Ketchikan remembers a pioneering journalist

Former Daily News publisher known for his humor, opinion and cigars

Posted: Sunday, December 24, 2006

As we all enjoy the warmth and message of the Christmas season, we often think fondly of past seasons, friends and family no longer with us. At the Ketchikan Daily News, we remember Paul S. (Bud) Charles, the newspaper's former editor and publisher. He died at the Ketchikan Pioneers' Home 12 days before Christmas at age 95. He was a type of newspaperman that's fast fading from the scene.

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Bud started working in a newspaper as a printer's devil while still a teenager. The change from hot metal production to computers and photo offset, plus restrictive child labor laws, ended that era.

Bud's father, Sidney Charles, came to Alaska in 1904, walking from Valdez to Fairbanks in February to be managing editor of the Fairbanks News. Sid ended up owning or running 17 different newspapers over his 55-year career in Alaska. Bud learned well from Sid. He also developed a passion, like his father's, for owning and operating boats.

Bud was in Ketchikan High School when a boat explosion injured his father so severely that Sid had to quit as editor at the Ketchikan Alaska Chronicle. Bud quit school and took his printing ability to the Chronicle to support the family.

After Sid recovered from his burns, he was fired from the Chronicle for being too old. Sid bought the weekly Alaska Fishing News from the Alaska Trollers' Marketing Association. Bud quit his Chronicle job and joined his father. With the help of Bud's wife, Patricia, the trio turned the weekly into the Ketchikan Daily News in 1947 and drove the Chronicle out of business by 1956.

Father and son were conservative in their editorial views, as were many early publishers. They opposed statehood for fear Alaska could not afford it until some industry developed. They might have been right if oil had not been discovered. Federal mismanagement of fisheries was decimating Alaska's remaining major industry. World War II had killed mining. The timber industry was in its infancy. Tourism as we know it today was unheard of.

Sid died a few weeks after Alaska became a state. Bud continued his father's editorial column, then supporting statehood but cautioning the new lawmakers against overspending. Bud ridiculed the proposed hydro-electric dam at Rampart on the Yukon River as useless except for "lighting the tundra for the caribou."

With his lean build, his close-cropped hair and cigar, his humor and definite opinion, Bud was well known from Ketchikan to Fairbanks. It was in Fairbanks that he helped make Alaska law. He was a witness in a case where a national columnist, the late Drew Pearson, was suing the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for libel for referring to him as the "garbage man of the fourth estate." Pearson was syndicated in more than 600 newspapers, including the Ketchikan Daily News, but not for long.

Henry Camarot, attorney for the News-Miner, wrote this columnist just last fall describing how Charles' salty testimony against Pearson helped the News-Miner win in superior court. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld the News-Miner's victory, setting precedent in Alaska law. It was only the second suit Pearson lost out of hundreds in which he was involved.

Sid and Bud Charles supported a bypass road for Ketchikan in the early 1950s, when widening of Water Street was undertaken. Instead of a bypass, the Water Street tunnel was built in 1954. Ketchikan is occasionally chided for building a tunnel and then building a road around it. But 50 years later, Ketchikan finally has a bypass. Actually, in Ketchikan fashion, Ketchikan has two bypasses, the Schoenbar Bypass and the Third Avenue Bypass.

Ketchikan, the community of two local governments, once debated for years about building a swimming pool. It ended up with two pools, one at the high school and one at a grade school (now closed).

For a while, Ketchikan had two airports on two different inaccessible islands - one on Annette and the newer one on Gravina, which opened in 1973. Annette closed in 1977 when the Coast Guard air station moved to Sitka.

In 2007, Ketchikan hopes for two bridges, one from Ketchikan to Pennock Island and one from Pennock to Gravina. Bud would have loved to pound out an editorial on that directly on the Linotype, then adjourn to the Blue Fox or the Sourdough, cigar in his mouth, elaborating before provisioning his boat for another run.

The Seattle Times reported last week that Washington state is $2 billion short of funds to rebuild its bridge on Highway 520. All states face financial problems with highway projects. Congress overestimated receipts from federal highway taxes when it divided up anticipated revenue in the Federal Highway Trust Fund in July 2005. It expected $182 billion from the 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline and 24.3 cents per gallon on diesel over five years. Alaska's share would be $2 billion.

Right off, Congress members were apprehensive and cut the appropriation for the first year by 15 percent. Money still isn't coming in as predicted. The options are to cut the 2009 appropriation by another 25 percent or raise taxes by boosting fuel taxes by 3 cents per gallon, and doing it in 2008, an election year!

In the meantime, the estimate for the two-bridge access to the Gravina Island airport has grown, naturally. The state's share is estimated at $275 million instead of the earlier estimate of $195 million, plus federal funds. Maybe Ketchikan can do with one bridge or another tunnel (giving us two, in Ketchikan fashion). This one to the airport.

Merry Christmas!

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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