Longtime Peninsula News editor, publisher dies at 76

John Brewer instrumental in community projects

John Brewer.

John Brewer.

PORT ANGELES — When John Brewer retired as publisher of the Peninsula News in 2015, he suggested newspaper employees take an item from his office as a memento.

One picked a wooden boat. Another picked a fish statue. A third person picked a fly fishing pole.

Brewer, who led the PDN from 1998 to 2015 and, for the last two years of his tenure was publisher of the Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, died Friday while he was fishing in Montana. He was 76.

Randy Johnson, a close friend and Clallam County commissioner, was with Brewer on the fishing trip when he drowned after a boat flipped over on the Bitterroot River. The two had been among those in a group who had taken an annual trip to Montana for years.

“We had talked about if we were going to go, how would we want to do it? Fly fishing,” Johnson said Friday.

Brewer was a consummate newsman who came to Port Angeles after years heading up The Associated Press bureaus in Seattle and Los Angeles and as president of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp.

Once he reached the North Olympic Peninsula, he involved himself in far-reaching aspects of the community.

“On behalf of the PDN family, we would like to extend our sincere condolences to John’s family,” said Eran Kennedy, publisher of the Peninsula News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. “He was an integral part of our team and our history. A person we will not forget and someone we will remember with our hearts.”

His death has left a big hole for many.

“John had a stunning journalistic career, was a hard-working and exacting but fair and caring boss, contributed tirelessly to the community in volunteer work and continued to be a news source for all even after his retirement as PDN publisher,” said Leah Leach, who retired as the newspaper’s executive editor in March. “But what he is remembered most for is his kindness. Everyone I have spoken with has talked of at least one act of kindness John did for them, some large, many small, but all memorable.

“He was my mentor and friend, as he was to many,” she continued. “A community mainstay is gone.”

Paul Gottlieb worked for Brewer as his first reporter hire and later as senior reporter for the PDN for many years.

“He came to this community and he adopted it, and they adopted him,” Gottlieb said.

Photojournalist Keith Thorpe, who worked with Brewer from his first day as publisher at the PDN, recalled Brewer’s dedication to his profession.

“John was definitely a newspaper guy — it was in his blood,” Thorpe said. “He thrived on keeping the community informed, even after his retirement from the newspaper business. As an editor and publisher, he was always there to support his colleagues and his employees.”

Born on Oct. 24, 1947, Brewer’s first job was with the weekly Upland News in his hometown of Upland, Calif., in 1965.

He spent 19 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief and executive for The Associated Press in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York.

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, The Associated Press reported.

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

“We do more than just carry news and advertising,” Brewer said before he retired, citing support for more than 25 other nonprofit organizations in both Jefferson and Clallam counties, as well as the Peninsula Home Fund.

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.

“John was one of those unique people who was able to build bridges with people he didn’t agree with and have wonderful conversations,” said Penney Sanders, the president of the Port Angeles Kiwanis Club.

Brewer was instrumental in all aspects of the club, from serving as president to working as a member of the programming committee, Sanders said.

“He was a genuine gentleman,” she said.

Brewer joined Nor’Wester Rotary in 1998 and was integral in managing the maintenance and upgrades for the Port Angeles Downtown Murals, current club president Carmen Geyer said. The murals — which feature artists such as Jackson Smart, Bob Stokes, Toma Villa, Tim Quinn, Hank Krueger, Cory Ench and others — tell Port Angeles’ rich history, she said.

“He and Laurel Black worked to create the interpretive display signs for the murals and made sure they were always looking their best,” Geyer said. “Laurel and John also worked in partnership to create political forums for our club each year. John provided expert moderation and organized the forums with ease with his connections and respect in the community.

“Forum guests knew they would be treated professionally and with care. John was our principal moderator and gave the forums that much more credence.”

Brewer also helped with the Rotary’s Arts in Action, auction fundraisers and Jammin’ in the Park projects, Geyer said.

Brewer was past president of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, a statewide press association. He served on several community boards, even after retirement.

“He’s irreplaceable,” said former Port Angeles Mayor Cherie Kidd, whom Brewer successfully nominated for the 2020 Community Service Award.

Said Commissioner Johnson: “He just really cared about our community.”

State Rep. Mike Chapman recounted days when he was a Clallam County commissioner and he would receive an email from Brewer after midnight to clarify a story the newspaper was working on.

“I was intrigued by somebody who was so dedicated to his profession,” said Chapman, who added he and Brewer became good friends after Brewer’s first wife, Ann, fell ill.

“He’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Chapman said. “It hurts to lose a friend like him.

“He believed in Port Angeles, believed in our community,” Chapman continued. “He sacrificed. He volunteered.”

Brown Maloney, who was the publisher of the Sequim Gazette and the Forks Forum when Brewer was hired at the PDN in 1998, said the two were competitors at first, but that “quickly disappeared.”

“As an immensely caring and engaged person, there could have never been a better selection for Peninsula News publisher than John Brewer,” Maloney said.

“He would listen to everybody, and everybody felt heard with John.

“He didn’t fully retire, he just stepped away from the daily news,” Maloney added. “He still maintained a presence and a positive influence in this community.”

Brewer is survived by his wife, Barbara Wise, two sons and two brothers. He was preceded in death by Ann Brewer.

A remembrance event is being planned. Family and friends also are organizing the establishment of a scholarship fund for journalism studies in Brewer’s honor.

“This community, we lose people along the way, and they just will not be replaced,” Chapman said. “There’s only one John Brewer.”


Brian McLean is the editor of the Peninsula News. He can be reached at 360-417-3531 or by email at brian.mclean@peninsulanews.us.

Leah Leach is the former executive editor of the Peninsula News.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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