Minnesota journalism lost one of its quiet heroes Monday. First Amendment attorney John Borger never donned a cape while at work — at least not in the Star Tribune's offices — but he came to the rescue of many newspaper reporters and editors during a distinguished four-decade career.
Borger, 68, died in Minneapolis after a long struggle with cancer that could not rob him of his spirit, quick wit and zest for life. He is survived by his wife, retired Twin Cities journalist Judith Yates Borger, and three grown children and young grandchildren.
Media attorney Leita Walker, who worked with Borger at the Minneapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, recalled her mentor as ' "old school' in the best of ways — deliberate, understated and thoughtful."
Borger "had no illusions that 'the media' was perfect," Walker told an editorial writer, "but he believed wholeheartedly in the First Amendment and in the power of the press to serve as a check on abuse of power."
Borger, who studied journalism at Michigan State University, was a graduate of Yale Law School. He eventually moved to Minneapolis, where he became one of the nation's most respected First Amendment attorneys based on his work for the Star Tribune and other media organizations nationwide.
Journalists relied on Borger for his legal expertise during prepublication reviews of sensitive stories, courtroom challenges and open-records battles.
He retired in 2017 and, a year later, became only the third lawyer to receive the Champion of the First Amendment award, the highest honor from the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law.
Friends also knew Borger as a collector of comic books, more than 40,000 of which he donated to the University of Minnesota Libraries in 2008.
On Sunday, Borger dressed in a Superman sweatshirt and joined his family at iFly Indoor Skydiving in Minnetonka, where staff members helped him into a simulator. "With his thumbs up, and a smile on his face, John felt the joy of free flight," Judith Borger recounted in a CaringBridge post. He died a day later as his son Nick read to him from a cherished comic book.