John Morris McClelland Jr., longtime former editor and publisher of The Daily News and a historian who recorded the birth and development of Longview, died Saturday at an assisted living home on Mercer Island. He was 95.
McClelland earned a national reputation as a newspaper owner with a strong commitment to high-caliber journalism and was also well-regarded as a historian and author.
"Under John McClelland Jr., The Daily News was a family newspaper — in every sense of the word. He was honest and fair to employees, advertisers and readers," recalled former Daily News Managing Editor Bob Gaston, who worked for the McClelland family for about 30 years. "When people who worked with John gather, they talk about how much they enjoyed working at The Daily News."
Readers knew McClelland best as the author of a front- page editorial column that was a standard feature of The Daily News for decades until it was sold in June 1999.
"What they didn't know was how adept he was at writing commentary. Discuss any issue with him and he'd quickly, in a quiet, even-handed tone, voice opinions and perspective," Gaston said.
McClelland's reputation, however, extended well beyond that of community journalism. His contributions to journalism included founding the Bellevue Journal-American, the first new daily newspaper established in Washington in six decades, in 1975. He served on the boards of directors of The Associated Press and the Sigma Delta Chi journalism organization, of which he was national president in 1952.
"He wanted to add the role of visionary to his reputation and make a serious contribution to journalism in Washington state," Bob Hartley, former publisher of the Journal-American wrote in 2006, when that paper was sold and renamed the King County Journal.
McClelland also started Cowlitz County's first cable television company, Cableview, which has been absorbed over the years into the Comcast. He also started the Printing Arts Center.
"He was an incredibly forward thinker," former Cableview director Jim Elliott said. "He bought land on top of Columbia Heights in 1953 because he had heard cable television might be the delivery vehicle for his newspaper some day. They didn't do anything with (the property) for 12 years ... but what a forward thinker. And he lived long enough to see newspapers being delivered by the Internet."
McClelland wrote four books of Washington history, including three editions of "R.A. Long's Planned City, The Story of Longview," and just finished a manuscript for a fifth book, "Whose Flag Will Fly?" about the U.S.-Canada border dispute.
McClelland was born May 31, 1915, in Rogers, Ark., to John Sr. and Adlyn (Morris) McClelland.
In 1923, when he was 8, he came to the just-established city of Longview when his father became the publisher of The Daily News. Longview's founder, R.A. Long, was his great-uncle, and his uncle was Samuel "Mark" Morris, former president of Long-Bell Lumber Co.
McClelland graduated in 1933 from R.A. Long High School, where he was student body president and editor of the school newspaper, the Lumberjack Chips, and from Stanford University in 1937, where he majored in journalism.
In June 1939, he married his high school sweetheart, Burdette Craig, after she graduated from Stanford. She died on Oct. 4 after a 71 years of marriage. Her memorial service in Seattle Saturday coincided with her husband's death.
McClelland joined the staff of the Daily News in 1939 and served as editor from 1940 to 1974. He was publisher from 1955 to 1977. He was gone from 1942 to 1945 while serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II.
He moved from Bellevue to Seattle in 1993 and had a winter home in Wailua, Maui, Hawaii.
Former Daily News features editor Agnes Staggs said she was grateful that despite her lack of a university degree, McClelland gave her a career that she still receives warm comments about more than 30 years after retirement. She was also grateful to him for establishing the company's retirement program.
From 1977 until his retirement in 1986, McClelland was chief executive officer of the newspaper's parent company, Longview Publishing Co., which then also owned the Port Angeles Daily News and the Bellevue Journal-American.
Longview Publishing produced "Volcano: The Eruption of Mount St. Helens," written by the staffs of his newspapers. It made the New York Times' best-seller list. It was under his family's ownership that The Daily News won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the volcano's 1980 eruptions.
Shortly after McClelland came to The Daily News he took over writing the daily front-page column of commentary, News and Views, written since 1929 by his father. He continued writing the Saturday Views column for some time after his nephew and successor, the late Ted Natt, took over the column in 1974. (The column later was renamed Views of the News.)
"I think the column was one of the things that gave this paper character and distinction in those days," said City Editor Andre Stepankowsky, noting that many publishers even at the time regarded a front-page opinion column as an anachronism.
In 1981, McClelland founded Washington Magazine and in 1987 he founded Columbia: the Magazine of Northwest History. He was president of the Washington State Historical Society, which presents the John McClelland Jr. award each year for historical writing.
McClelland was a member of more than 30 boards, professional organizations, commissions, historical societies, clubs and charities at the local, state and national level.
"I'd say one of the biggest feathers in his cap was being elected to the advisory board of The Associated Press" in 1969-72 and 1974-82, said his son, John McClelland III.
Among his dozens of memberships, he was a member of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau board, Washington State Commission on Judicial Reform, Northwest Kidney Center in Seattle, ‘23 Club and Longview County Club (president at age 26). He was one of the organizers of Community Chest, the forerunner of the United Way of Cowlitz County. He was a founder of the Cowlitz Historical Society and served six years on the St. John Medical Center advisory board.
"It's hard for people today to understand John's significance to this community as a small-town newspaper publisher," Stepankowsky said. "John was so intimately wrapped up in this community, not only as a historian but also as the supporter of many endeavors."
A avid golfer and collector, McClelland also was a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, and the Golf Collectors Society. He owned hundreds of golf books and antique clubs.
One of his most cherished accomplishments was being elected "International Boss of the Year" in 1963 by the National Secretaries Association.
Survivors include his two children, John M. McClelland III of Longview and Genevieve Sue Lee of Vermont; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; a nephew, John Natt, and several grandnieces and grandnephews.
Services are pending.