Legge, Hector George (1901–94), newspaper editor, was born 9 January 1901 in Naas, Co. Kildare, son of Thomas Legg, bombardier with the Royal Horse Artillery, and Mary Legg (née Watson). Thomas Legg was based at the Curragh, and Hector was educated by the Christian Brothers in Naas. He left school in his mid teens and had a number of clerking jobs before starting work on the Midland Tribune. In 1922 he joined the Irish Independent, where his proficiency in shorthand saw him advance rapidly. By the age of 35 he was chief sub-editor, and four years later became the editor of the Sunday Independent (August 1940–1970). Legge (he adopted this form of his name as a journalist) set the tone for his editorial style by campaigning to keep the ports open during the war. He became known for his crusades and campaigns, which included lobbying for a ministerial directive cutting the price of motor cars, and arguing for the preservation of national monuments. He is credited with getting the 30-mph speed limit introduced into Irish cities.
After the end of post-war paper rationing, he developed the Sunday Independent into the national newspaper with the largest circulation (395,507 in 1953). He was frequently first to publish news since he was urbane and clubbable and maintained good journalistic links with the main figures in all the political parties. Among those who leaked stories to him were his friends James Dillon (qv), Seán Lemass (qv), and Seán MacBride (qv). His most notable scoop was the announcement in the paper on 5 September 1948 that the taoiseach was about to repeal the external relations act. Two days later, his hand forced by the article, John A. Costello (qv) confirmed this at a press conference in Canada. A furious Costello blamed Dillon for the leak; Legge always maintained that he had himself deduced government thinking from dáil debates. The controversy raged long after his retirement and led to a spat in the papers between Legge and former minister Noel Browne (qv) in 1984. It finally emerged that MacBride was Legge's source.
Known for giving young writers and journalists a start – Ulick O'Connor, Ciaran Carty, and Bruce Arnold all credited him with helping launch their careers – Legge made perhaps his most notable appointment in 1943 when he commissioned Frank O'Connor (qv) to write a series of articles on what was wrong with Ireland. O'Connor's books were banned at that time, and according to his wife he was treated as a pariah in Dublin. He had to write under the pen name ‘Ben Mayo’ and deliver his copy in secrecy. Every Tuesday he and Legge would meet in Fuller's Café on Grafton St. and decide the subject for the week; the following Friday Legge would return to pick up the copy. O'Connor wrote his column for two years without his identity being discovered, though many guesses came close.
In November 1963 Legge launched Ireland's first free colour magazine as a supplement to the paper. It lasted six months until the following May and achieved a record circulation of over 400,000, but it lost £400 a week by failing to attract sufficient advertising to offset the cost of colour printing.
Legge was the first Irish journalist to interview President J. F. Kennedy, and in 1968 he spent five days in Texas with the succeeding president's wife, Lady Bird Johnson. She described him in her book, A White House diary, as a towering figure, about 6 ft 5 in. (1.96 m) with a Lincolnesque face, and said that he had delivered a better speech on American foreign policy than she had ever heard from any American. Legge's height, patrician aura, and unruffled demeanour made him a commanding figure; some assumed he was Anglo-Irish and wondered why he was not with the Irish Times. It is possible that he played on this image, since he seems to have rarefied his surname by adding an ‘e’. An excellent athlete, he was on the Leinster hockey team in his youth, and played off a low handicap in golf right up to a few months before his death. In October 1989, aged 88, he opened an amateur tournament with five straight pars, and covered the remainder in three over.
On his retirement (1 November 1970) he held the record as the longest serving editor of a national Irish paper. During retirement he continued to campaign from the letters pages of the national newspapers. His most consistent gripe was against the postal system. He also wrote an amusing annual column for the Irish Times on the most popular Christian names given to children, and rejoiced in 1993 that two babies had been named Hector. He lived at 18 Warwick Villas, Leeson Park, Dublin, and died 2 November 1994 in St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. He was survived by his wife, Thelma (m. a. 1932), and by two sons.