Mr. Sizemore took the newspaper from hot lead to the digital age and is being remembered for his integrity and commitment to family, colleagues and community.
H. Mason Sizemore, former president of The Seattle Times Company who helped steer the newspaper through nearly four decades of growth and profound change from an afternoon paper hand set with hot-lead type, has died.
Mr. Sizemore collapsed Thursday while in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl football game with the University of Washington Huskies, dying Dec. 31 at a hospital. He was 76.
Born April 15, 1941, in Halifax, Virginia, a town of about 600 people, Mr. Sizemore never lost his small-town Southern graciousness. His was a disarming combination of qualities, with a gentility and sincere interest in people that only enriched his zeal as a journalist and acumen as a businessman, friends and former colleagues say.
Mr. Sizemore took a job at The Seattle Times as a copy editor on the strength of a phone call from Managing Editor Henry MacLeod, remembered Alex MacLeod, who later also was managing editor. Mr. Sizemore didn’t hesitate.
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“He told Mom, ‘We can do anything for two years,’ ” said his daughter Jennifer Sizemore, of Seattle. But, instead, Mr. Sizemore’s career would span 37 years, as he worked his way up to become president of the company before retiring in 2001.
“He was a giant,” said John Hughes, retiring in 2008 as editor and publisher of the Aberdeen Daily World after 42 years. “He had that wonderful, graceful, honeyed accent of an Old South gentlemen and, at the same time, he was one of the most charismatic people I ever met in journalism.”
Hughes, author of “Pressing On,” a history of the family-owned Seattle Times and The Wenatchee World, remembered Mr. Sizemore as a leader as interested in the careers and cares of journalists at small-town papers as at big-city dailies. “It didn’t matter; he was interested in what you had to say,” Hughes said.
Mr. Sizemore graduated with a degree in history from the College of William and Mary and went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.
For all his accomplishments, daughter Jill Mansfield, of Seattle, remembered a dad who was never too busy or important to answer the phone “Hey, Jilly!” whenever she called. “He was the only one I’d let call me that,” she wrote The Seattle Times. “He was always so happy to hear from me. He was the most selfless person I know — he NEVER put himself first, and never wanted the credit, glory, or limelight. He loved his family.”
Mr. Sizemore nurtured a marriage of 54 years and was planning a 55th anniversary with his wife, Connie, intending to stand at the very place on the campus at William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Va., where the two met, working side by side at the college newspaper.
“He was a wonderful and amazing husband, father, friend, leader and co-worker,” Connie wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. “He was ultra-generous. He believed in giving and service above self. He was incredibly loyal with a great intellect — a quiet gentleman whose sharp wit and gentle soul made a difference to so many.”
Mr. Sizemore took the unusual step of leaving the newsroom, where he rose to be managing editor, at the request of the publisher at the time, Jerry Pennington, to begin training to lead the business side of the newspaper. Mr. Sizemore enrolled in business school — he graduated in the UW’s inaugural executive MBA class at the Foster School of Business — and began a new career, eventually working his way up from running production to the top business post at the newspaper.
His stature as a trusted — even beloved — leader of the newsroom made his a crucial cross-pollination that made both sides of the newspaper stronger. When Pennington died in a 1985 drowning accident, Mr. Sizemore helped steady the newspaper and lead it to new heights.
“In 1985, we were part of the new leadership team designed to take The Seattle Times into a new era,” Publisher Frank Blethen said in an interview. “ … Coming from the news side to the business side, Mason brought an important sensitivity to our journalistic and public-service mission.”
All along the way, Mr. Sizemore had an uncanny perfect pitch for people, said Jim Schafer, a former vice president of the newspaper. “He saw people not for what they were but for who they were, very quickly,” Schafer said, enabling Mr. Sizemore to see where and how people could best collaborate and be deployed.
His skill and pleasure in building and sustaining relationships was a trademark, whether talking with a colleague or buying newsprint, said Carolyn Kelly, who succeeded Mr. Sizemore as president at the company before her retirement in 2010. “He knew the numbers but he also had the relationships,” Kelly said. “Mason was a relationship guy.”
Just as real was his sincere interest in everyone inside The Seattle Times building, no matter their role or rank; he was curious about what they did, respected their job and was comfortable anywhere.
“He was humble and cared deeply about the people around him, and he respected other people for their contributions, no matter what those were,” said Chuck Cochrane, former publisher of The Seattle Times Company newspapers outside of Seattle.
Even reporters and photographers would now and then head to the executive offices to talk to Mr. Sizemore if a story got hopelessly sideways with editors — situations Mr. Sizemore would talk through carefully, then settle with an easy decisiveness. That’s how it was with Mr. Sizemore, no matter whether for a top editor or rank-and-file staff writer.
“There wasn’t anything you couldn’t talk with him about if you had a problem. He would hear you out and tell you if he thought you were wrong, or work with you if he thought you were right,” said Mike Fancher, who succeeded Mr. Sizemore as managing editor in 1981 and retired from the paper in 2008.
So respected was his judgment that more than one editor faced with a tough moment would ask themselves, “What would Mason do?” Fancher said. He choked up while saying it, for in newspapering, few are the trusted confidants in lonely decisions.
“He was a journalist’s journalist,” said Jennifer Sizemore, who herself would go on to work at five newspapers and the national news website MSNBC.com.
“No one would ever question his ethics,” Jennifer Sizemore said. “It couldn’t be done. He stood for what was right, always, and that is why he was a journalist in his heart. Even when he went to the business side, he wanted to make the world a better place, and that is what he stood for.”
Good as he was at vision and the big picture, Mr. Sizemore never lost his copy editor’s care for detail, many recalled. “He was the quintessential copy editor,” Kelly said. “He wanted it done right, he wanted it done right the first time, and he was willing to take the time to make sure it was done right. And once it was done, he didn’t spend a lot of time rethinking it or wishing it was different.”
Years of expansion
Mr. Sizemore helped the paper achieve some of its most expansive years, with multiple suburban bureaus, a Pacific Rim reporter, a bureau in Washington, D.C., and such a large staff, with every desk in the newsroom taken, that new hires were packed into the newspaper’s library.
The newspaper competed head to head with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, pouring resources into the battle. “They just had a real, clear sense that they were going to raise the level of the newspaper, front to back,” Fancher said.
Mr. Sizemore was an agent of change not only on the business side of the newspaper but in the newsroom.
“Mason led the way in diversifying the newspaper’s copy desk, largely a bastion of white, cigar-smoking and tobacco-spitting men in the mid-1970s,” said Copy Desk Chief Karen Cater, hired in 1976. Elouise Schumacher, today a desk editor for the newspaper, was hired about a year later.
“Hiring two female students who got A’s in his UW copy-editing class, he stood up for us later when one of the men protested we were moving into higher assignments. Mason called us into his office separately and assured us in no uncertain terms that he and the company would not tolerate discrimination or harassment,” Cater said.
“Mason is the reason I was hired, survived and am still here 41 years later — in the job he once held.
“If you had a question, he’d get an answer within a day. If the phone rang while you were in his office, he let it. He was the best editor, most decent manager and classiest person here.”
In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Sizemore is survived by brothers Christian, of Liberty, Missouri, and Peter, of Richmond, Virginia; and granddaughter Leah Mansfield, of Seattle.
Contributions in his name can be made to the Sizemore Journalism Scholarship at the College of William and Mary or the United Way of Seattle/King County.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at All Redeemers Lutheran Church.
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 3, 2018, has been corrected. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Alex MacLeod succeeded his father as managing editor.