Can Linda Henry Save the Boston Globe?

She’s on a mission to save Boston’s hometown newspaper. Let’s hope it works—for all our sakes.

linda pizzuti henry boston globe

Portrait by Ken Richardson

By any standard, Linda Pizzuti Henry lives a glamorous and well-Instagrammed life. There she is, checking out a piece of inscrutable conceptual art at Art Basel Miami; interviewing cast members of Hamilton; chumming it up with Bradley Cooper and the Queen of Jordan, the night of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Greetings from Jackson Hole, Monaco, and—bien sur—St. Barts.

Her office? Not so glamorous. It’s a small room, on the second floor of the soon-to-be-former Boston Globe building in Dorchester. The blown-up photographs from the paper’s archives that hang on her walls—iconic 1967 Boston Marathon finisher Kathrine Switzer, a deli in the North End—don’t exactly scream #luxelife. Instead of using a proper desk, Linda sits next to her assistant at a table cluttered with stacks of stapled papers featuring such prosaic titles as “Paywall Presentation.” Her windows do not open onto the outside world, but to a hallway. On the other side of the hallway is an expansive and currently vacant office belonging to her husband, John Henry, the co-owner of the Boston Red Sox and, with Linda, of the Globe.

I visit on a Thursday in late April. Linda takes my coat and offers me a goofy, flask-shaped plastic bottle of water. I ask if she’s always been in this office. She grins in complicity, enjoying the dissonance of her crummy digs. “I like being able to see people,” she insists. “It’s fine!” Before she and John bought the Globe in 2013, a representative from the paper’s absentee owner of 20 years, the New York Times, occupied the space. “They called him their spy,” Linda stage-whispers.

Fitting, then, because there is something enigmatic about Linda. She is the public face of Boston’s premier power couple, the one who moderates panels and emcees charity events. She’s always impeccable, but beneath the boardroom polish, the 38-year-old remains even less well understood than her 66-year-old husband, a shy quant who’s scarcely said a word in public since buying the Red Sox in 2002. “She is really a very, very composed, poised person—very warm, without being overly friendly,” says society columnist Jonathan Soroff. “She would make an excellent political wife.” When I suggest to Linda that much of the public sees her in the context of her husband, as the brunette in the owner’s box, she smiles and shrugs, happy to fly under the radar.

When the Henrys purchased the Globe, John, who declined to comment for this story, named himself publisher and Linda managing director. Nobody knew what that title meant, or what role, if any, she would really play at the paper. John, meanwhile, was portrayed as a civic savior: a deep-pocketed local newspaper owner determined not to strip the place for parts. More than three years in, the Henry record has been mixed. Many of the paper’s high-profile bets—including its infamously botched home-delivery reboot—haven’t paid off. The Globe hasn’t resorted to sweeping layoffs, but it’s also stuck in a hiring freeze. Perhaps most important, it remains unprofitable.

As the paper has treaded water, John has receded from view, preferring to oversee it remotely, from his home in Brookline. Meanwhile, says Globe editor Brian McGrory, “Linda is here more than ever.” She oversees Boston.com and sits on the editorial board. She is the cofounder and chairwoman of the Globe-backed ideas festival HUBweek, as well as the executive producer of paper’s documentary film festival, GlobeDocs. She is the central liaison to the rest of the city—the so-called New Boston in particular—and one of a few players, including McGrory and CEO Doug Franklin, with a hand in every major decision the paper makes.

Not that she’s eager to talk about it. As we sit in her office, Linda is happy to turn our conversation into a pop-up Davos—rhapsodizing about George Church, Boston’s high priest of genetic editing, wondering if Joe Biden could have beaten Donald Trump. (She thinks yes.) She arrives at her points Socratically, prodding me with questions until I produce something satisfactory enough for us to move on. But when the subject turns to her, Linda’s retreat is palpable. She begins measuring her words and glancing at my recorder. There is a fear, among her friends and colleagues at the Globe, that she will be portrayed as a dilettante, or worse, a bored trophy wife with a newspaper to play with. “I would hate more than anything,” she explains, “for the work that’s being done at the Globe to somehow be misattributed or discredited, based on what people think or don’t think about me.”

The more likely story is the more interesting one. In June, the newspaper’s staff moves into its new downtown building, shedding its costly old headquarters and printing facilities. The newsroom is undergoing a major reorganization as the paper doubles down on its high-priced online subscription model. The Henry era is entering its second phase, one that may well determine the ultimate viability of the paper. And it’s clear who’s expected to lead it. “I think [Linda] will be publisher one day,” says recently departed Globe CEO Mike Sheehan, echoing what others told me privately. Or, as WGBH’s Jim Braude puts it: “She is the ideal ambassador for the paper and the city. It’s not some 75-year-old white guy talking about the good old days of the Boston Globe.”

Linda Pizzuti Henry first entered the public eye as a dark-haired ingénue, plucked from North Shore obscurity. Now, eight years later, she’s one of the most powerful, respected, and well-connected people in Boston. The question is: Will that be enough to save a certain old-fangled, money-losing, 145-year-old print-media dinosaur?

 

Linda’s father, Don Pizzuti, emigrated from Italy to Quincy in the mid-1950s, at the age of 14. He worked as an engineer at GE and Polaroid before settling his family in Lynnfield and founding a real estate development firm. He had four daughters. But there’s nothing he wanted more than a son. “After me, he gave up,” says Linda, the youngest. “I’m very grateful that I didn’t have a brother. It would have all been focused on him.” Instead, Don raised his daughters as apprentices. As early as nine or 10, the girls were spending summers in his office. “We had dinner together as a family every night and we would talk business,” Linda says. “That’s what my dad was interested in. He didn’t find our daily dramas very interesting. He was not going to pretend.” There’s a small catch in her laugh. “He’s, ah, complicated. In some ways, his daughters can do anything. At the same time, I don’t know how he would feel about a woman president.”

That was the daily tradeoff. Don instilled in Linda a sense of empowerment—but with firm conditions. She could date, but not until she was 16. She could go to college where she wanted, unless she wanted him to pay for it, in which case, well, it had to be in Massachusetts. It was understood that she would work for the family business and, until she got married, live at home. After attending Babson College, she briefly worked in tech consulting and banking. But when her father went under the knife for a triple bypass, she got the tap on the shoulder. At 23, she was working her first full-time project for the family business, a residential development in Dedham.

Linda’s twenties were a tug of war between stasis and (mild) rebellion. She traveled extensively—Rwanda, Mount Kilimanjaro, you name it—briefly attended law school at Suffolk, and got engaged to but never married a man working in private equity. By her mid-twenties, Don Pizzuti’s youngest daughter had lurched farther from the nest than anyone in her immediate family. Even living in the North End, by herself and single, was uncharted territory. Yet many of her adventures seemed designed to lead her right back home. At 26, she obtained a master’s from MIT in real estate development. When she traveled to Peru to spend time in a barrio outside of Lima, it was to learn more about “nontraditional housing.”

Then, suddenly, her trajectory altered. One night during the summer of 2008, John and Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner—also a recent divorcé—were chilling at the Liberty Hotel’s jail-themed club, Alibi. Linda was there for a birthday party; the two were introduced by mutual friends. John gawked at his new crush while Linda pretended not to notice. “Honestly, at the time, Linda didn’t know who John was,” says her friend Jessica Naddaff Merle, a Newton native she met years ago at a fundraiser. “At first it was like, ‘Who’s that, and what’s so remarkable about him?’” Thus began a courtship of Tom Cruisian intensity that included romantic emails from John and a whirlwind Parisian getaway. Linda resisted John’s advances for a while, in no small part because of the fierce objections of her parents. “My father was very proud,” she says. “He didn’t want me to be in someone’s shadow. And for him, you know, I was this younger woman. So people were making assumptions about my intentions that were insulting to my father, to my family. That, you know, I would be doing something for material intentions.”

Linda’s friends also had misgivings. “‘Lin, I feel like he’s not the guy you’re going to bring to our cookout,’” they’d tell her. Which, fair enough. But Linda wasn’t planning to organize her life around cookouts. “I never dated an Italian boy from the North Shore,” she says. “That wasn’t my type.” There was a headiness to her relationship with John that was missing from her Lynnfield upbringing. “I wasn’t this wide-eyed 21-year-old who’d never left her hometown,” Linda says. Yet she couldn’t help being captivated by the rock-band-playing, trader-turned-team-owning autodidact. “John was the most interesting man I’d ever met,” she’s told me, more than once. Lisa Matthews, who’s been friends with Linda since grammar school, says Linda dated restlessly throughout her twenties: “She wasn’t able to find someone on par with her. And I guess it took a John Henry to get there.”