addition to Daly, Lovinger is survived by daughters Rachel, Woo and Wendy Lovinger; brothers Toby and Martin Lovinger; and mother Sadie Roth Lovinger. A memorial service is pending. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to a charity of choice.