John Purroy, retired Press Democrat reporter and editor, dies at 85

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It wasn’t only at work that former newsman John Purroy cared about the power and duty of words.

His eldest son, Steve Purroy of Portland, Oregon, remembers his father sitting long ago at their family’s dining table in Santa Rosa and going over homework that he or his brothers had written.

“He wanted the prose to be right and clean and accurate,” Steve Purroy said.

His kind, understated dad was a stickler for getting it right throughout a career in journalism dominated by a 25-year run as a reporter and editor for The Press Democrat.

John Purroy died Friday at the home in Rohnert Park he shared with his wife of 33 years, Teresa de la O. Purroy was 85.

Born in Fresno to Spanish Basque parents, John Purroy Jr. began his life’s work with the printed word as an apprentice, a “printer’s devil,” at a Fresno print shop.

While studying reporting and editing at the former Fresno State College, he worked in the newsroom at radio station KFRE and as a senior was editor of the college newspaper, the Collegian.

He graduated with a degree in journalism in 1954 and a week later married Carol Petersen at Our Lady of Victory Church in Fresno. Together they would raise three sons.

John Purroy was still fresh from college when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served for two years, stationed for most of that time in Germany.

Upon his discharge in 1956, he and his wife traveled through much of western Europe before returning to California and to Fresno.

John Purroy went to work writing for the Fresno State College Foundation. In 1957, he landed his first newspaper job with the Turlock Daily Journal.

A year later, at age 25, he and his wife moved their young family to Santa Rosa, and he became a reporter and rewrite man for The Press Democrat.

Press Democrat columnist and history author Gaye LeBaron recalled how hard the young reporter worked as a “newbie” in the newsroom.

“Actually, I think he never lost that nervous energy, and it was that kind of dedication, I truly believe, that made Art Volkerts, the managing editor, pick him for an editor’s role,” LeBaron said.

“He had a gentle, sweet smile, but unlike the rest of us, he toed the line.”

Purroy was named the paper’s wire editor 1964 and in 1971 was promoted to news editor.

“Every story was a big story for John, and it deserved to be published,” said friend Bob Klose of Sebastopol, a retired Press Democrat reporter and editor. “He would sit at his desk and his right leg would pump like a sewing machine as he edited mountains of UPI (United Press International) wire copy, most of which could never be squeezed into the paper.”

Purroy went back to being in reporter in 1974, and from ’75 until ’81 covered the Sonoma County courthouse.

“When he was a reporter writing his own stuff, whether a feature story or a report on something at the courthouse, there was rarely an element of the story John could easily part with. He wanted all of it to get into the paper. So, it was a constant exercise in frustration. But once past deadline and the presses were running, John would relax and give in to his easy and generous laugh,” Klose said.

He was divorced and working as a Press Democrat reporter covering a murder trial when he met de la O, an attorney. Purroy retired from the Press Democrat in 1983; he and de la O, a mother of five children, married two years later.

“He was a gift,” de la O said. “He was the best husband, the best father, the best grandfather. Just a genuinely decent human being.”

The couple traveled frequently to Europe. Purroy was especially fond of Spain, as his parents, John and Mary Purroy, had left there to come to America.

The retired newspaperman all his life loved baseball, the sport he’d relished teaching his three sons. He rooted for the Giants and also the A’s, the 49ers and Warriors.

He also was the greatest fan of his 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Said Steve Purroy, his eldest son, “He was exceedingly kind and gentle. He was a very sweet- tempered man.”

Purroy died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

In addition to his wife in Rohnert Park, his son in Portland and his former wife in Reno, he is survived by sons Martin Purroy of both Elk and San Blas, Mexico; Alex Purroy of Santa Rosa and Philipp de la O of Orangevale, and by daughters Judy Hawkins of Sebastopol, Mary Ryken, of Cotati, Rachel Romes Grossmann of Rohnert Park and Viva Durham of Petaluma.

John Purroy’s next birthday would have been on Sept. 24. His family will host a memorial picnic and celebration of his life at 1 p.m. on Sept. 22 at Helen Putnam Park in Cotati.

Editor’s note: This version of the obituary corrects the spelling of Mary Ryken’s name, and the location of the Helen Putnam Park at which the memorial picnic for John Purroy will take place.

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