Republished from the Chicago Tribune
Alfred Borcover was the Tribune’s travel editor in the 1980s and ’90s, a time when travel sections were a robust element of Sunday newspapers and writers covered the globe in search of interesting stories.
“Back in the day, Al took readers to places near and far with an easygoing style that made them feel that they were his traveling companions,” said Carolyn McGuire, a retired Tribune associate Travel editor. “Between assignments he was always available to give advice to anyone who asked how to beat jet lag or the best hotel to stay in — you name it.”
Borcover, 92, died of natural causes on Jan. 24 at the Warren Barr Lieberman long-term care facility in Skokie, said his wife of 34 years, Linda. A longtime Evanston resident, Borcover had been battling a range of health issues and had been in hospice care.
Born Alfred Seymour Borcover in Bellaire, Ohio, Borcover was the son of a Russian-born father and a mother who had immigrated to the U.S. from Austria. He received a bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University in 1953 and then served for two years in the U.S. Air Force, where he was a first lieutenant and served in Morocco and at a radar station in Maine, his family said.
In 1957, he received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Two years later he joined the Tribune, briefly as a reporter before becoming a copy editor.
Borcover joined the Tribune’s Travel section in 1963 and for the next 10 years was an assistant travel editor, while also writing long articles about various destinations. His first Travel section article, published July 1963, took readers to Vilas County, in north-central Wisconsin, which he described as a “scenic wonderland of 1,300 lakes and thousands of acres of towering forests.”
Borcover’s stories included a focus on affordable rail travel while he also visited far-flung locales such as Tunisia and Israel. During this time he provided the content for “Arthur Frommer’s Dollar-Wise Guide to Chicago,” which was published in 1967. Tribune book critic Clarence Petersen called it “authoritative, well-written, fascinating and up-to-date,” and a book “to remind us natives of some of the attractions of home.”
A series he developed in 1976 on Bicentennial travel destinations, including Yellowstone National Park, the Arizona desert, Glacier Bay in Alaska and the Grand Canyon, was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration.
Borcover was named the Tribune’s Travel editor in 1979. In addition to leading the section and assigning stories to writers, he continued to file reports from around the world and also wrote a weekly column.
In 1986, he broke a story about scams that had been launched in Chicago by sham vacation brokers who took consumers’ fees but then denied them trips on the dates they desired. Ultimately the brokers were targeted by the Federal Trade Commission and sued by the state attorney general’s office before the state General Assembly passed legislation cracking down on such travel promoters.
Borcover continued focusing on travel scams, and his columns were distributed around the country through Tribune wire services.
“Though he was based here in Chicago, his syndicated stories and columns traveled as widely as he did,” said Randy Curwen, who succeeded Borcover as the Tribune’s Travel editor. “As a travel writer, editor and columnist, Al certainly knew his way around the world. And everybody in the travel world knew Al.”
In addition to basic information on destinations such as maps and costs, Borcover offered personal observations in his stories.
“What struck me … was that I didn’t feel as if I were in South America,” Borcover wrote in March 1983 on a trip to Buenos Aires. “The city’s ambience and architecture — from the colorful Italian district of La Boca with its brightly painted homes to the grandiose scale of Avenida 9 de Julio — were definitely European. The undiluted ethnicity of the few gracious residents I had met, and others I overheard, left me with the quick impression that this melting-pot country had not melted as in the U.S. Language of origin had not been buried, but preserved.”
Retired Tribune foreign correspondent R.C. “Dick” Longworth recalled Borcover’s “always upbeat and good-natured” personality.
“Al was one of the nicest guys in the Tribune newsroom,” Longworth said. “He was also a real pro, a graceful writer and a fine editor whose own sense of fun and adventure infused the paper’s Travel section.”
After visiting 60 countries, Borcover stepped down as Travel editor in 1993 and retired from the Tribune in February 1994.
“People always ask: What’s your favorite place?” Borcover wrote in his farewell column. “I never have an adequate answer. There are just too many places in the world to love, and I’m not finished seeing all that I want to see. There’s no end in sight.”
Borcover continued to write about travel for another 17 years as a freelancer, including a biweekly column for the Travel section.
Shortly after his final byline in the Tribune in 2011, Borcover began volunteering at O’Hare International Airport with Travelers Aid, working at an information desk.
“He loved volunteering to work on the travel desk at O’Hare, and would go every week, for a time, to sit at that desk in one of the terminals and offer advice and help to travelers,” said former Tribune correspondent Storer “Bob” Rowley, a longtime friend.