His wasn’t a name you’d recognize, even if you’d been a longtime Seattle Times reader. He didn’t seek out attention.
Chuck Eck, who died May 1 at age 92, was a copy editor from the mid-1960s until 1991, serving as one of the last editors to look over a story and make sure the paper got it right, and a makeup editor, laying out the pages. He knew there was just something about a newsroom, and the actual physical noise in printing a newspaper, that was magical.
His daughter, Theresa Eck, of Kingston, remembers being around 10 years old in 1967, and visiting her dad at the paper after school.
She got to see the back shop, where pages were put together, and the presses; once, she got to keep a souvenir from those hot-type days — a cardboardlike rendering pressed from a galley, with all that lead type making up a page.
“I’d put the board up in my bedroom, the letters raised like it was a Braille impression,” she says. “That was a big treat for me.”
She also remembers watching the presses running. The literal sound of news going out.
“It was so incredibly loud,” she said.
The trip would end with dinner at the 13 Coins restaurant that used to be across the street from the old Times building at Fairview and John.
“Sitting in those big chairs.” Just a perfect day.
Eck was there for the dramatic changes in the industry.
He was there when the paper went from using the 3,000-pound Linotype machines that cast type in metal to the early computerized days when stories were typed on an IBM Selectric and the paper was scanned and turned into type.
He was there for the contraction of newspapers, retiring when he took a buyout along with 40 other longtime employees during the 1991 recession.
And he hearkened back to the era in which, if you looked around the metro side of the newsroom, where local news reporters and copy editors had their desks, it was mostly white men you’d see.
Eck’s wife of 66 years, Joan Eck, worked at The Times as a contractor and full-time staffer from 1970 to 2001. They met at a photography class at the University of Washington.
Joan worked mostly on the features copy desk, which in those days was considered the “women’s department.”
“They didn’t think they were omitting anybody,” she said. Those were different days, she remembers. Guys in the newsroom smoked and it wasn’t unusual that some “had a bottle of something” in a bottom desk drawer, she said.
Ryo Inouye was the copy chief, news editor and Sunday editor during his 24 years at The Times. He also took the 1991 buyout.
“Chuck was a good student of the language and I think a real personality for a copy editor,” says Inouye. “It sounds a little trite, but he was a guardian of the language.”
For some reason, recalls Inouye, the term “missing people” in a story would bother him greatly and he’d change it, “even though everyone used it.”
He says that going into their professions, copy editors understand the deal.
“We’re part of the background. Reporters have the main, the only contact with the public,” says Inouye.
Andrea Otanez, a former Times assistant metro editor, says the satisfaction from the job comes from catching mistakes. As a reporter, she always appreciated getting a call from a copy editor, “as painful as it was,” with a question about a story.
“You’re saving the paper from embarrassment, saving the reporters from embarrassment,” said Otanez, now an associate teaching professor in the University of Washington Department of Communication. “The good ones know how to do it right so you don’t feel like (expletive).”
Theresa Eck says that one time, in the hot-type days, her dad was looking at a page with a major story about Vince Cazzetta, the Seattle University head basketball coach who went on to coach pro basketball. The big headline had his last name with only one “z,” the kind of mistake that would get you plenty of irate calls from readers.
Decades later, that’s remembered by those who put together the paper.
Chuck Eck was born on Aug. 8, 1928, in Hoquiam, Grays Harbor County. He joined the Army out of high school in 1945, and not being 18, got his dad, a finish carpenter, to fib about his age. Eck thought he was going into combat but the war wound down and he ended up in military communications, working out of Seattle.
Using the GI Bill, he graduated from the UW in journalism in 1951.
“For the rest of his life, he marveled about the miracle of the GI Bill in minting the American middle class,” says Theresa.
Eck loved baseball and was a founding member in the 1990s of an unusual group of two dozen men called the “Impossible Dreamers.” Each member would contribute $20, and in the initial years, one of them would fly to Las Vegas to place a bet on the longshot odds of the Mariners winning the World Series.
They then would discuss what they’d do with the winnings. As members died, and went on to the “Chapter Grand,” others replaced them. Eck’s love of the game persisted: As he went on to suffer the effects of dementia, his family would show recordings of the same baseball game and he’d watch it again as if it was new.
Eck died at home. Along with his wife and daughter, he is survived by his son, John Eck, of Shoreline.
He will be buried in a family cemetery on Idaho farmland. A celebration of his life is being planned.