Like her or loathe her, people read Adele Ferguson. So her retirement from writing feisty, highly opinionated and often partisan political columns for The Dispatch and about 40 other newspapers around the state will create a void. Her followers will have to find some other way to get worked up.
As she reveals in her final column in the Dec. 11 edition of The Dispatch, Ferguson has been fighting serious health issues and wants to live life now without deadlines that she’s been facing for 48 years in a career that included her time as the first woman reporter in the state capitol press corps covering the Legislature. She’s more than earned her last deadline.
I remember reading Ferguson’s columns when I was a teenager and was getting the bug to become a journalist. Her reputation then, and always was, as straightforward as her spare writing style: She pulled no punches and called issues and politicians as she saw them. In some people’s minds, her views were objectionable when they crossed the line between political commentary and bitter rancor. But even her critics kept coming back for more. That’s a measure of success for any columnist.
I don’t know Ferguson, though I’ve been around her at meetings of civic groups where some political figure was the speaker and she was asking them some prickly questions or making pithy comments from the audience. My only one-to-one contact with her was when I was the editor of a newspaper in Kitsap County (where she lives) about 16 years ago and made the mistake (in her eyes) of making a slight copy edit of one of her columns. She subscribed to the paper, caught the edit and called me to tell me very strenuously that I was not to ever do that again. After I explained the edit, she relaxed and seemed to acknowledge that everybody needs an editor. I never heard from her again, even though I continued to make slight copy edits of her columns over the years. A colleague once told me that Ferguson liked to break in new editors with a little bombast. That’s just her way.
One thing I like about Ferguson is that she’s equal-opportunity in her zinging of politicians and government leaders. There are times when she seems harder on Democrats than Republicans, and she admits she leans to the Republican side in some of her personal political philosophy. But she’s fair in the sense that she sees the targets of her skewering as people, and gives them a break when they can use one. In an oral history that’s part of the Legacy Project compiled by the Washington secretary of state’s office, an incident is recounted in which a male state senator called a female senator a “miserable bitch.” While another reporter included his comment in a story, Ferguson wouldn’t. “I never did anything like that to anyone,” she said. “We all speak out of turn. I’d stop and ask someone, ‘Do you really want to say that?’ I’d never hang anyone out to dry like that.”
Thanks, Adele. It’s been interesting.
Pat Jenkins is editor of The Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com and 360-832-4697