Verne Westerberg, Advertising Executive who helped steer Condé Nast publishing into a powerhouse, passed away peacefully surrounded by his loved ones at his home in Vero Beach, Florida at the age of ninety.
During his thirty-five year magazine career as Publisher of Vogue, Gourmet, Self and Brides magazines, Verne promoted much of the glamour, fashion and social taste at Condé Nast magazines during a golden era of publishing, with editorial direction from some of the most important editors of the 20th century, including Grace Mirabella, Anna Wintour, Nancy Pilcher and Editorial Director Alexander Lieberman.
Mr. Westerberg will be remembered as a charismatic and a beloved executive by his many colleagues, clients and friends. “Verne was always hugely popular — his positive energy and larger-than-life personality touched and motivated not only his staff but everyone he encountered — from CEO’s to the shoe shine guy in Grand Central Station,” said his fellow Condé Nast colleague and close friend of forty years, Kevin Madden. Verne’s signature booming laugh would resonate across the linen and crystal-laden tables of such chic and elegant midtown Manhattan eateries as La Cote Basque, Le Perigord and La Grenouille, always recognized by business-lunching habitues and maitre d’s alike.
He led a glamorous life, but underneath it all, was an unpretentious, self-made man, the only child of Scandinavian parents who emigrated thru Ellis Island and settled in Evanston, Illinois. Verne was a 1949 graduate of Evanston High School where he met his sweetheart and future wife of 66 years, Lee Hanley Westerberg.
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Verne went on to become a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in England. Verne and Lee elected to live off base, rented a rustic old farmhouse with their golden retriever and their first-born son, Scott, where they became known for their popular and lavish parties for fellow officers. They enjoyed extensive European travels in the late 50’s spending much of their time in Spain, where Verne had a passion for attending bullfights.
After returning to the States, a stint at Condé Nast in Chicago led to a promotion and relocation to New York City with House and Garden magazine and a purchase of a new home on Greenwich Cove in Old Greenwich, Connecticut where they raised their two sons, Scott and Stephen.
An avid sailor, member of the New York Yacht Club, and the Riverside Yacht Club in Greenwich Ct, Verne had a great passion for boating and the life-style and adventures of being on the open waters of Lake Michigan, Long Island Sound, Sydney Harbor and the British Virgin Islands where Verne and Lee resided upon his retirement in 1994. In later years, they divided their time between Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and Vero Beach, Florida.
A peer among New York’s top business leaders, a devoted friend and always known for his generosity and large spirit, Verne was an enormously popular and successful executive who would always take the time to help others. In retirement, Verne dedicated himself to extensive volunteer work for the Salvation Army and Hospice.
Jonathan Newhouse, Chairman of Condé Nast reflects on Verne, whom he worked with for 20+ years…”Verne was a great friend, to me and to many others, and the consummate professional as a magazine publisher. He awoke each day with a smile on his face and the capacity, a gift really, to connect to people and to bring out their best. The folks who worked with Verne or for him loved him and gave him 110 per cent. Whenever you met Verne you were guaranteed to have a smile on your face in the next 30 seconds.
His bonhomie tended to overshadow the reality that he was an exceedingly hardworking, talented, savvy professional who always got the job done. He was Si Newhouse’s go-to publishing executive whenever Conde Nast had a problem to be solved, and there were plenty in those days: Self in the early days after its launch, Gourmet right after Conde Nast acquired it, Vogue facing increasing competition and Australia where a turnaround was desperately needed. When there was a tough assignment to be handled, Verne was called upon to do it, and he did it with skill and panache. He was certainly the best publisher I ever worked with.
He was a friend to me and many others. Loyal, caring, insightful. In a profession with its share of egotists, Verne never sought the focus for himself. He cared about the people he worked with and the magazine he worked on. Over all these years we always kept in contact with each other and had lunches and a lot of laughs together. It’s very sad for those who loved him to think we won’t see him again in this lifetime. But how happy I am that I knew him.”
Verne leaves behind many close friends whom he treasured. He is survived by his wife Lee Westerberg, son Scott and his granddaughter Kyra and son Stephen, his wife Carolyn and their sons Hunter and James.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to The Salvation Army.