Bill Prochnau (right) received an Everett Junior College Distinguished Alumnus Award from then-Herald Publisher Larry Hanson at the college’s Grand Reunion in August 1997. Prochnau, a renowned journalist and author, died March 28 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Larry O’Donnell)

Bill Prochnau (right) received an Everett Junior College Distinguished Alumnus Award from then-Herald Publisher Larry Hanson at the college’s Grand Reunion in August 1997. Prochnau, a renowned journalist and author, died March 28 in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy Larry O’Donnell)

Bill Prochnau chronicled the world — and threw 2 no-hitters

The Everett native is dead at 80 after a distinguished journalism career in Seattle and D.C.

From his boyhood days in Everett, William Prochnau was a writer. By the time he was 9, Lombard Avenue neighbors were reading his Everett Eagle. He was its reporter, editor and publisher.

It was an audacious start for Prochnau, who would go on to be a national correspondent for The Washington Post and write the acclaimed 1995 book “Once Upon a Distant War,” about journalists who dared tell the truth in the early years of the Vietnam War.

Prochnau, a 1955 graduate of Everett High School, died March 28 at the Washington, D.C., home he shared with his wife, Laura Parker, his longtime journalistic collaborator. He was 80. His younger brother, John Prochnau, said he had recently struggled with serious health problems.

“He had a couple of passions. One was writing, the other was baseball,” said John Prochnau, 78, who splits his time between California and Whidbey Island.

“Those of us who went to school with him weren’t surprised by his success,” said Larry O’Donnell, who was in Prochnau’s class at Everett High. “He was so modest,” O’Donnell said. “The only thing he tooted his horn about were those two no-hitters.”

A star baseball player at Everett High, in his senior year Prochnau pitched two no-hitters. Former Herald Publisher Larry Hanson, the team’s catcher, reconnected with Prochnau when The Herald was owned by The Washington Post.

A young William Prochnau (left) holds a fish during a Cub Scouts outing in Darrington in the 1940s. Next (to the right,) is Fred Howard, then (in plaid) Larry O’Donnell, now an Everett historian. The taller boy, far right is Jerry Solie, and the adult is Larry’s father, Glenn O’Donnell.

A young William Prochnau (left) holds a fish during a Cub Scouts outing in Darrington in the 1940s. Next (to the right,) is Fred Howard, then (in plaid) Larry O’Donnell, now an Everett historian. The taller boy, far right is Jerry Solie, and the adult is Larry’s father, Glenn O’Donnell.

Hanson still has a bump on his right little finger from an injury caused by a Prochnau pitch. “He was a terrific leader and teammate, just an outstanding guy,” said Hanson, who was a year behind Prochnau in school.

As a contributing editor of Vanity Fair magazine, Prochnau wrote an article about kidnapping in South America that inspired the 2000 movie “Proof of Life,” starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. His 1983 novel “Trinity’s Child” was also adapted into a movie, “By Dawn’s Early Light.” And with Seattle Times writer Richard Larsen, he co-wrote “A Certain Democrat,” a biography of Sen. Henry M. Jackson.

His newspaper career began in earnest in his late teens, when he was a sportswriter at The Everett Herald. That was followed by a stint writing sports at The Anchorage Daily News, where at 20 he was sports editor. By 1959, he had been hired by The Seattle Times. He became a correspondent in Washington, D.C., for The Times, which sent him to Vietnam in the 1960s.

In 1972, he went to work for U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, a Washington Democrat who served decades in the Senate. “He wanted to get behind the curtain and see what it was really like,” Parker said. “It was a great perspective.”

In the mid-1970s, Prochnau was a founding editor of The Bellevue Journal-American, which became a daily paper after The Eastside Journal and Bellevue American papers combined. Later, at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he was hired as political editor. He also covered the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It was his first collaboration with Parker, who was also at the P-I.

William Prochnau, an Everett native, one-time Everett Herald reporter, and renowned journalist and author, died March 28 at age 80. (Courtesy Laura Parker)

William Prochnau, an Everett native, one-time Everett Herald reporter, and renowned journalist and author, died March 28 at age 80. (Courtesy Laura Parker)

Later in 1980, he was hired by The Washington Post. Parker, now a National Geographic staff writer, said he continued to write for The Post into the early 1990s.

Married 30 years, Prochnau and Parker co-wrote the 2009 book “Miracle on the Hudson,” the true tale of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger piloting a jetliner to safety on New York’s Hudson River. They worked together on many projects for Vanity Fair. Earlier this year, the magazine published their incredible story of a German’s 30,000-mile kayak journey to Australia on the eve of World War II.

Prochnau and Parker married in 1988. He’d been previously married and divorced. Along with his wife and brother, he is survived by daughters Monica Bradley, of Idaho, and Jennifer McMaster, of Spokane. Another daughter, Anna Prochnau, died in 2015.

The Prochnau boys of Everett — an older brother, Jim, also is deceased — were largely raised by their mother, Florence. Their father, Emil Prochnau, died when Bill was 8. John Prochnau said their mother, who was from Canada, never went beyond fifth grade. Yet she earned nursing credentials at Everett Junior College after her husband died.

William Prochnau also attended Everett Junior College, and he and his mother were back for the EJC Grand Reunion in 1997. William Prochnau also attended Seattle University, but didn’t earn a degree there.

John Prochnau, a mining engineer, said his brother always had a nose for news. In high school, Bill Prochnau and his friend Larry Brennis, who died in 2014, took a rowboat to Hat Island. “There were rumors of an old hermit living there. Bill decided that was a story,” he said.

They found no one. When it was time to row home, their boat had been taken out by the tide. They were stuck until they flagged down a Sea Scouts boat, Prochnau said.

Along with pitching those no-hitters, Prochnau said his brother was proud of being included on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list, which was provided by John Dean to the Senate Watergate Committee.

Parker agreed her husband was proud of his baseball prowess. In school, she said, “scouts were paying attention to him.” He sometimes regretted “the road not taken,” she said.

Her father, a woodworker, made him a rosewood stand. At their home near the National Cathedral, it displays three prized baseballs — two from the no-hitters and one from a game where opponents scored one run but Bill Prochnau recorded 15 strike-outs.

“He was a man in a hurry at age 19,” Parker said. “He knew he wasn’t big enough to make the majors. He wanted to go east and be a writer. He took the job at The Everett Herald and worked his way up.”

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

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