PD Editorial: Saluting Gaye LeBaron’s remarkable career
We try to maintain a certain detachment in our editorials, but this one is different. This one is a fan letter to Gaye LeBaron.
Gaye is a friend, mentor and beloved colleague for all of us at The Press Democrat, where she has told the stories of Sonoma County across an extraordinary 65-year career.
Her final column is — where else? — on the front page.
True to Gaye’s self-effacing nature, she saved her own news for last.
“I want to be very clear,” she wrote. “I haven’t been fired. I’m not sick. I’m not leaving town. I have just run my course and it’s time to make room for others.”
And what a course it has been.
Gaye has written approximately 8,500 columns for The Press Democrat, meeting daily deadlines for four decades before switching to a twice-a-month schedule in 2001. Along the way, she covered presidents, the World Series and even Queen Elizabeth. But that’s pack journalism, practiced at a distance. Gaye made Sonoma County her beat, and she owned the story.
Her columns — mixing commentary, wry observations, news tidbits and scoops — are like the best letters — chatty and knowing and always written, as a colleague once said, with a smile, not a sneer.
She is, of course, a gifted storyteller. But sustaining a newspaper column for so many years takes something more. Gaye is a reporter’s reporter, building and tending a network of contacts that stretches into practically every corner of the community.
She’s also the co-author of two informative histories of Santa Rosa.
Few newspaper columnists have ever been so closely associated with one city for so long. Herb Caen and San Francisco, Mike Royko and Chicago, Gaye LeBaron and Santa Rosa.
It’s no coincidence that her face is painted alongside the likes of Charles Schulz, Luther Burbank and Jack London in a mural on the side of the The Press Democrat building honoring 50 people who helped shape Sonoma County in the 20th century.
Gaye also helped shape generations of Press Democrat journalists — answering our questions, sharing history, drawing connections, opening doors, passing along tips, trading stories. We’re grateful for her patience and generosity.
In recognition of all that she means to The Press Democrat and the community at large, as well as her love of good storytelling and affinity for Santa Rosa Junior College, we are creating a Gaye LeBaron Writing Scholarship.
The scholarship from The Press Democrat Community Fund will be awarded annually to an aspiring writer attending the junior college, where Gaye studied before transferring to UC Berkeley and earning degrees in English and history.
Allow us to finish with a personal note. Gaye, you have distinguished The Press Democrat since 1957. Thank you, and should you get the urge to write, we’ll have a spot waiting. As you read our work, we hope it will reflect the same devotion you have shown for your craft and Sonoma County.
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