IRA LIPMAN: Central High 'mole' for John Chancellor. iralipman.com

Ira Lipman, a Little Rock native who built Memphis-based Guardsmark into a major security company and who became known for advocacy of stronger airport security, died Sept. 16 at 78.

An obituary in the New York Times today recalls a part of Lipman’s past in the Little Rock school crisis in 1957, little known until 1993.

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He also left his mark as a footnote to a pivotal event in the annals of civil rights and American journalism: the showdown between the federal government and Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas over the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957.

Mr. Lipman, then a 16-year-old senior at the high school, acted as a mole for the NBC reporter John Chancellor, feeding him information from inside Central High from a pay phone. For young Ira, the vitriol of white people directed at black students evoked the Holocaust.

“You have to imagine what it was like for a sensitive Jewish boy growing up in Little Rock right after World War II,” Mr. Lipman once recalled.

 

His role during the unrest was revealed only in 1993, with the publication of the journalist David Halberstam’s book “The Fifties.”

 

Mr. Halberstam wrote that Mr. Chancellor had often been ahead of the competition with his inside track on what was going on in Central High. “It was perhaps the first time a television reporter rather than a print reporter had put his signature on so critical a running story,” he wrote.

 

In 1995, Mr. Lipman established an award in Mr. Chancellor’s name at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

“I was just a scared kid making a desperate cry for help,” Mr. Lipman told The Daily News in 1995. “John Chancellor was my insurance policy, my protection against the world’s inequities.”

Lipman’s father moved to Memphis after Lipman’s high school years and Lipman changed the focus of the family business from investigative work to security. The company was sold in 2015. By then, Lipman was making his home in New York.