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October 13, 2005

From the Publisher

Remembering George


photo of George RingwaldWe often called him our on-call, Pulitzer Prize-winning freelancer. I remember the day he came into the old Journal office in Old Town Eureka for the first time in 1991, just a year after we started publishing --- a distinguished-looking gentleman of an uncertain age with a thick head of white hair and a twinkle in his eye. He said simply, I like what you're doing. Good journalism. I'd like to write for you. And I said yes.

His first piece was on Ulysses S. Grant's drunken days at Ft. Humboldt, a funny little morality tale. He soon began writing lengthy, wonderful, engaging, relevant stories for us --- including more than 40 covers over the next 15 years --- all with a level of professionalism not experienced before on the North Coast.

George Ringwald [left], who died Sunday at his home in Eureka, was newly discharged from his World War II service and looking for the ideal job for an idealist. He found it in 1948, when he was hired by the Riverside (Calif.) Press Enterprise under a young, progressive publisher in an industry dominated by quite the opposite. Listening to George talk about his lengthy tenure at that paper always sounded like Springsteen's, "Glory Days" should be playing in the background, only Springsteen wasn't born yet.

I know quite a bit about George's journalism career from another source, too. In the mid-1990s, he left Humboldt County for 18 months and returned to Riverside to write a history of the Press-Enterprise. I read the manuscript when he returned --- a page-turner for any aspiring reporter. But due to a change in ownership of that paper and a lukewarm, uncomfortable response from its management (George tended to tell the unvarnished truth), the book never was published.

George's successful career was largely due to his desire to seek out and listen to people of all walks of life. He had endless curiosity and compassion, and took a certain delight in exposing the bad guys, especially powerful bad guys. George was a key member of a team of reporters who, in the 1960s, won a Pulitzer for the Press-Enterprise. (They exposed a complicated corrupt legal system that declared more than 80 percent of adult Indians of one tribe incapable of handling their own money.)

George was briefly at Stanford University and eventually ended up in Japan as bureau chief for Business Week magazine. Later, fortunately, he found his way to Humboldt County.

George's curiosity led him to write about a wide variety of topics, from religion (Islam and Mormonism), to business (gas price gouging, land scams), to art (Jim McVicker), the environment and especially social issues --- gangs (as early as 1994), credit card abuse, drugs and alcohol, gambling and domestic violence. He relished tackling a subject he knew nothing about. In 1993 he attended the Redwood Harley Davidson rally in SoHum and wrote, "Here come the Hogs," and in 1999, one topic was skateboarding.

But it was George's people profiles that will leave the strongest impression in my mind. Who else could have profiled attorney Jim McKittrick ("Jimmy the Shark" 1993) without getting this newspaper sued? Then there was Edith Eckart ("Humboldt's Dauntless Peacenik" 1992), Jim Howard ("Growing up Black in Eureka" 1992), Viola McBride ("A Pioneer's Granddaughter" 1994), Lucille Vineyard ("That Awful Person from Trinidad" 2001), John Gromala ("Mediation Lawyer gets religion" 2000), and Thelma Hufford ("Mayor of Orick" 1998), Leon Berliner ("His religion is music" 1999) --- masterpieces all.

I'll miss him. We all will here at the Journal. He told me not long ago he was more or less ready, adding, "Getting old isn't for sissies."


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