Rex Wilson, who led the Peninsula Daily News’ coverage of local news for almost 17 years as its executive editor, has died. He was 70.
Wilson died Wednesday at his home in the Mexican town of Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, of complications from a stroke and lung cancer. His wife, Olga, was at his side.
He and Olga moved from Port Angeles to Zapopan following Wilson’s retirement on Aug. 1, 2015. He had directed the PDN’s news and sports reporters, photographers, desk editors and layout staff since December 1998.
Working closely with then-editor and publisher John Brewer, Wilson oversaw the nuts and bolts of the PDN’s coverage of local events — and during his tenure these ranged from hospital fundraisers to the Makah whale hunt; City Council and School Board meetings to the arrest in Port Angeles of al-Qaeda terrorist Ahmed Ressam; local court coverage to the slayings of Clallam County Sheriff’s Deputy Wally Davis and U.S. Forest Service officer Kristine Fairbanks and a mountain goat killing a hiker in Olympic National Park; county fairs and tractor pulls to Tse-whit-zen, “’Twilight’ Fever” and the removal of the Elwha River dams.
“Rex Wilson and local news. The two thoughts are inseparable,” said Brewer, who retired in October 2015.
“Rex loved local community news. He thrived on it.
“And thanks to his workaholic drive, interest in North Olympic Peninsula history and a remarkable memory that was backed up by three-foot piles of clippings and documents on his desk, PDN readers were kept informed on a whole range of local news because Rex was running the newsroom.”
Said Leah Leach, who succeeded Wilson as executive editor: “Rex left an indelible mark on the Peninsula Daily News. He and John developed the newspaper into the leading voice on the North Olympic Peninsula.”
As word circulated of Wilson’s death, PDN staffers past and present took to social media.
“Rex had the strength of optimism and humor that few have,” PDN reporter Paul Gottlieb posted on Facebook. “And he was a damn good journalist.”
Photojournalist Keith Thorpe worked with Wilson during Wilson’s entire tenure at the Peninsula Daily News.
“He was a true old-school newspaper man with ink in his blood and wax under his fingernails,” Thorpe said. “He could be funny as hell in one moment and laser-focused the next. He was very good at both.
“First and foremost, he stood up for his people. He was always there when we needed him, and at the same time, he drew out the best in those who worked around him.”
Readers of the PDN and friends also reached out with support and condolences. Among the postings on Rex’s Facebook page was this one:
“I met Rex Wilson when I was teaching a journalism class at Lincoln High School in Port Angeles,” said Susan MacDonald.
“We set it up so he would come in and do several sessions about what it was like to work at a newspaper, what it meant to be a reporter.
“The kids loved him. Afterwards, he kept in touch, and we would meet up for a late lunch once or twice a year. I sure appreciated his wit and humor, his kindness and passion.”
The day he retired in 2015, Wilson wrote his final memo to the PDN news staff:
“Regardless of the platform, whether print, TV, radio or the Internet, we still need and will always need journalism — you know, the inverted-pyramid stuff that tells the story succinctly and accurately with ethics, passion, objectivity and concern for the truth.
“Continue to give a damn about the news, OK? I certainly will.
“Hasta luego, mis amigos, amigas y compadres. I love you all.”
In addition to being a journalist, Wilson played the standup bass. He recorded with singer-songwriter Cindy Lee Berryhill and toured nationally as a member of her band.
He stopped playing his bass during his years working at the PDN — he simply couldn’t spare the time, he said — but resumed it recently as a member of a band in Guadalajara.
The band had its first professional performance a few weeks before Wilson — who never had been a smoker — learned he had lung cancer. He had just completed a chemotherapy series when he suffered the stroke Jan. 23.
Wilson came to the PDN on Dec. 8, 1998, from the Eureka (Calif.) Times Standard where he had been in charge of its newsroom as managing editor.
Before Eureka, he worked as a copy editor and page designer at the Orange County (Calif.) Register. Wilson was part of a Register team that earned Pulitzer Prizes in 1985 and 1989.
Wilson served as editor of twice-weekly and daily community newspapers in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas before joining the Register.
He started his journalism career in 1965 on his hometown twice-weekly newspaper in El Monte, Calif., where he held the jobs of news reporter, photographer and sports editor.
Next was a reporting job on the Whittier (Calif.) Daily News where Wilson worked until joining the Navy in 1971. He was a Navy journalist in San Diego and in Egypt.
A graduate of California State University at Fullerton, Wilson did graduate work in mass communications at San Diego State University.
Wilson and his Guatemala-born wife operated two lingerie fitting and design businesses in the Guadalajara area. He also is survived by a stepson, Carlos Monroy of Guatemala City, Guatemala, and Zapopan.
A celebration of life is planned in Guatemala. Memorial donations can be made to the 2019 Peninsula Home Fund in his name. A link to donate is at www.olycap.org/peninsula-home-fund.
John Brewer, retired publisher and editor of the Peninsula Daily News provided the bulk of this obituary about his colleague and friend.