December 17th, 2009

Eldon Barrett

Brandt's Cormorant

Brandt's Cormorant

Eldon Barrett, my father-in-law, died 16 December 2009, a few minutes past midnight. I had already gone to bed. My wife, Rebecca, woke me to tell me her mother had called. Her dad had died and she was going over to help her mother. For the last few years Rebecca’s parents have lived in a mobile home a hundred yards north of our old farm house on land that we lent to them. I stayed in bed, but did not return to sleep. After an hour or so, the dogs let me know that something was happening. I got up and saw the lights from the undertaker’s vehicle.

I already miss Eldon. He grew up in Olympia. He was a newspaper man all his life, but I have always thought of him as cowboy from eastern Oregon. He always had a story about riding horses and herding cattle on his uncle’s ranch near Burns. He had the down-to-earth, no nonsense, unrelenting attitude of someone with cow manure on his boots and a bunch of stubborn cows to chase.

Eldon once described himself as a “grab your hat and get the story newspaper reporter.” When he retired, he was working for the old United Press International in an office close to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer building. The UPI is gone now and the Seattle-PI is Internet-only. When he retired, both were going strong. Eldon and I talked often about the transformation from print to Internet and what it means for the news business.

Although congestive heart failure weakened him physically, especially during his last six months, Eldon was keeping up, doing most of his newspaper reading on line. Like the rest of us, he fumed about Vista on his recently purchased laptop and more than once asked me about installing Ubuntu.

Our last conversation was about James G. Swan, the Port Townsend historian, ethnologist, promoter and ne’er do well who has captured my interest lately. I asked Eldon if he knew about Lucille MacDonald’s biography of Swan. His answer was typical Eldon “Lucy? Yeah, I knew her really well. She was a good writer. Told the truth. Swan was an old drunk. Smart man though.” Then he proceeded to tell a story about an office party at the PI fifty years ago.

3 comments to Eldon Barrett

  • Michael

    This is an awesome memorial to Eldon. Thanks. I noticed two relatively minor errors you might want to know about. First, he was born in Nampa, Idaho, and grew up in nearby Mountain Home for a tiny spell and the rest of the time in Olympia, but as far as I know, he never lived in Portland. His parents moved there later. Second, the UPI Seattle office was for many years in the old KOMO Building and then moved to the Seattle P-I. But at the time of his retirement, it was across the street from the P-I in the Richfield Building. Facts too minor to worry about.

    Thanks again, Marvin. Keep up the good work.


  • vinector

    Thank you. I corrected the post. I think your father would appreciate that. Marv

  • Mike Garrett

    I’ve thought of Eldon so many times and am sorry it took so long to ‘check on’ him. I worked with Eldon as a TTY op at the UPI/P-I bureau, 1970-75, when Marty Heerwald was bureau chief. What a refined and always proper group we were…not. Eldon was always business-first and digging into one story or another because of some lead from his many friends or stringers, but he was also full of fun and made a great mentor for us all.
    I’m sorry to now know of his passing. I wish I had stayed in touch and let him know of my admiration for him.
    Mike Garrett
    Kirkland, WA

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