Observer Media Group co-owner Lisa Walsh dies at 69

Lisa Walsh was a pillar in the Sarasota-Manatee community; a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, sister and daughter; and the backbone of one of the most successful media companies in Florida.

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  • | 4:43 p.m. September 19, 2023
When two Secret Service agents asked then-Longboat Observer Executive Editor Lisa Walsh to back off reporting on the 9/11 terrorists, she politely declined. "We're reporters. That's what we do," she said.
When two Secret Service agents asked then-Longboat Observer Executive Editor Lisa Walsh to back off reporting on the 9/11 terrorists, she politely declined. "We're reporters. That's what we do," she said.
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From the day she started editing the Longboat Observer to the day she handed over editing duties of the four newspapers she built with her husband, there was never a frantic rush, never a shout, never a tense flurry of activity to meet deadlines. 

No matter how late the papers to the printers or how big the story, Lisa Walsh was never anything but poised. 

It had nothing to do with how much she cared about the papers — and make no mistake, she cared down to the comma — running around barking orders or breathing down reporters’ necks to get copy just wasn’t her nature.

But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t effective. As she leaned over your desk and said, “We’re going to need that story now,” writers got the message. Despite her petite 5-foot-4 frame, perfectly styled hair and manicured nails, she was tough. And everyone knew it.

Of course, everyone knew this by the way she faced challenges — head on. She sought solutions instead of indulging in problems. She let logic prevail over emotion. And in her understated way, whether it was navigating three deadlines a week, sorting out a crisis at a nonprofit or even battling a rare form of Parkinson’s disease for seven years, she led with patience, grace and dignity.

It was that way until the end. She died at 12:25 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, from complications from her Parkinson’s. She was 69. 

Walsh died at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. When her health began deteriorating rapidly Tuesday, Sept. 12, doctors gave her four to six hours to live. She kept going for 27 more.

“My mother, tiny though she was, was incredibly strong and determined and never gave up,” said Emily Walsh, her eldest daughter.

Walsh was surrounded when she died by her husband Matt and three adult children, Emily, Kate and Brian. Emily is president of the Observer Media Group and lives in Sarasota with her husband, Pat Robinson, and son Rhys, 13, and stepson, Colin, 13; Kate lives in Colorado Springs and is a co-owner and artistic director of a 500-student ballet school; and Brian lives in Hampstead, North Carolina, where he is a major in the Marines and married to Maria Amodio Walsh; they have two children, Maeve, 6, and Jackson, 3. 

Walsh is also survived by her father, David Beliles, who lives in Sarasota, and her brother, David Beliles Jr., who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

— Kat Wingert and Mark Gordon, Observer

Lisa Walsh coined the term “us-y” — a sort of shorthand we use in our company to describe the kind of person who fits in with our culture and who we think will succeed here. It means trustworthy and honest, hardworking and dependable, innovative and collaborative. It means bold but not boastful. It means finding a way to say yes. It means living by the Golden Rule.

So often during hiring and firing decisions, the question, “Is this person an us-y?” will arise. And the answer to that question reveals the way we go.

Like Lisa and Matt, I earned my degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, noted as one of the top journalism schools in the world (and the oldest in the United States). However, my education in this wild industry did not truly begin until I started my career at Observer Media Group.

In school, there was one particular professor whose mere mention caused every aspiring reporter to quake. Even years before you’d ever have an encounter with her, you knew her name. Her presence loomed like the end boss of a video game.

And indeed, she was tough — her red-ink comments on your copy felt like daggers, and it seemed everyone’s tails were perpetually between their legs. 

But here’s the problem: There was no resolution, no full-circle, “Atta boy,” at the end. We all just received our degrees, turned our tassels and left.

I didn’t have the privilege of working directly with Lisa until about a decade into my career at OMG. But even so, her unique and distinct fingerprints were all over our start-up East County Observer newspaper. Our version of hyperlocal news (no news is too small), our color palette, our design — it was all Lisa. 

In about 2011, my cheese moved, and I was brought into the downtown Sarasota office to work more closely with the other OMG editors and directly with Lisa. Naturally, I came in thinking I already knew everything.


Forget daggers. There were some days I felt like samurai swords had pierced my very soul. I started questioning everything I thought I knew about news, newspapers, photography, editing, deadlines, headlines. At times, I even wondered if I really wasn’t cut out for journalism, after all.

And then came the conversation that changed my and my family’s lives forever. 

We want to open a new paper in Plant City. And we want you to go and do it.

It all clicked. I was being put through a gauntlet of sorts — not as some cruel joke but rather to prepare me for every possible challenge that could lie ahead. It wasn’t that Lisa didn’t believe in me. It was that she did. 

Atta boy, indeed.

Since that year — now more than a decade ago — I’ve been able to take on every role and challenge sent my way with the confidence and knowledge that Lisa thought I was good enough to handle it.

Even though Lisa was not directly involved with the Plant City newspaper or our newspapers here in West Orange, she has been and will continue to be on every page of every edition we publish. Most important, she’s in our daily interactions with one another and with our readers — in how we treat other people. She defined our corporate culture — aka The Observer Way. It probably should just be called The Lisa Way.

Lisa was a mom to all of us — and her drive for great journalism, for philanthropy and for building a company on the right values is at the heart of everything we do. She was a titan in the news industry, and we will miss her terribly.

— Michael Eng


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