Wenatchee World publisher Wilfred Woods, a force in the state, once made a strong impression on a young and fledgling newspaper man. Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen reflects on Woods’ influence.

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On Feb. 11, Washington state lost its community-journalism icon. On a personal level, I lost a friend who has been my public-service role model for 41 years.

Wilfred R. Woods was the second generation family publisher of The Wenatchee World, serving in that role for 47 years (1950-1997). He was 97.

We met in 1975 — me, the young 31-year-old publisher of The Seattle Times-owned Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, and Wilf, the 56-year-old World publisher. From the moment we met, Wilf treated me like an equal — even though we both knew I wasn’t. But that was how he treated everyone. A great lesson.

The other lessons were his unrelenting resolve to serve his community with quality, community-building journalism and to ensure what has become a rare gift for any community — a locally owned newspaper and digital enterprise with deep community connection. That was the legacy of his father, Rufus Woods, who used his and his newspaper’s influence to advance North Central Washington economically. That included advocacy to bring irrigation and hydropower, including Grand Coulee Dam, to the Columbia River basin.

In an era where “localism” and “quality community content” in newspapers are under siege across America, this abiding commitment is a special gift from the Woods family to their community. Washington state is more fortunate than most with eight locally owned family-operated newspapers (In addition to the World, The Seattle Times and its Union-Bulletin and Yakima Herald-Republic, there are The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, owned by the Cowles family; The Vancouver Columbian, by the Campbell family; and the Skagit Valley Herald, owned by members of the Scripps family.)

Among the top 50 metropolitan dailies in the United States, only three private, locally owned newspapers are left in the U.S.: The Seattle Times, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Boston Globe.

I hadn’t seen Wilf much in recent years, but I will still miss him. I will continuously be reminded of Wilf’s great passion for community service through his son, Rufus G. Woods, who is celebrating his 20th year as World publisher.

To underscore Rufus’ third-generation commitment to the Wenatchee Valley and North Central Washington’s future with a quality local newspaper, I am reminded of an adamant stand he made several years ago when we were on a panel at a family newspaper owners meeting.

When pressed to tell under what circumstance he would sell the newspaper, Rufus emotionally stated, “I will burn the place down before we ever sell.” Clearly, a chip off the family block.

Wilf’s passing fuels our Blethen family’s passion for localism and community service. That is shared by members of the fifth generation who work at the company today.

It is the best way our family can honor this fine man.