Jim Haley (Photo provided)

Jim Haley (Photo provided)

Jim Haley, journalist and ‘soul’ of Everett Herald newsroom, dies at 81

In his “inexplicable 42 years in journalism,” Haley became a walking legend among sources and coworkers alike at The Daily Herald.

EDMONDS — Jim Haley broke major stories over his four decades at The Herald.

He also broke the mold.

He was known for his messy desk, scruffy beard and unabashed playfulness.

“How’s your bod?” he would ask anyone. Colleagues. Judges. Mayors.

He was constantly on the prowl for his next story and forever enjoying his life’s calling.

“He was the soul of the newsroom,” said Robert Frank, a former Herald city editor.

Haley died Wednesday. He was 81.

A funeral mass is set for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 17 at Holy Rosary Edmonds, 630 Seventh Ave. N. A celebration of life shindig will be held in the summer.

Haley was 23 when he began reporting for The Herald in 1966. He retired in 2008, after writing about 18,500 bylined stories, covering crime, courts, the Navy and natural disasters.

The Snohomish County Council and county executive jointly proclaimed May 10, 2008, as “Jim Haley Appreciation Day in Snohomish County” for his “inexplicable 42 years in journalism.”

“Whereas: Jim Haley has earned the well‐deserved respect of our community over a long and storied career in the trenches of journalism with The Herald, covering every topic imaginable from sacrosanct to profane with equal aplomb and skill,” it read.

When he retired, Haley used $5,000 of his own money to start a scholarship fund for local college students dedicated to community journalism. Memorial contributions can be made to what is now called the Herald Scholarship Fund or Work Opportunities, a nonprofit working with people with disabilities, or a charity of choice.

Haley is survived by Sue, his wife of 57 years, and a daughter, Shannon. He was preceded in death by a son, Aaron.

After graduating from O’Dea High School in Seattle, Haley — neither big nor tall, but pathologically tenacious — set off for the University of Wyoming to play football as an offensive lineman for a year. He finished up at Seattle University in 1965. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

In his Herald 2008 goodbye column he wrote: “I always tried to be fair and accurate in my stories. You can agree or disagree. It has been a good ride. Varied. Heartbreaking at times. No two days were the same. Thanks, again, for helping.”

He took others on the ride.

Dan Bates, a former Herald photographer, wrote at the time of Haley’s retirement: “If it weren’t for Jim Haley, I would never have stuck my toe into the Atlantic Ocean. … I wouldn’t have ridden submerged in a Trident nuclear submarine and got to touch the red button that could start World War III. I wouldn’t have hiked 3 miles in snowy mountains to photograph crazy naked people sitting around in hot pools of water.”

Rikki Fruichantie was among the many reporters Haley influenced.

“When I was a new reporter, around 2010 or so, he took me on a ride-along through the county,” she said. “I forget where we were when he said, ‘You’ll probably get a homicide here, so congratulations.’ He also took me along Jordan Road and U.S. 2, in part to help me understand river flooding. More than a decade after he retired, people at the county courthouse would ask me about him and gush over him.”

The cover of The Daily Herald featuring Jim Haley’s goodbye column. (Herald archive)

The cover of The Daily Herald featuring Jim Haley’s goodbye column. (Herald archive)

Haley was also a mentor to former Herald reporter Susanna Ray.

“Jimbo was a huge help and inspiration to me as a cub reporter there in the late ’90s,” Ray said. “When we’d walk to lunch or interviews together in downtown Everett, it seemed like every single person we passed knew him. They don’t make them like Jim Haley anymore.”

Eric Stevick worked with Haley for several decades.

“He had sources everywhere and at every level,” Stevick said. “I used to enjoy walking with him to the courthouse. Funny, friendly, disarming and engaging, he’d chat up anyone and everyone along the way, from the hot dog vendor on the street corner to the clerks behind the counter to deputy prosecutors, defense attorneys and jail staff on their way to the courtroom. He’d know their life stories, and they trusted him.”

Bob Bolerjack, a former Herald staffer, recalled the teasing way Haley would endear himself to sources.

“I could hear him on the phone getting a call from a judge or a prosecutor and he’d say, ‘Why, you old snake in the grass.’ It would get them to lower their guard. That was a journalistic skill he had to put people at ease,” Bolerjack said.

Haley found himself on the other side of the law when he got a ticket for jaywalking on his courthouse rounds. The officer was new to the police force and hadn’t had the pleasure of making his acquaintance. He contested it and rows of supporters showed up to his hearing wearing “Free Haley” T-shirts. The judge was bemused.

Scott North spent years working alongside Haley. They became close friends as well as fishing and hiking buddies.

“He had a tremendous impact on the community,” North said.

Haley wrote hundreds of stories before, during and after the Navy base was built on the Everett waterfront. His work helped readers accept change and embrace the influx of newcomers.

“He looked like a hippie and he was the guy representing The Herald who was covering the U.S. Navy and they loved him,” North said. “And they loved him because he was such a great reporter and also such a character so comfortable in his own skin.”

Retired Herald reporter Jim Haley on July 28, 2011, visits the Walter R. Briggs Old Growth Forest at Jim Creek, east of Arlington, Washington. (Dan Bates / The Herald)
Jim Haley visits the Walter R. Briggs Old Growth Forest at Jim Creek, east of Arlington July 28, 2011. (Dan Bates / The Herald file)

Retired Herald reporter Jim Haley on July 28, 2011, visits the Walter R. Briggs Old Growth Forest at Jim Creek, east of Arlington, Washington. (Dan Bates / The Herald) Jim Haley visits the Walter R. Briggs Old Growth Forest at Jim Creek, east of Arlington July 28, 2011. (Dan Bates / The Herald file)

Cardboard cutouts of Haley as a clean-cut young man, when he looked like Clark Kent, and as a hairy veteran scribe can be found in the newsroom, as a quirky tribute to his mark on journalism.

“Jim was a diligent reporter, easy to speak to and with,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett. “He loved his job because he loved Snohomish County. His passion showed in his reporting.”

Yoshiaki Nohara, who started his career at The Herald and now is at Bloomberg in Japan, posted on Facebook: “I often thought about Jim; he’s been the ultimate compass for me as a journalist. It’s not about fame or awards or prestige. It’s about serving the public. It’s about seeking the truth. It’s about lifting the mood of those around you.”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterbrown.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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