Dedicated to the citizens of Mason County, Washington since 1886

Memories of Stephen Gay

"Can you sell?" Henry Gay asked.

"Yes," I answered.

That was my job interview. The work-wanted ad I ran to find a new job in my field had succeeded. Barb Nelson, Gay's retired ad manager of 40 years, had set everything up. That day, I said I could see myself working here for that long. Little did I know that 30 years later I would be just 10 years away from 40 years.

When I started at the Shelton-Mason County Journal in mid-August 1992, Stephen Gay was the pressroom manager. His dad, Henry, ran the paper as owner/publisher. Stephen's brother Charlie was the editor and sister Julie was the office manager. The only departments not represented by a Gay family member were advertising and the composing room.

We had 22 employees. Nonmanagers reported to department bosses, who reported to Henry. As a newly arrived advertising rep, I reported to Al Eaton, advertising manager. I saw Stephen in passing - I didn't get to know him well. He was typically cleaning and maintaining the press, training his two apprentices, billing print jobs or working with printing customers.

At that time, we printed the Journal along with other newspapers. We also printed the Shopper's Weekly, about a dozen high school and college newspapers, including the Cooper Point Journal, club newsletters and specialized short-run projects ranging from quilt patterns to Sub Pop Records posters for bands that included Modest Mouse.

Al the advertising manager was a retired U.S. Navy officer who also was retired from Simpson Timber Co. He had strong local connections, a wonderful deep voice and a calm, confident leadership style. My co-worker, Michael Politz, started before me and had been recruited from his previous job selling office supplies. When Al retired, Michael was promoted to ad manager, supervising two ad reps in Shelton and one in Belfair.

A few years later, Michael left for a sales position with Taylor Shellfish. I applied for the ad manager spot, confident in my education and successful track record. Instead, I was surprised to learn Stephen would be my new boss. He had grown tired of being chained to the press, as he called it, and so had asked his dad if he could fill the ad manager position.

I was skeptical of Stephen at first. But print sales and ad sales are still sales. I taught him what I knew and he proved to be an excellent ad manager. I got to know him and he earned my respect by working hard, having a fine sense of humor and a positive attitude. I could tell he enjoyed the process of connecting ad ideas with businesses, which connects businesses to readers. He led by example and respected his ad team. At that time, most of our customer contact involved driving routes to customer locations and meeting in person, in most cases saying "see you next week" rather than goodbye. Returning from his route, he often brought local flowers from Satsop Bulb Farm for coworkers at the office.

Stephen maintained and increased his own customer list with gusto and worked his considerable connections well. He would come up with funny or catchy ad headlines and share them with a laugh. For example, "Bowl them over, Climbers" for the Timber Bowl ad for our giant "S" shaped Shelton High School sports page sponsor feature. He racked up a lot of successes and shared in the fun that advertising can be.

I came to appreciate Stephen's intelligence and humor. He shared stories like this: "A desert soldier complained about his lips always being chapped. His commanding officer told him to rub camel dung on his lips. 'But that'll taste terrible!' the soldier replied. 'You'll stop licking your ****ing lips though,' " the officer answered.

He also showed uncommon patience and persistence. He shared his love for military history through reenactment clubs such as the Friends of Willie and Joe, which he led in his free time. Whether it was Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea or Vietnam, Stephen was a go-to source for many who would visit the Journal office to share his enthusiasm for the subject. Most holidays or events would find him with one of his groups in period uniforms and vehicles, riding in parades or set up for the public to see part of history in person.

As a fellow musician we'd also talk about his previous band, Whatever's Fair, which he had been a member of before becoming my boss, performing country and light rock as a singer and keyboardist. His band was named for his first response when asked what they charged.

When Henry became ill, he named Stephen's younger brother Charlie publisher because he felt his writing experience would be better for the column on page 4, the editorial page.

At Henry's funeral in 1999, people arrived from around the country to pay respects to our local, famous, nationally syndicated columnist known for his biting satire that targeted liberals and conservatives alike. I stood next to Stephen as they filed by. Some attendees were famous and influential, including publishers from California and back East, though I don't recall names. Charlie, Stephen and Julie continued to run the Journal for several years after their father died.

On a February day in 2008, Tom Mullen's family bought the paper and so that year I became ad manager. Charlie, Stephen and Julie were all retiring. Thoughtfully, they entrusted the Journal to another local, family owner – making a point of not selling to a corporate media chain.

Fourteen years later, the paper has changed in many ways, mostly for the better, in my opinion. I'm still at the paper, though like Stephen did, I changed departments. I'm now the office administrator. Looking back at the years I worked with Stephen, they are mostly fond memories. I will miss his regular stops by the office to pick up packages and says hello to us. What was in those packages?

None of our business, but he'd tell as anyway, usually reproduction U.S. Army Jeep parts or things like that.


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