Longtime AP journalist, newspaper publisher John Brewer dies at age 76


John Brewer, whose coast-to-coast journalism career spanned 50 years, including nearly two decades at The Associated Press, has died. He was 76.

Brewer and his longtime friend Randy Johnson were on their annual fly fishing trip in Montana on Friday when the boat Brewer was in hit a submerged log and flipped over, Johnson said. Two others were rescued, but Brewer drowned, he said.

“I’m still having trouble digesting it,” he said Saturday.

Brewer retired in 2015 after nearly 18 years as editor and publisher of the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles. Current publisher Eran Kennedy remembered him Saturday as “a true journalist and editor at heart” and “a person of unwavering integrity, driven by a passion for community and local journalism.”

“We are profoundly saddened by the unexpected loss of John Brewer. On behalf of the Peninsula Daily News family, I extend our heartfelt condolences to John’s loved ones,” Kennedy said in an email. “We will carry forward his torch, ensuring that his memory lives on.”

Born on Oct. 24, 1947, Brewer got his start in journalism writing for his high school newspaper, said his wife, Barbara Wise. His first paid job was with a weekly paper in his hometown of Upland, California. From 1969-1988, he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive for The Associated Press in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York.

As Seattle bureau chief, he oversaw coverage of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which killed 57 people, blasted more than 1,300 feet (400 meters) off the top of the volcano and rained ash for miles around. In Los Angeles, he oversaw coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics, and before that, had a pivotal interaction with a future star. Actor Mark Hamill, of “Star Wars” fame, worked for Brewer as a copy boy in the 1970s before informing him he was leaving because he had been cast in an episode of “The Partridge Family.”

“And so ended my AP career,” Hamill wrote on the social platform X, in 2022.

In 1985, Brewer hired Jeff Wilson as a reporter in Los Angeles. Wilson worked the overnight shift and didn’t expect to see his boss much, but Brewer frequently showed up, walking up behind him and declaring, “Good job, Tiger!”

“It was a warm, needed moment in the dead of night,” Wilson said in an email. When Wilson retired 11 years ago, Brewer sent him a Pacific Northwest salmon.

“More than a boss, I considered John a friend,” he said.

Brewer also spent 10 years as president, chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp. In addition to handling trademark and merchandise licensing for the newspaper, he also enlisted high-profile columnists, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Martha Stewart and Jimmy Carter, for the Times’ syndicate, according to an autobiographical blog post he published in 2016.

In Port Angeles, Brewer was deeply involved in his community, holding positions with multiple civic organizations. Johnson, who remembered him pounding nails to help construct a new playground, said his friend was guided by the notion, “How can I do something to help this community?”

“He was just a really great person. Even when he retired, he didn’t miss a beat, because he cared,” he said. “He knew he could make a difference.”

Brewer and Wise married in September after 18 years, she said Saturday.

“He was the nicest, most generous man. He helped everybody he could,” she said.

Wise described her husband as something of a statesman in their small town, often sought after by budding politicians for advice because he knew everyone. In retirement, he spent hours a day on Facebook and online community groups spreading the word about community events, she said.

“He was the consummate news guy,” she said. “He just wanted his community to know what was going on because so many people had stopped taking the paper.”

Brewer also is survived by two sons. Funeral arrangements have not been set.

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