Bill Bequette died Sunday in his 93rd year. His is not a household name in
the Tri-Cities. But it should be.
From his home perched on the bluff where Washington Street
ends in south Kennewick, Bill watched the Tri-Cities grow
But it was from his chair in the Tri-City Herald newsroom that for 37 years
he wrote, edited and directed the news coverage of that growth and prosperity.
He was no "joiner" -- so you won't see his name on any club roster in the
Tri-Cities. In fact, he discouraged his reporters from such associations, claiming it could compromise their objectivity.
He was straight as an arrow, honest as the day is long -- and abhorred such
writing as this sentence.
He joined the Herald when it was one year old in October 1948, after fighting
in the jungles of New Guinea and doing his apprenticeship with United Press
in Portland and the East Oregonian in Pendleton (where he
wrote the first "flying saucer" story, after interviewing a commercial pilot).
Bill was one of the few on the Herald's small staff who had any formal journalistic
As a Herald reporter he covered Hanford
before the Freedom of Information Act, when the Atomic Energy Commission treated reporters as a pesky nuisance and was putting
out such news releases as one that said oak bark might be an antidote for radiation damage.
But Bill's major contribution to the community was not in his reporting.
It was in his mentoring of a couple of generations of reporters. As city editor and later managing editor he was relentless
in his -- and his reporters' -- pursuit of accuracy, relevance and brevity. He would not tolerate slack or superficial reporting.
He turned the Herald's newsroom into a more professional operation: one bent
on straight news reporting rather than local boosterism.
In the beginning, with only a handful of reporters and only a few on the
news desk, he would supervise, assign and oversee reporters, edit their copy, lay out pages and get the paper out by noon.
And, in the afternoon, he would write editorials and assemble the next day's editorial page.
He and his staff were workaholics. His pink-sheet assignments were reporters'
nightmares. Reporters complained -- but later those assignments turned into stories that won journalism prizes. One of his
protégés won a Pulitzer Prize at the Oregonian.
Bill helped reduce the work week for staffers from six days to five and a
half, plus coverage of one-night meeting, and he convinced the publisher that women reporters should be paid on a basis of
their ability and not their gender.
He established many of the newsroom's standards on such things as accepting
gifts long before they were adopted by the rest of the industry.
While many others took much of the credit, it was Bill who wrote the editorials
that convinced the political powers that the Columbia Basin farm project should be built and expanded; that forced an interstate
that was going to bypass the Tri-Cities to be built through it; that Hanford had to be diversified, along with the economy
of the Tri-Cities; that as the nuclear reactors were shut down the government owed the Tri-Cities a future.
It wasn't all "heavy" copy. Each spring Bill could be relied on to remind
readers when to plant their peas. And in the summer he told them how to cook their corn. His editorials emphasized that, along
with a sound economy, we needed parks, playgrounds and a river environment that made the Tri-Cities not only a place to make
a living but also a great place to live.
Bill was a gruff, tight-lipped editor who intimidated rookies and veterans
alike. Yet he had a softer side when his Montana background
surfaced. He was a skier, a hiker, a camper and a man who, along with his wife, Neva, almost
annually won the prize for the Best Rose in the Tri-City Rose Show.
Retirement in 1985 softened Bill into a white-haired, grandfatherly figure
who wrote weekly columns. The 1998 death of his wife, Neva, who was head of the Mid-Columbia
Library District, took the fire out of Bill's eyes and the spirit out of his soul. He battled the plagues of age and in recent
years had to resort to a walker as his ramrod spine bent.
But his resentment of incomplete and lengthy stories, and editorials that
ran too long, remained.
A man who was a real champion for Tri-City causes is probably up there somewhere
today complaining that this writer has gone on far, far too long.
And he's probably arguing with the Man Upstairs that the Ten Commandments
could have been written in seven.
And offering to do the rewrite.
Bill: You will be missed.