Richard C. (Dick) Mayer, whose original paintings and other graphics added uniqueness and a touch of whimsy to Ward’s publications for 30 years, died Aug. 22 at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI. He was 78.

Mayer had two overlapping careers. He spent 45 years at the Detroit Free Press, where he rose to art director and chief artist. He retired from the newspaper in 1996. He joined Ward’s part-time in 1971, working evenings and weekends, becoming fulltime art director in 1996. He retired from Ward’s in 2001.

Mayer penned scores of original covers for Ward’s AutoWorld, including lively cartoons that became a staple of the magazine and had a major impact on its success.

He also was responsible for graphics and artwork illustrating feature stories and was instrumental in several redesigns of the magazine. Mayer created the original layouts of several other Ward’s publications as well, including Ward’s Engine and Vehicle Technology Update.

“Dick Mayer’s creative talent was exceptional,” says David C. Smith, longtime WAW editor-in-chief and currently editor-at-large, who first teamed up with Mayer when both were Free Press staffers. “He was not just an artist; he was a journalist. He understood how graphics and words can combine as a compelling package because he often accompanied reporters on their assignments and penned sketches and carefully read each story.”

“Dick Mayer’s artwork created a unique brand identity for Ward’s AutoWorld and made it a standout in a sea of dull automotive trade magazines,” adds Drew Winter, a longtime staffer and WAW’s current editor-in-chief.

Mayer’s penchant for whimsical illustrations endeared him to readers at both the Free Press and Ward’s. His annual “Santa Claus” cartoon appearing each Christmas on page one of the newspaper’s sports section cleverly included the names of sports personalities imbedded as background. His WAW covers often focused on sports metaphors.

With a well-honed appreciation for satire, Mayer also could be biting. To illustrate a WAW story criticizing Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca for treating Chrysler as a “cash cow,” Mayer drew a sad looking cow with a Chrysler Pentastar branded on its rear end, with Iacocca seated at a 3-legged stool milking the beast.

Mayer also had a serious side. During the 1967 Detroit riot he and his staff at the Free Press worked around the clock producing dramatic photo layouts, maps and diagrams to tell the story. The Free Press staff, including Mayer, was rewarded by winning the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 1968.

He also showed his serious side in 1974 with a potent WAW cover illustrating an enterprising story entitled “Booze and Dope in the Auto Industry.” The story and the cover won the top American Business Press Jesse Neal Award in 1974.

In recognition of his long and distinguished career, Mayer was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in April.

A sports junkie who played tennis, hockey and racquetball, Mayer was a native Detroiter. During his Free Press career he covered the 1968 and 1984 Detroit Tigers World Series (the Tigers won both), the Tigers spring training camp each year in Lakeland, FL, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and countless other sports events.

Mayer graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a fine arts degree and taught cartooning at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies. He served as a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Div. during the early 1950s.

“Dick had a winsome personality, which made working with him a delight,” Smith says. “I never saw him lose his temper. And he never missed a deadline.”

Mayer is survived by his wife, Betty; daughters Lisa (Ertzbischoff) and Kim, son Gary, and four grandchildren.