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Bill Bates, former Snohomish County Tribune publisher, served the community he loved

SNOHOMISH — Bill Bates, who always cared about community and stayed active into his 90s, had a life well lived.
He was an engaged mentor. A good friend. A witty, modest individual who looked warmly at his town and wrote back to it as publisher and editor for decades at the Tribune.
He took up challenging himself with mountain climbing, long-distance cycling and marathon running.
Most of all, he loved people.
Bates died April 24 at age 95. He was weeks shy of his 96th birthday, and a month shy from he and wife Barbara Bates’ 70th wedding anniversary.
A well-attended service was held May 5 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where they were integral parishioners.
Bates’ story is intertwined with this paper with a certain quiet eminence. He became co-owner of the Tribune six years after being hired when longtime publisher Tom Dobbs died at his desk in 1955. Bates, Willis Tucker and Don Berry together bought the paper.
He and Ed Wise reformed Snohomish Publishing Co. in 1968. (Wise died this March.)
The Bates’ historic home on Avenue B was always a warm and welcoming place to guests and even strangers.
Both he and Barbara saw people and experiences without prejudice.
There was that one time in the 1960s heyday when his eldest son Mac Bates handed his parents tickets to “Hair,” the hippie musical. They took up the offer; Bill Bates even wrote a column about the experience.
There was the other time when Bates assisted a man he met in the Monroe reformatory. When the man got out out prison, Bates gave him a job.
“He was the chronicler of daily life in Snohomish,” Mac Bates said.
A “journalist’s journalist,” Bates made many friends in the community, but stuck true to being fair and even-handed. He taught his sons to seek both sides of any issue.
“The Tribune, when we were kids, was like a fifth child — it took a lot of his time,” Mac Bates said. His dad sometimes got home after midnight.
Bill Bates did it all, from taking in reports to occasionally helping lay out the paper by typeset. The Tribune was never about him, but for the community. He signed his popular weekly column “bb”.
After retiring as publisher in 1981, he continued penning his weekly column for a few years but also joined the school board, the city planning commission and other local civic groups. He sold his stake in Snohomish Publishing in 1983.
A rapt curiosity kept Bill Bates sharp. He was a deft punster.
Mountaineering intrigued Bill Bates. It tests the body and self, but also is like cracking a puzzle to identify paths to the top.
The mountains’ call led to him starting Alpenbooks, an outdoor guides distributor, and later CloudCap Press, a book imprint with authors including Bob Heirman.
He climbed all five volcanoes in Washington State, Mac Bates said, and only stopped climbing at age 87.


Bates family photos

Bill Bates on one of his many biking trips in Europe, with longtime riding buddy Don Kusler in the background.

He took a number of journalists under his wing, and had a canny ability to spot and foster talent. He was always willing to take a chance on someone, Mac Bates said.
Tribune editor Lynda Schuler, Fred Bird and Scott North all received his guidance.
The Tribune was Bird’s first full-time job after hawking
an underground paper in Seattle.
That paper was published in Snohomish, where Bird hung out. Bates nudged Bird to write a column on hobbyist birding, and became an encouraging mentor and friend for the young man who came from Connecticut.
“Bill Bates was the best accident that ever befell me,” Bird wrote in an essay published recently by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (an organization which Bates was president of in 1967).
North, now a Herald editor and reporter, fell into the Tribune by way of Snohomish Publishing taking over the outdoors magazine North wrote for.
“He always had a sense that you were writing about real people you bump into in the community ... and you have a duty to tell it true,” North said.
Bates never supervised North, but the two hit it off with mountain climbing. They had many deep conversations North treasures. He said Bates would watch for his byline and would provide critiques, both good and bad.
Dobbs’ granddaughter Claire Tuohy-Morgan was hired on to the paper as a reporter under Bill Bates, and they reminisced on Tribune history. Tuohy-Morgan recalled a man with gentle humor “who was warm, kind and loyal. He had integrity. He was thoughtful; he enjoyed and appreciated people. When he spoke to you, he looked you in the eye and listened to what you were saying,” she wrote.
Bill Bates’ sense of duty, truth-seeking and community all came with a rare, self-deprecating humbleness.
“He had size 14 feet,” Mac Bates said. “He left us figuratively and literally large shoes to fill.”

 

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