A few months before he died, Frank Wetzel was at his favorite place — his cabin on Hood Canal — enjoying one of his relaxed, long meals with his family. A whiskey to start, then crab, corn on the cob, salad and wine. And talking. Lots of talking.
“When we sat down to dinner, it was never blah, blah, blah,” his daughter, Catherine Larkin, remembered Thursday. “He would interview each of us about our day.”
But on this day, the tables were turned on Mr. Wetzel, a career reporter, editor and author who once served as the ombudsman for The Seattle Times.
What, his daughter asked over dinner on Dabob Bay, was most important in life? “Family, friends and nature,” he told her.
“He found his spiritual self in nature,” Larkin said, “and he had a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude all his life.”
It ended on Jan. 19 when Mr. Wetzel died after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.
“I’ve had 93 good years,” Mr. Wetzel said upon hearing the diagnosis, then paused. “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
Mr. Wetzel died a little after noon. His son, Scott, likes to think that his father went out with the high tide. “I don’t want to make too much of that,” he said, “But there it is.”
Wetzel was a child of Puget Sound; he was born in Bremerton in 1926 and graduated from Bremerton High School in 1944. He joined the Army and, as a member of the 76th Infantry Division, helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp, an experience that changed him. It inspired him to write a story for the Bremerton Sun when he was 19.
He earned a journalism degree from the University of Washington in 1950 on the G.I. Bill. At a party there, Mr. Wetzel met a young woman named Janet Schroder. She was with another date, but was so impressed with Mr. Wetzel that she asked a friend to set them up. They became a couple and fell in love sailing on Mr. Wetzel’s Geary 18 sailboat, or “flattie,” Scott Wetzel said.
They married in 1953 in Salt Lake City and had three children: Scott, Dan and Catherine.
It was in Salt Lake City where Mr. Wetzel began his career with The Associated Press. The work moved him to Denver, Baltimore and Portland. He covered the collision of two commercial airliners over the Grand Canyon in 1956, prison riots in Montana and Utah, and four national political conventions. He met Robert F. Kennedy just a week before he was assassinated and covered civil-rights marches, bringing his kids along to bear witness.
“He had an innate respect for human beings and was vehemently against the racism and prejudice he saw when we lived on the East Coast,” Scott Wetzel remembered. “When we were growing up, respect for others was highly valued.”
So was fitness. Catherine Larkin remembered her father coming home from work, putting on his tennis shoes and taking them all out for a run around the neighborhood. “People would stare at us,” she said, adding that her father was a lifelong athlete: pickleball, baseball, badminton and tennis, which he continued to play well into his 80s.
After 23 years with The Associated Press, Mr. Wetzel returned to his beloved Puget Sound to become the editor of the Bellevue Journal-American. He wrote a column for that paper while pursuing a master’s degree in values from the San Francisco Theological Seminary.
In 1987, The Seattle Times hired Mr. Wetzel as its ombudsman on a three-year contract that guaranteed he could not be fired or rehired. “The owners, and top editors, must be held to the same standards as an elected public official,” he said at the time. “That includes financial disclosure, memberships and personal interests. That’s what I am going to be looking at at the start.”
Former Times Executive Editor Michael Fancher, who hired Mr. Wetzel, remembered him being a “vocal critic” of The Times before he joined the paper — which is why Fancher hired him.
“While he sometimes took us to task, I think he came to respect and admire our work,” Fancher said in an email. “He certainly came to feel like a member of the newsroom family.”
Mr. Wetzel also wrote four books, most notably 1995’s “Victory Gardens & Barrage Balloons,” a history of Bremerton and Kitsap County during World War II. In 1999, he contributed to “Diamond in the Emerald City: The story of Safeco Field.” And in 2010, he published “Celebrating Puget Sound,” a collection of his Journal-American columns. Two years later, he published “Lizzie,” the story of a woman who had a relationship with Mr. Wetzel’s father.
He and his wife lived in a townhouse on Lake Union, where he read The New York Times and The Seattle Times every day.
“He was a calm, grounded man who spoke intentionally and carefully,” Catherine Larkin said. “What he said was well thought-out. There was always an insight or two that I had never thought of.”
Mr. Wetzel is survived by his wife, Janet Schroder Wetzel; their three children and their spouses; and four grandchildren, Frank, Eleanor, and Sylvia and Nathaniel.
Services are still being planned, but Catherine Larkin knows what music her father wants played: Something from Scott Joplin, “September Song,” and “The Party’s Over.”