John Cowles Jr., who died Saturday, left active management of this newspaper in January 1983. But whenever our paths crossed thereafter, conversation would quickly turn to developments at the Star Tribune. Cowles wanted to know what reporters -- his reporters -- were thinking about their stories and the paper that printed them. He never stopped caring about us and our work.

Cowles, whose father began buying and combining Minneapolis newspapers in 1935, shared his family's lofty ambitions for the city they chose. They did much to make their vision of Minnesota exceptionalism a reality.

A gentle and gracious man, Cowles was not a fixture of the newsroom of my youth. He had too much respect for his editors to get in their way. But he was a regular at the Capitol in 1979, pushing for enactment of the bill that would authorize construction of the Metrodome. Even as he focused on lobbying, he fretted that he might get in a young Tribune reporter's way. "Just pretend I'm not here," he whispered to me one day with endearing concern.

As a news executive, Cowles combined latter-day news values with an old-fashioned civic boosterism. That boosterism outlasted his newspaper career, and extended to two of the region's leading arts organizations, the Guthrie Theater and the Cowles Center for the Dance and the Performing Arts. Those organizations join this newspaper as his legacy.