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It was clear that young Nan Tucker wasn’t like the other de

May 25, 1995

It was clear that young Nan Tucker wasn’t like the other de Young women of the 1940s. After she wrested a newsroom job from her reluctant uncle, she roared through San Francisco chasing metro news and covering the creation of the United Nations. In 1946 she broke out of her gilded family nest and went to work at the New York Herald Tribune and the Washington Post.

In 1948, as her cousins settled into the San Francisco social scene, she married a globe-trotting publishing executive, Dennis McEvoy, and traveled the world. ``Nan was pro-choice when the phrase didn’t mean anything, a feminist when there weren’t any, a committed liberal,″ says Leo J. Hindery Jr., former chief financial officer of Chronicle Publishing. ``But in being such, she became somewhat of a black sheep. She and her husband ran with the bulls in Spain and hung out with Hemingway.″

She ruffled her family’s feathers even more when the marriage fell apart. Mrs. McEvoy headed for Reno, Nev., and became the first member of her Roman Catholic clan to get a divorce.

Returning to Washington, Mrs. McEvoy settled into a Georgetown town house with her young son, Nion. They made pilgrimages to San Francisco on holidays _ but that wasn’t enough to bridge the growing gap between Mrs. McEvoy and her kin. ``Their lives were much more social, much more Burlingame and Hillsborough,″ she says, alluding to the posh communities where they lived. ``My system is just used to working, not playing bridge and entertaining at dinner.″

Nevertheless, Mrs. McEvoy was about to become one of the most powerful figures in her family’s complex structure. After the death of Chronicle founder Meichel de Young, who was Mrs. McEvoy’s grandfather, his empire ultimately was split among three of his children, who in turn passed it to their own children. But Mrs. McEvoy had only one brother, and he died in World War II Marine combat _ leaving her the Tucker branch’s sole heir.

At first, an irrevocable family trust created by her grandfather held all of the Chronicle’s assets. But Mrs. McEvoy knew that when the trust dissolved _ upon the death of the last surviving child of Meichel de Young _ the company’s assets would be distributed as shares to family members, and she and her son would suddenly control a full third of the empire. In Washington, she quietly took classes at Georgetown University’s business school to learn ``the language I knew would be important in running the company″ someday.

In the meantime, she had little involvement with the family business. The San Francisco Chronicle, which had gotten its start as a post-Gold Rush scandal sheet, was continuing its long tradition of serving as a whipping post for journalism critics. Under Mrs. McEvoy’s cousin Charles de Young Thieriot, who became publisher in 1955, it ran treasure hunts with $1,000 prizes and advocated the diapering of animals in the San Francisco Zoo. San Franciscans nicknamed it ``The Comicle.″

Charles Thieriot was an autocrat who ruled over every detail of the Chronicle. Mrs. McEvoy and the rest of the family were kept in the dark, two executives say. Once, when family members became inquisitive, Charles Thieriot was heard to say, ``It’s none of their damn business.″ At quarterly board meetings, he handed out one-page summaries with scant financial details, and would ``stare down″ relatives who challenged him, says a Chronicle executive.

In 1974, Mrs. McEvoy became chairman of Chronicle’s board, but the post was largely ceremonial and she submitted to that role. By this time a fixture in Washington, she was throwing herself into Democratic politics and causes; President Johnson named her to the U.S. delegation of Unesco and she opened the Washington office of John Rockefeller III’s foundation, the Population Council. She stayed on the sidelines as Chronicle’s mantle passed from Charles Thieriot to his son Richard.

Known inside the company as ``King Richard,″ the younger Mr. Thieriot _ now 53 years old _ was an avid duck hunter and rancher. Described by associates as a reclusive and somewhat imperious executive, he kept a low profile inside his wood-paneled office. He ate sandwiches at his desk and shunned the charity balls and opera openings where his relatives were fixtures. At the Hearst Corp.’s San Francisco Examiner, run in a joint operating agreement with the Chronicle, officials recall it was difficult to lure Mr. Thieriot to crucial meetings. He preferred to meet directly with Hearst’s chief executive.

As a businessman, Mr. Thieriot’s record was mixed. He oversaw a hodgepodge of ill-fated investments, including an airport videotex kiosk and a newfangled cable-stereo service. He seemed reluctant to rein in his relatives inside the company. At the cable division, his brother Charles ``Kip″ Thieriot set up shop as a film producer, turning out B-movies such as ``Malibu Bikini Shop″ with Rita Jenrette, according to a former company executive. Their cousin Francis ``Rani″ Martin III, presiding over the Chronicle’s TV stations, was drawing fire for lavish company cars, home TV sets and other perks _ including golden parachutes for his senior team that would kick in if he left.

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