MARYSVILLE — When former U.S. Senator and Gov. Dan Evans visited The Daily Herald in 2003 for an editorial board meeting, he asked for one journalist in particular.
“All he wanted to know was, ‘Where is Mike Benbow?’” recalled Bob Bolerjack, a former Herald editorial page editor who fielded Evans’ request for the business editor at the reception desk.
Was it business or politics he wanted to hash over?
“Turns out Evans attended a fly-tying class that Mike had taught, and Mike had obviously made an impression,” Bolerjack said. “I took the governor over to Mike’s desk and they spent several minutes talking fly fishing.”
Benbow was a writer and outdoorsman, a fisherman and photographer. He could tie a fly as deftly as he could craft a sentence.
Benbow died Oct. 5 from leukemia. He was 71.
Benbow was born Sept. 20, 1952. He grew up in Elyria, Ohio, graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a major in English, his brother Dick Benbow said.
His newspaper days began early in life — as a teenager delivering papers in his hometown. “He worked his way up,” to reporter at the Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Dick Benbow said.
In his 20s, Benbow followed his brother Dick and sister-in-law Jo Ann to the Pacific Northwest.
As kids, they had promised their father they would someday move West, Dick Benbow said.
“Our dad wanted us to move to the Northwest,” Dick Benbow said. “He was in the Navy and took his basic training here and fell in love with Washington.”
After four years at the Yakima Herald-Republic, Benbow was hired by The Herald in 1979 to report on Snohomish County government. For the next 32 years, Benbow would wear many hats — business reporter, city editor, outdoor writer, business editor.
Eric Stevick was a reporter at The Daily World in Aberdeen when Benbow urged him to apply for a reporting position at The Herald.
“He gave me the nudge,” said Stevick, retired Herald city editor, whose newspaper career spanned 40 years.
At the Herald, Stevick discovered Benbow’s talent for making “copy as tight as a drum,” Stevick said. “He didn’t want readers to have to slog through dense and overwritten stories.”
He was a mentor to former Herald reporter Susanna Ray when her career took off.
“His help,” Ray said, “was indispensable in learning how to cover business when I accepted a job with Dow Jones Newswires, and then Bloomberg News, in Frankfurt. I’ve never forgotten the adrenaline rush when he took me whitewater rafting down the Skagit River as a farewell gift before I moved to Germany.”
Eric Fetters-Walp joined The Herald in 2002 as a business reporter, with Benbow as boss.
“When I arrived at The Herald I thought I knew everything about writing — like you do in your 30s,” Fetters-Walp said. “He was one of the few editors who was still able to teach me about writing. He had the gift of making your writing sound better without ripping it up.”
Newsroom pressures he understood.
“If we were on deadline suddenly a can of soda or cookies from Sisters Restaurant would show up on your desk, courtesy of Mike,” Fetters-Walp said.
Benbow would sing pithy snippets of songs to his staff, recalled Bryan Corliss, another former Herald business reporter.
One of his favorite ditties was “I Wanna Be Sedated,” by The Ramones, which he’d sing as the daily deadline approached, Corliss said.
“Everyone on our business team would dissolve into laughter,” Corliss said. “Mike was quite literally the best boss I ever had. He set goals for us and held us accountable, but then he got out of the way to let us figure out how to do things.”
He made a swing shift covering cops and crime more palatable for Pam McGaffin
“I think we both hated those hours, but he was a professional through and through and helped me cope with a steady diet of crime and accident stories,” McGaffin said.
All recalled his passion for rod and reel.
“He was an evangelist for fly fishing,” Fetters-Walp said. “He would light up talking about it.”
Former Herald city editor Scott North, who worked with Benbow for decades, got to know him best as a fishing devotee.
“I think a lot people know him as Mike the journalist, and I got to know him as Mike the angler and teacher,” North said.
North took up fly fishing in his 40s with Benbow as his guide.
“He was a big, often gruff presence in the newsroom,” North said. “On the water, he was transformed. It wasn’t until I saw him expertly dropping a dry fly onto a smooth pool, creating no more disturbance than a piece of cottonwood fluff drifting down through the air, that I realized just how much grace he possessed.”
Jim Haley remembers the wilderness hikes with Benbow and North at Slide Lake, the Hidden Lakes in the Pasayten and Elwah River.
“I would limit the weight I carried, Mike would add all kinds of weight with float tube, waders, camera,” said Haley who retired in 2008 after 42 years at The Herald. “We spent many an evening around a campfire reflecting on how lucky we were to be where we were.”
Julie Muhlstein, retired Herald columnist, can still hear Benbow laugh.
“He had such a dry wit,” she said.
Benbow and Muhlstein’s late husband, Herald city editor Jim Muhlstein, shared Everett Giants and, later, Aquasox baseball tickets: “I remember all those summer nights watching baseball and talking.”
When Benbow retired in 2011, Herald editors expected him to be on tap for freelance business stories.
That was not the plan.
“I remember him saying, ‘I’m not retiring to do business stories,’” Muhlstein said.
Benbow would contribute dozens of outdoor stories and stunning wildlife photos of herons, sea lions, birds and whales to The Herald’s features and sports sections and quarterly magazine.
“Even more than his writing, I will remember Mike Benbow for his photography,” said Sara Bruestle, former Herald features editor and magazine editor. “Graceful swans, regal bald eagles, darling hummingbirds, zippy kingfishers and leggy great blue herons. I loved them all. He was an avid birder and photographer.”
His articles included how-tos on bird watching, fishing derbies, new books from new authors and eagle tours, Bruestle said.
“One of my favorite stories of his had historians reminisce about Christmas shopping in downtown Everett before there were malls in Snohomish County,” she said.
Mike’s sister-in-law fondly remembers the attention he showered on his niece Becky England and nephew Matt Benbow.
“He would come over at Christmas with stacks of boxes for the kids,” Jo Ann Benbow said. “He really made Christmas special for them. It would take several trips to unload the car.”
“He loved photography. He loved fly fishing. He loved to be carefree to go and do what he wanted to do,” she added.
He is survived by his brother Dick Benbow, sister-in-law Jo Ann Benbow, niece Becky England and nephew Matt Benbow and two grandnephews.
No service is planned, the family said.
You can read some of Mike Benbow’s outdoor stories at heraldnet.com/author/mike-benbow