For 37 years, John Praksta was the man who made the Daily News.
As assistant managing editor, it was his job to combine the stories and photos in time for the People Paper’s early morning press run.
“He set the tone and each night took all the jigsaw pieces, threw them in the air, and made them come down as a compact little tabloid,” wrote columnist Stu Bykofsky in 1992 when Mr. Praksta retired.
Mr. Praksta, 90, of Oreland, died Thursday, May 2, of complications from cancer at home, said his daughter, Michele Rich.
While Mr. Praksta shunned public attention during his newspaper career, his front-page headline demanded it nightly.
“That banner had to be short but eye-grabbing, and John hit the target every time,” said Peg Harris, a retired Daily News copy editor. “With his passing, journalism has lost one of its finest.”
Mr. Praksta was working in 1956 when Philly’s Grace Kelly spoke her marriage vows in French to Prince Rainier of Monaco. “Grace Says ‘Oui’” was his headline. The night she died in 1982, he wrote, “Grace Dead.”
When the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983, “Hoopla!” was the headline. When Elvis died in 1977, he wrote, “The King Is Dead.”
Mr. Praksta was born to Slovak immigrant parents in Wallington, N.J. The family moved to Bristol, where he entered grade school unable to speak English.
He picked asparagus and set bowling pins to earn money. Even as a boy, he had a keen ear for news, calling out the headlines as he sold papers. He graduated from Bristol High School in 1946 and earned a journalism degree from Temple University in 1950.
Mr. Praksta spent two years stationed with the Army in Germany during the Korean War. While there, he met Renate Lemke, whom he married in 1955.
He returned to Philadelphia, settled in Oreland, and accepted a job with the Daily News in 1955. He was there for Watergate, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the deaths of John F. Kennedy and John Lennon, the MOVE fire, and the 1980 Phillies world championship.
A proud moment for Mr. Praksta was when relief pitcher Tug McGraw held up the Daily News front page proclaiming “We Win!” during the Phillies’ victory parade.
“John Praksta had an infallible news sense and a natural wit,” said Harris, “the perfect combination for his job as a Daily News editor.”
Carol Towarnicky, a retired editor and columnist for the Daily News, said a highlight of her career was working with Mr. Praksta in the late 1970s. “I can still see him coming in promptly at 5, dressed in a suit and tie, and that hat he wore,” she said. “He was remarkably patient.”
He taught news editing at Temple University for 25 years.
“I first met John at Temple University,” said former Daily News columnist Jill Porter. “Journalism classes were taught in a rowhouse on Broad Street; you had to talk loudly to be heard over the subway. He taught copy editing in the living room and came to the 8 a.m. class after working the overnight shift at the Daily News. He was so gentle but somehow still scared me to death.”
In retirement, Mr. Praksta devoted himself to classical music. He was a longtime subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra. He and his wife rang in the millennium at the Academy of Music.
Having played the accordion as a child, he took up piano at age 40. He spent many hours playing music by Chopin, Beethoven, and Bach.
He and his wife made frequent visits to Munich and London, where he was fitted for tailor-made suits. He vacationed in Bermuda every fall for 25 years.
Mr. Praksta read widely, especially about European history. He never stopped following The Inquirer and the Daily News.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Andrea Hardy, and a granddaughter. His wife died in 2010.
A memorial luncheon will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, May 31. Inquiries may be made to firstname.lastname@example.org. Burial is private.