Bill Bates, former editor, publisher of Snohomish Tribune, dies

The small-town newspaperman found at midlife a new passion in mountaineering.

Bill Bates, at 91, atop Slate Peak while on his last hike in the North Cascades. Bates, former editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, died April 24 at age 95. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates, at 91, atop Slate Peak while on his last hike in the North Cascades. Bates, former editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, died April 24 at age 95. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates loved words. He loved his family and Snohomish. And he loved the mountains. A small-town newspaper man, at midlife he found a new passion in climbing.

“I love mountaineering because it is so close to us, so accessible, and yet, at the same time, so remote,” he told The Herald in 1993.

William Lawrence Bates, a longtime editor and publisher of The Snohomish Tribune, died April 24 in Snohomish. He was 95.

Bates was born May 23, 1922, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His family moved to Seattle, where he grew up near Lake Washington. He attended Garfield High School.

An Army Air Corps veteran and 1946 University of Washington graduate, he was working at The Tribune in 1955 when its owner, Tom Dobbs, died. Bates bought the paper, along with Willis Tucker, later the first county executive, and Don Berry.

By then, he had met and married the love of his life. In 1947, Bates was a sportswriter at the Tri-City Herald. He shared a desk with his future wife, Barbara Smith. She wrote society news. They were married 69 years. With their firstborn son, they moved to Snohomish in 1950.

Along with his wife, Bates is survived by sons Malcolm “Mac” Bates, Stuart and Andrew Bates, and daughter Lizabeth Farrell; his sister, Peggy Crosgrove; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“He was warm, kind and loyal,” said Claire Tuohy-Morgan, whose grandfather was Dobbs, The Tribune’s former owner. Bates hired her as a Tribune reporter. “We shared a love of news, newspapers and Snohomish,” she said, describing Bates as a man of integrity and gentle humor.

Bill Bates and his future wife, Barbara Smith, shared a desk at the Tri-City Herald newspaper, where they met in 1947. He was a sportswriter and she wrote society news. They were married for 69 years. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates and his future wife, Barbara Smith, shared a desk at the Tri-City Herald newspaper, where they met in 1947. He was a sportswriter and she wrote society news. They were married for 69 years. (Bates family photo)

By 1969, Bates and Ed Wise, who died in March, had expanded The Tribune plant and founded the Snohomish Publishing Co. Bates sold his interest in 1983. Today, Becky Reed is publisher of the weekly Snohomish County Tribune.

Mac Bates, an English teacher at Valley View Middle School, said that during his father’s Tribune tenure, the editorial page “was a must-read.” He wrote a weekly “bb” column. “Witty wordplay, self-deprecating humor and wry perspective were hallmarks of Dad’s writing,” Bates said.

He won many journalism awards, was president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, and joined an exchange program that took him to Europe. His 1985 book of columns was titled “There’s an Owl in Our Belfry.”

Bill Bates, longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, takes a picture of Harry Truman during Truman’s whistle stop in Snohomish while supporting Adlai Stevenson, a Democratic presidential nominee in the 1950s. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates, longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, takes a picture of Harry Truman during Truman’s whistle stop in Snohomish while supporting Adlai Stevenson, a Democratic presidential nominee in the 1950s. (Bates family photo)

His college years were interrupted by the military. He began at the UW in 1940 as a forestry major. After serving with the Army Air Corps in Nevada, he switched to journalism. He was a summer editor for the UW Daily.

Bill Bates was a lifelong hiker and camper, but it wasn’t until his early 40s that he began mountain climbing in earnest. He had climbed more than 100 peaks.

Herald city editor and writer Scott North met Bill Bates some 35 years ago. Early in his career, North was a community journalist at The Tribune. Bates was no longer an editor, but the two became friends. When Bates turned 90, North wrote a tribute to him. They had connected over journalism and mountaineering.

“Before long, Bill was inviting me along for training hikes up Mount Pilchuck,” North wrote. He recalled a time when Bates simply stopped and stood — looking up. “He was staring at the trees, or as Bill pointed out, he was looking at history.”

Bill Bates (top), longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, while at the UW Daily, where he was summer editor in 1946 and 1947. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates (top), longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune, while at the UW Daily, where he was summer editor in 1946 and 1947. (Bates family photo)

Through the years, North joined Bates and often his family on treks to many summits, including Baker, Constance, Carrie, Columbia, Forgotten, Glacier, Gunn, Ingalls, Olympus and Vesper. During one trip, Bates became a friendly editor when he corrected a bit of conversation. North had used the word “irregardless.” He recalled Bates nudging him and saying, “Regardless is the word you want.”

Bates’ interest in mountaineering led to new projects. He co-founded Alpenbooks, a wholesale outdoor book distributor, and Cloudcap Press, which published the works of Reinhold Messner and other climbers.

Bates was also a bicyclist. With several friends including Don Kusler, who for years had a Snohomish pharmacy, he took bike trips to Europe in 1996 and 1997. Kusler, 88, recalled the Bern Castle in Switzerland and Germany’s Mosel Wine Festival as highlights. They also biked through Utah’s red rock country. Kusler ran for the Legislature in the early 1960s, which is how he got to know Bates. “We’d been friends ever since,” he said. “Bill was a very creative writer.”

Bill Bates, longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune and a mountaineer, carries a huge Trapper Nelson pack in the late 1940s. Bates died April 24 at age 95. (Bates family photo)

Bill Bates, longtime editor and publisher of the Snohomish Tribune and a mountaineer, carries a huge Trapper Nelson pack in the late 1940s. Bates died April 24 at age 95. (Bates family photo)

Bates shared that creativity in folksy poems, which he wrote for family birthdays and other occasions. Mac Bates said his dad won a trip to Disneyland in a contest sponsored by KING-TV’s “Evening Magazine.” He wrote about his wife:

“Barbara’s magic carpet has taken us on an exciting ride. Along the way, this beautiful magician and I have raised four children, doted on seven grandchildren, loved much, fought little, laughed often, and along the way we have had more adventures than Huckleberry Finn and Phinneas Fogg.”

A devoted member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Bates had also served on the Snohomish School Board and was part of Friends of Blackman Lake.

“He was really eclectic,” Mac Bates said. He had been a fan of the soap opera “All My Children” and German composer Richard Wagner’s epic “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” He had read James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” run marathons and taken up beekeeping.

“Dad was an extraordinary man,” said Bates, who remembers lively times at dinner. “People always gathered in the kitchen, and we’d talk, talk, talk.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Celebration of life

A celebration of Bill Bates’ life is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 913 Second St., Snohomish. Donations in his name may be made to St. John’s Episcopal Church or the Snohomish Education Foundation.

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