Jack Arends
Jack Arends

Jack Arends, editor of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News from 1993-98, died July 18 at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett after a long illness. He was 64. Jack never married, but he had a vast network of friends reaching back decades. I was one of those.

A tall, solid man, Jack was a world unto himself. And Jack’s world was never boring. I still remember the day he informed me he was leaving the News to go to work as a technical writer for Boeing.

“You’re leaving the News for the belly of the Beast?” I asked.

He smiled the bland smile of one holding nothing but aces: “There’s something about working half the hours at twice the pay that I just can’t resist.”

“Really? So, you place the happiness of your creditors ahead of my own?”

“Well, Mikey, now that you mention it.”

Last Dec. 14,  as one of this state’s 12 presidential electors, in failing health, Jack’s life reached the summit. His short speech in the Senate chambers in Olympia, after the votes for Joe Biden had been recorded, went viral. Search “Jack Arends Dec. 14” and you’ll find multiple links to the video. Take a deep breath before watching.

Jack wrote that speech on Interstate 5 somewhere south of Fort Lewis as we sped our way to Olympia. I rented a van for the trip. Jack sat in the middle seat. Behind Jack sat his good friend and guardian angel Clarence Moriwaki, who revived Jack after he collapsed from a heart attack in 2011. Jack’s wheelchair was wedged into the space behind Clarence.

I assumed Jack had already prepared his words. And then I realized it was just like old times at the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, when I’d wander over to his messy desk and pointedly glance at my watch: “Thirty minutes to deadline, Jack.”

“I’m almost there.”

“What’s left to do?”

“I’m just about to start on my column.”

Jack’s columns were invariably brilliant.

He was born in the Olympia area in 1956. In 1972, his older brother Jens, while riding his bike, was struck by a car and died. Jack carried that silent wound through life; he understood suffering and the suffering of others.

After earning his degree in communications from Washington State University in 1979, Jack landed his first big newspaper job in 1982 at the Memphis Press-Scimitar. He moved on to the Bellevue Journal-American, now the Bellevue Reporter, where he worked from 1984-89. After a stint as editor of the Port Orchard Independent, Jack came to the Queen Anne & Magnolia News, where his potent “pen” won numerous industry awards.

Our modest office at 225 W. Galer St., since demolished for  the Aegis Living block, was packed with assorted characters and talent. One of those was the late intrepid reporter Russ Zabel, whose wry police beat page had a cult following. Our bristly, gray office cat, Lumpy, often sprawled head-down over Russ’s shoulder in what Jack termed the “Lumpy Drape.” At any moment the redoubtable Linda Greenwald, also known as Linda of London, might breeze through wearing one of her vintage hats to drop off her column, which she signed off with TTFN (ta-ta for now). Various people of all ages found their way to our door, wanting to get a start in the writing game. Some went on to do great things.

The 1990s were the time of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan, a heated process that forged the urban-density template for the city’s neighborhoods. Queen Anne was massively affected. These days, anyone returning to the Hill after 15 years could be excused for feeling like Rip Van Winkle. Jack relished chronicling neighborhood history in the making.

Entitlement and incivility were his special targets. In a July 19, 1995, editorial, Jack noted the Behring family, Seattle Seahawks owners from Southern California, demanded more money for the Kingdome, the Seahawks’ home field then. “The Behrings are almost beyond belief,” he wrote. “It’s bad enough that they are ham-fisted shakedown artists; what’s worse is they are incompetent business people.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s another straw in the wind from an Oct. 22, 1997, column, in which he wonders why former U.S. Rep. and Lt. Gov. Joel Pritchard, who died earlier that month, was saluted for being “courteous,” instead of his many achievements. “I concluded it is because politics is increasingly nasty, all the time. At all levels.”

Clearly, Jack’s Dec. 14 speech had deep roots.

Of all the words Jack wrote in his newspaper career, none would be more powerful than those written on his laptop north of Olympia. After the electoral vote, sitting at his desk beneath his black Kango beret with “Play Nice” written on the brim, Jack spoke in a breaking voice to the hushed chamber.

“I was told there is no more medical treatment that can help me, so it was important for me to do this one thing that I could do while I still can.”

At the end, he choked out, “God bless our great nation,” before burying his face in his crossed arms on the desk. At that point, the official camera cut away. Jack wept on as the crowd applauded him. He wept not just for himself, but for something larger.

Thank you, dear Jack.

­— Mike Dillon was publisher of the Queen Anne & Magnolia News from 1992-2013