Journalist and entrepreneur Stu Saffer, founder of the Stu News Laguna website and Laguna Beach Independent weekly newspaper, died Saturday, May 20, after a surgical procedure. He had battled a progressive lung disease for several years and was 74.
His daughter Jackie Miller, of Long Beach, and friend and business partner, Shaena Stabler, were at his side.
A mentor to many as well as a civic cheerleader and baseball devotee, Saffer was named citizen of the year in the 2016 Patriots Day Parade.
Saffer was born in 1942 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in rural Middleburg, Va. His father was the town doctor, who died when he was 11.
A gifted hitter, Saffer won a baseball scholarship to the University of Virginia, but due to family circumstances was unable to accept the offer. Instead he studied radio broadcasting and advertising sales at night at what is now George Mason University, and by day supported a young wife and child by holding down jobs delivering mail and coaching junior college baseball.
A brother’s plea to work with him in sales led Saffer to California, where he would take myriad jobs, from sales of semiconductors to swimming pools, and hosted a sports radio show in Orange County.
His sunk roots in Laguna Beach by coaching Little League and serving as league commissioner in the ‘90s due to his special friendship with Brandon Leahy, the son of Margo Morgenlander. “He was profoundly important to our family,” said Morgenlander, a 35-year friend. “For me, Stu’s unwavering love and commitment to kindness, integrity and values, which he shared with Brandon, helped me become a better mom. He was there for every one of life’s challenges and every celebration.”
Leahy said Saffer’s devotion to youth went beyond their father-son like relationship, recalling him buying baseball gear for kids whose families couldn’t afford it and driving others to events who didn’t have a ride.
“He was the dad my kids didn’t have,” added Laura Parisi, the city treasurer, who developed a friendship with Saffer beginning in 1999 when he worked as a reporter for Laguna’s Coastline News. “I would call him in a quandary: what do I do? My son is doing XYZ.”
Parisi appreciated that Saffer put children’s interests first, omitting the minor legal troubles of parents from the paper, and embracing the role of town cheerleader. “That’s the quality I liked best in him,” she said.
“Stu loved Laguna more than anyone I’ve ever met,” said former Indy reporter Jennifer Erickson. “To him Laguna was, and is, a small town with a big heart unlike any other. Laguna was his family. To me, perhaps to many, he was Mr. Laguna.”
In 1998, Saffer bought the Coastline from Jerry Ledbetter with the help of a silent partner. In 2002, he sold the paper to the Los Angeles Times. In 2003 he started the Independent, which became the town’s dominant paper, but lost its control in 2009 when local investor Mallory McCamant sold the publication to Firebrand Media. The following year he started the online Stu News Laguna, later sharing ownership with Stabler, who handled advertising and marketing. In 2016, the pair started a sister site, partnering with Tom and Lana Johnson on Stu News Newport. “I will miss him terribly,” said Stabler, “but will commit my life to honoring his legacy through Stu News Laguna, as he hoped for dearly.”
Community organizer Sande St. John helped Saffer realize his ambition for the Indy by whipping up a fundraiser in November 2014. “You embraced Laguna’s different backgrounds and passions; you made it okay to follow your dream, and never give up,” she said.
Among those Saffer encouraged was Lisa Farber, now publisher of the weekly entertainment newsletter Laguna Beach Vibe. “When I created my own paper, Stu continued to be a source of encouragement and lend an ear whenever I needed his advice or support.” She met him in 2010 in the aftermath of a car pursuit and a police shooting. “He was never one to miss the action or the scoop!” Farber said.
Saffer is survived by his daughter, Jackie Miller, of Long Beach, and her sons J.R., Charlie, John, and Peter; Brandon Leahy, of San Francisco; daughter, Laura Law, of Atlanta, Ga., and her children Katherine and Will Law; sister, Claudia Young, of Middleburg, Va.; and grandsons Ryan and Michael Lipert. He was pre-deceased by his two brothers, Tom and Thornton Saffer, and his daughter, Liz Lipert, of Capistrano Beach.
A celebration of life is planned for June, but details have not been finalized, Stabler said.
In lieu of flowers, Saffer’s family requests that donations be made to Laguna Beach Little League or Friendship Shelter, or the nonprofit of your choice.
Correction: An obituary about Stu Saffer incorrectly reported the year of a fundraiser. The event took place in 2004.
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