Former Friday Harbor editor Lehde was ‘One of the last great eccentrics’

Jim Lehde, at his desk at a Seattle newspaper in 1958. The veteran newsman would later serve as editor of The Journal and managing editor of The Fishermen’s News.  - Contributed photo / Janet Lehde
Jim Lehde, at his desk at a Seattle newspaper in 1958. The veteran newsman would later serve as editor of The Journal and managing editor of The Fishermen’s News.
— image credit: Contributed photo / Janet Lehde

It was short notice, but it was done Jim Lehde’s way.

Before Jim Fred Lehde died at home at the end of last month, he had ordered that his obituary be written by a good writer, former Journal staffer Chris Craven. He told her to keep it to 200 words — concise and straightforward, like any good news story.

When the obit arrived at the desk of Editor Richard Walker, all of the rest of the page was ready to go but he had left space for that final obit, hoping it would fit because deadline was nearing.

Walker said with amazement, “It fit to the line.”

Heidi Narte, one of Jim’s eight or so children by eight or so marriages, was the first to arrive at The Journal to tell us of plans to have a circle of friends and family gather at the public boat launching at Jackson Beach June 6 at noon.

Since Lehde was a former Journal editor (as a well as a former managing editor of The Fishermen’s News), we scanned a photo to make posters to place at the obligatory locations: the marina, the airport terminal, the Legion, banks, senior center, King’s, MarketPlace and the like the previous afternoon and morning.

By that time, Janet Joyce Lehde, the eldest of Jim’s children, had arrived with her son, Silas. She had dozens of photographs of her father, dating back to his childhood, which were passed one by one around the circle we formed along side the launching dock.

The sun came out for a short time to warm our spirits. The photos sparked memories among the group which were shared with family and friends — from Lehde’s only surviving brother, Glenn, to nieces and a grandniece who had barely known him.

There were none who could give an exact figure on his marital record. When one said he had been married eight times, one sibling of Lehde’s said, "I went to nine of his marriages!" He also indicated that there were a few he hadn't attended.

Another friend told how Lehde got a wedding license one time and then had the marriage annulled within a few weeks. He went to the town clerk to get a refund for the license fee. Then the spat was patched up and Lehde went through the process again.

We don't know if Lehde passed Tommy Manville's record number of marriages or not. Maybe so, or maybe he just doubled up on some, as Elizabeth Taylor did with Richard Burton to give her eight marriages.

We do know he was certainly likeable. He was one of those charming rascals who was prone to forgetting the horrors of war by drinking too much, perhaps.

There were lots of laughs, and tears as well, as people told of his generosity to any friend(or stranger) who might be in need. The picture of him in uniform prompted someone to tell how Jim, during the Korean War, was caught with three other soldiers in a concrete gun emplacement during MacArthur’s pincer movement to repulse the North Korean troops who were reinforced with the Chinese army. They underwent three solid days of artillery barrage from both friendly and enemy fire. Sort of makes you understand why he sometimes got a bit disoriented during a conversation.

There was disagreement about his flying ability. Personally, I found him quite creative. I did a freelance postcard for Jim Capron in the early '80s and Capron got a Canadian photographer to do a daring aerial shot of Capron’s Landing, along with some cute models. He asked me to fly up to Nanaimo to get the printing done (the Canadian dollar was cheap then).

We went up in the fog; Lehde’s transponder went out. There were no aerial charts, so Lehde went lower to find the airport after consulting some Shell Oil road maps. "That looks like it," he said as he swooped into a break in the clouds. He pulled up quickly — it was a shopping center mall parking lot. It was my last passenger ride with Jim at the stick.

Of course, we told how Lehde was flying Joe Tarabochia, Journal circulation manager, to the mainland when we had to get some inserts. They pancaked on the west side. No injuries, but Joe was furious — he lost his new false teeth, "the first false teeth that ever fit me right," he grumbled. I always thought Tarabochia should be thankful that that was all he lost.

We had a card signed by all those who attended the Senior Center lunch at Mullis Community Senior Center the day before the gathering. We delivered that to Janet Lehde.

One inscription by Dale Whitsell said it all:

"Jim was one of the last great eccentrics on this island — a loving heart and great humor. We'll miss him and his husky laugh."

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