It’s been a tough week emotionally for us at the Methow Valley News. In the span of a few days, we unexpectedly lost two members of the extended News family: longtime Twisp correspondent Sally Gracie and former newspaper distribution driver Mark Hutson. Both deaths came as visceral shocks to us; the losses will be felt throughout the community.
We learned on Monday morning that Sally died in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she moved after leaving the valley in early 2016. She had been a weekly presence on the Valley Life page for 15 years, and an endearingly familiar figure.
The week her final column ran, I wrote this:
‘This week, after 15 years of entertainingly documenting the events, personalities and idiosyncrasies of Twisp, columnist Sally Gracie is moving on to the next phase of her creative career. As she accurately notes in her final regular column for the paper this week, she is not being replaced but rather succeeded.
“When she relocated from Baltimore (Bawlimer, in local parlance) to her adopted home in the Methow, Sally brought with her the distinct character of what Marylanders call Charm City (I lived there for a while and know of what I speak, hon). Sally speaks her mind, prods when necessary, follows her curiosity and digs for information. She’s also not afraid to express passion, emotion, joy, sorrow, humor, dismay or indignation. Like our other correspondents, she has always been part reporter, part observer and entirely an invested resident of the valley.”
Our Valley Life correspondents do a hard job for not much money, carrying on a decades-old tradition in the newspaper. Their contributions to the community go well beyond what they write for the back page of the paper. Sally exemplified the value of the correspondent’s role.
At the News, everyone’s job is important; we rely on people to handle a variety of tasks required to get you the paper each week. Looking for something to do in retirement, Mark Hutson signed on as our part-time newspaper delivery guy — mostly on Wednesdays, but also when we needed to distribute our specialty publications around the valley. We learned on Monday that he died over the weekend.
Mark was reliable, friendly and willing to help us however he could. He worked year-round, which meant that he drove to Pateros every Wednesday morning in the worst of winter to pick up our papers for delivery in the valley. Even after he left the job, he occasionally filled in when we needed assistance. I always appreciated Mark’s willingness to be helpful and how dependable he was in all situations. A celebration of life potluck will be at 1 p.m. on Nov. 3 at Pearl’s Place, 406 N. Methow Highway in Twisp.
Mark’s tenure was something of a family tradition: his parents, Jim and Jane, were our newspaper delivery team for many years. We don’t have much more information for this week’s paper, but we’ll publish more details and obituaries as we get them. We offer not only our condolences but also our gratitude to Sally’s and Mark’s families. It was a privilege to have them as part of our team.
In our opinion …
If you’ll allow us a small moment of pride, which happens to come in a week when our Opinion pages are chock full of community contributions: In the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s (WNPA) annual “Better Newspaper Contest” for 2018-19, the Methow Valley News took first place for best editorial pages among all the weekly newspapers in Washington state. The judges cited our combination of letters, editorials, columns and cartoons as exemplary of what opinion pages should offer. Our letter-to-the-editor writers have a lot to do with that.
That accolade was among 41 awards that the News collected at last weekend’s annual WNPA convention — the most ever for the paper — in advertising, news, sports, features, special publications, online offerings, design, headline writing and photography categories. We’ll publish a more complete list soon.
The awards are only one indicator of how we think we’re doing, but do give us an opportunity to compare our efforts with the award-winning work our colleagues are producing week in and week out. High-quality, community-minded journalism is happening in every corner of the state. The awards program helps us inspire each other.