Prominent journalist, Daily alum, Leon Jaroff dies at 85

By Danielle Stoppelmann, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 22, 2012

Former Michigan Daily editor Leon Jaroff, the founder of Discover Magazine and a former senior editor at TIME magazine, died after a four-year battle with throat cancer. He was 85. Peter Jaroff, his son, confirmed his death.

Jaroff, a University alum who served as the Michigan Daily’s managing editor in 1950, was known for his strong work ethic and compassion for reporting. Jaroff’s gusto for writing was evident in his professional journalistic success, Peter Jaroff said.

“He loved language, he loved to write, he really loved his work and he tried to do something he always wanted to do,” he said. “He would get very excited about things he was working on, things he was writing about. It was a joy for him to do that.”

Jaroff is most prominently known for his role as the first managing editor and founder of Discover Magazine in 1980. According to his son, Jaroff’s degree in electrical engineering from the University sparked his interest in science, and while at TIME, he identified a niche market for science news and split off to create his own publication.

“That was just a reflection of his background and his excitement over science and science related issues,” Peter Jaroff said.

Jaroff joined TIME as the magazine’s science editor and covered in 1966, a historical decade of vast scientific discoveries and groundbreaking events. He wrote more than 40 cover stories for the magazine that addressed topics ranging from “Race for the Moon” and “Did Comets Kill the Dinosaurs?”

Peter Jaroff said his father enjoyed his work as a reporter and editor at the Daily, which laid the foundation for Jaroff’s career in journalism.

“He loved it,” Peter said. “Obviously his work on the Daily prepared him for a long career in journalism, and he never forgot how important that was to him. And he always had stories about the deadline pressures, about controversies on campus, about people thinking he was a socialist because of articles they printed in the Daily.”

In a Sept. 13, 2003 article by Jaroff in TIME titled “How I Won the Michigan-Minnesota Game,” Jaroff explained his experience as freshman in the Big House. In a tense moment in the game against Minnesota with the Wolverines trailing by one touchdown, Jaroff took advantage of a silent moment in the stadium to shout “Fumble, you baaastards!” which was followed by a Minnesota fumble. Jaroff said he was “picked up and passed around the cheering student section” after Michigan recovered the ball and went on to win the game.

Jaroff also spread his infectious passion for the University, Peter Jaroff said, adding that his father would have been very proud of the outcome of Saturday’s game against Michigan State University.

“The whole family is die heart Michigan fans. He loved Michigan, he loved Michigan football. I know somewhere up there, he saw Michigan beat Michigan State on Saturday and was just thrilled about that,” he said.

While most of his college peers were unsure about their future careers, Peter Jaroff said his father always knew he wanted to go into journalism, noting that his self-determination helped him accomplish his loftiest goals.

“When he graduated from Michigan in 1950, he knew he wanted to write for TIME magazine and he worked for a small journal first, then worked for Life Magazine, but eventually did go to work for TIME Magazine, so I think his determination certainly was a characteristic.”

Though Jaroff hoped that Discover could bring the accessibility of science reporting to the public like TIME did for general news reporting, he eventually left Discover and returned to TIME due to a disagreement with his bosses, according to a The New York Times tribute.

Despite the challenges, Peter Jaroff said Jaroff’s children and grandchildren have learned from his hard working qualities as a father, grandfather and reporter.

“(His grandchildren) are his legacy; what he taught us and them about being good people, being funny — he had a great sense of humor, loved to make puns and word play,” Peter said. “So, he never took anything too seriously, and I think everybody got that sort of sense of humor from him. And also his dedication and his work ethic and just being a good citizen. I think his legacy will be in his children but especially in his grandchildren.”