William B. Ziff Jr. passes away

Colin’s Corner: William B. Ziff Jr. passes away

I am sad. This man was a hero to me. A lion in publishing and the smartest man in any room he stood. I worked for him for four years, interviewed him for a big Forbes story when he was selling the company, visited his Pawling home, and got to know his sons Dirk, Robert, and Daniel. My condolences to them, for he was larger than life. Ah, how I wish those years from Forbes were online so I could link to the story.

Bill passed away at home at the age of 76.

I have two Bill Ziff stories. The first time I met him I was returning to my office at PC Week following a weekly story meeting. My office was, to put it politely, trashed, a total health department violation, with heaps of press releases, torn apart PCs and general Dave-junk everywhere. When I flew through the door there was a man sitting in my chair looking out the window at the Charles River. He looked like a janitor, dressed in green khakis and looking a little dishelved.

“Can I sit there?” I demanded. He stood up, smiled, stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Bill Ziff.”

We talked for about five minutes until a writer stuck her head in the door and said there was an emergency at the copydesk that needed my attention. I excused myself, stepped outside, and was assaulted by a belly dancer who had bad odor on the occasion of my birthday. Bill Ziff stood by with a very sly smile on his face.

The second Bill Ziff story followed my big Forbes story (which should have been a cover and which was amazingly awesome in the first draft until my editor assaulted it). Bill was obsessively smart about certain topics: horticulture, sports statistics, the theory of relativity, and the Civil War, another passion of mine. So he invited me and my wife to Pawling for a weekend with him and his wife Anne to talk about the Civil War. The house was amazing, 40,000 square feet on a 500 acre arboreum. He sang me the Union song, Marching Through Georgia, and bellowed the refrain:

“Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee.

Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free,

So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,

While we were marching through Georgia.”

He then proceeded to analyze me which was a thoroughly discomfiting experience, but one he apparently — gauging from the number of people who have undergone the Bill Ziff Analysis — was fond of performing.

I will miss him. Ave Atque Vale Bill.