James Bruce King, retired Seattle Times executive editor, dies at 89.

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Talk to people who knew Jim King, retired Seattle Times executive editor and senior vice president, and a portrait of a gentleman emerges.

“He was easily the most decent person I’ve ever worked with — maybe that I’ve ever known,” said Michael Fancher, retired Seattle Times editor-at-large.

The newspaper’s current executive editor, David Boardman, said, “Jim taught me it is possible to be both a formidable journalist and a gentle human being.”

Mr. King, who moved from Seattle eight years ago to Vancouver, Wash., died Wednesday, a few days after suffering a stroke. He was 89.

His retirement in 1986 capped a 38-year career that started with covering a sorority-house fire and led to positions of increased importance at The Times and in the newspaper industry.

He boosted the role of women and people of color on the news staff, hired an ombudsman to serve as an advocate for readers, and took a chance on publishing animal-themed cartoons by a quirky young artist, Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side.

“I couldn’t have dreamed of a better life 38 years ago,” Mr. King wrote in a farewell piece when he retired. “And I’ve always been good at dreaming.”

James Bruce King was born in Enterprise, Ore., and grew up in Longview, where, in elementary school he was editor of a mimeographed school newspaper.

He also held editing positions on student papers in high school, and at Lower Columbia Junior College and Whitman College.

After serving three years in the Navy in World War II, he completed his journalism degree at the University of Washington in 1948 and came to work for The Seattle Times.

Bob Haiman, former executive editor of the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, met Mr. King through newspaper-industry functions nearly 40 years ago, and has remained a close friend.

“He has a wonderful disposition, but with a wicked sense of humor that made him fun to be around. He could lay a barb on you, but do it with a smile on his face.”

Colleagues said much of Mr. King’s success lay in the way he contributed to the success of others.

“He made a point of hiring women into the newsroom and I always appreciated that,” said former Times reporter Sally Macdonald, who was hired in 1976.

Before the mid-1970s, most women on the news staff worked on what was considered the women’s section, not hard news.

Macdonald, who was a single mother when she applied at The Times, said, “The only thing he asked was could I do the job, cover the night meetings, go to the places I need to go and do what I needed to do.”

Fancher said he remembers Mr. King as “an idea guy. He liked to try new things,” even — or especially — if it meant completely remaking the newspaper’s front page on deadline, between editions.

“He would tell us, ‘Try some things and let your people try things … If it doesn’t quite work out, well, we’ll put out another paper tomorrow.”

Mr. King was also known for a calm demeanor, a deep authoritative voice, and always, a fundamental humanity.

Retired Times reporter Don Duncan, who recapped Mr. King’s career in a 1986 article, included this telling quote from Mr. King: “I wish more readers knew journalists were human beings … and I wish more journalists knew they were human beings.”

A newsroom executive assistant, Gail Scott, who stayed in touch with Mr. King in his retirement, said, “I’ve known Jim for more than 35 years. He was a gentleman and the epitome of kindness. A rare combination these days.”

Mr. King’s hopes for a pleasant retirement were derailed by the diagnosis that his wife, Betty, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

“From then on, he was a full-time caregiver for her, with absolutely amazing devotion,” said Mr. King’s daughter-in-law, Julie King, of LaCenter, Clark County.

Mr. King continued to be a sports fan and still held season tickets to both Husky and Seahawks football games, though in recent years, the number of games he attended declined.

Betty King died in 2007. Two years later, the couple’s only child, James Bruce King II, died of cancer at 58.

Besides his daughter-in-law, Mr. King’s survivors include his second wife, Opal King, of Vancouver, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Longview Community Church, 2323 Washington Way, Longview. The family suggests that remembrances may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com