From the Editor’s Desk: Dear John, thanks for the memories

Just backstopping.

It’s a term I saw from my friend and former colleague John Brewer how many times? A hundred? Two hundred?

There are too many superlatives — written by folks far more eloquent than I — about the man who died in April during a fishing trip to Montana on April 19.

For those who were not fortunate to know John, he spent 19 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief and executive for The Associated Press in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York. He led the Peninsula Daily News as editor and publisher from 1998-2015 and was the publisher of the Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum for the last two years of his tenure.

As Seattle bureau chief, he oversaw coverage of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which killed 57 people, blasted more than 1,300 feet off the top of the volcano and rained ash for miles around, according to The Associated Press. In Los Angeles, he oversaw coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

For 10 years, he was president, chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., in charge of The New York News Service, The Times’ features syndicate and New York Times Licensing and Permissions, which handled trademark and merchandise licensing for newspaper.

He also enlisted high-profile columnists, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Martha Stewart and Jimmy Carter, for the Times’ syndicate, according to an autobiographical blog post he published in 2016, according to The Associated Press.

He was past president of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, a statewide press association, and he served on several community boards, even after retirement. He was heavily involved in the Port Angeles Business Association, Kiwanis and Nor’Wester Rotary, and he was the former president of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Port Angeles Downtown Association and Community Multi-Cultural Alliance.

Throughout his career, he was always a hands-on writer, editor and administrator.

(A remembrance event for John has been set for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles.)

The last time I saw John was at a retirement party for another longtime colleague, happily passing from the newsroom to “whatever lies beyond in retirement.” He smiles and shook my hand and patted me on the back, and then (predictably) started grilling me about our new owners. Of course he did.

Retired for eight-plus years from the halls of the Peninsula Daily News building in downtown Port Angeles, John still wanted to know the latest about the company, the fate of his friends and employees.

I was fortunate to learn from John and be considered among his peers in his final professional working years.

When I started at the Gazette in 2001, I was the cub reporter and John, with a couple of careers worth of newspaper work under his belt, was running our larger, feared competitor 20 miles to the west. We took pride as the little weekly taking on the “big bad” daily paper, working our local sources for stories to tell the stories of “our town.”

It was a healthy competition, iron sharpening iron, as we vied for news stories and features and breaking news and vying for readers’ attention.

And then, in November 2011, everything changed. With little warning to staff, a company called Sound Publishing bought both the Gazette and the PDN. In one fell swoop, our PDN competitors became colleagues.

For those four years, John and I worked together to figure out how we were going to make two newsrooms under one company to be not just viable but thrive, if possible.

At first we agreed to keep them completely separate, as we looked to keep news content as original to the now sister publications, what with folks in Sequim subscribing to both.

After a couple of years we realized the newsrooms needed to be “blended,” so we looked to figure out how to make the Gazette the Sequim bureau of the daily paper without losing ourselves in the process.

Through it all, John was incredibly kind, generous with time and experience, compassionate for the struggles of the small town paper (and its editor), showing how a boss can be caring while at the same time encouraging us all to bring the best to our work to serve our communities well.

We never really said it, but John served as a mentor to me. I felt like if I could make point that he either conceded or pretended like he did, I had really done something. Most of the time, he was steering me toward “true north.” I will be forever in his debt for that.

In our years working together and, perhaps not unexpectedly, for years after, I would get an email from John about the latest and greatest news of the day or the week. I know I wasn’t the only one he was contacting, of course. He never assumed I was out of the loop, so when the links or info came in, he’d always write “Just backstopping.” Or, in other words, in case you missed it.

Well, John, wherever you are, in case you didn’t know … you meant a lot to me and countless others, and you will be greatly missed. Just backstopping.

Michael Dashiell is editor of the Sequim Gazette. Reach him at