A farewell to Ted Grossman, former Islands' Sounder editor, owner

By Colleen Armstrong, Islands' Sounder Publisher, Editor

With his mop of white hair and pen and pad in hand, Ted Grossman was an icon of Orcas Island.

Grossman, former owner and editor of the Islands' Sounder, passed away on May 3. He was at the helm of the Sounder for 21 years, covering the joys and heartbreak of a community he adored.

“Ted was the consummate small town newsman,” said Elyse Van den Bosch, former publisher of the Sounder. “He had his reporter's hat on 24/7 and really believed that the local newspaper could and should be a valuable community resource. He was a compassionate and sensitive person who cared as much about the smaller human interest stories as he did the more dramatic, hard news ones.”

Ted first got newsprint on his fingers at his high school's newspaper inTed G Connecticut. He majored in history at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania but was on the editorial staff of the college newspaper, The Lafayette, for all four years. He served as layout editor, managing editor and sports editor. After graduating, he attended Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago. But in 1963, he left to join the Peace Corps.

It was in Peace Corps training in Hilo, Hawaii that he met his future wife, Kay. They were assigned to adjacent islands in the Philippines, and continued their courtship, commuting by ferry to see each other on weekends. They were married in 1964 at the Archbishop’s Palace.

After the Peace Corps, Ted attended Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan, majoring in history. He completed his doctoral oral exams and received a Fulbright Scholarship to the Philippines and Spain to conduct research for his doctoral dissertation on the role of Filipinos in the Spanish Colonial Army.

After returning to the states in 1970, Ted taught history in Texas. In 1975, he was recruited by long-time friend Leonel Castillo to work for Hispanic International University and guide it through an affiliation with Antioch University, establishing it as a “University Without Walls” program.

Ted then returned to his passion: journalism.

“Ted wanted to be a doer, make a difference,” Kay said. “Through journalism, I think he found a way to do that. He became fed up with the academic world and the 'ivory tower' mentality. After hauling around boxes of notes for his PhD dissertation, he burned the lot of them. He had for the most part finished a rough draft of his dissertation, but it all went up in flames in a backyard bonfire around 1983.”

He and Kay purchased The Waterville Empire Press in Waterville, Wash., where they lived for two years. Seeking a bigger challenge, they sold the paper and bought The Nyssa Gate City Journal in Nyssa, Ore. In 1985, they sold the paper and purchased The Islands’ Sounder, which brought the family to Orcas Island. In 1994, Ted and Kay sold the paper to Sound Publishing, and Ted remained on as editor until his retirement in 2006.

“Anything to do with kids was particularly important to him,” said Van den Bosch, who worked with Ted for 15 years. “Although he was enormously proud of what he did professionally and cherished the many awards his work had won, he was totally without pretense or even interest when it came to the more superficial things, like his office, which was almost always in total disarray, or the coffee and ink stains on his clothes, which were common. Given the many challenges that working for a small town paper can present, it was fortunate for Ted, and for everyone who knew him, that he also had a great sense of humor and could shake off a lot of the daily annoyances by putting things in perspective.”

Scott Rasmussen, now editor of the Journal of the San Juans, worked for Ted as the county reporter. He says he feels blessed to have known him.

“I became better at what I did because it mattered to Ted,” he said. “Still, it was never purely top-down with Ted, a one-way street. Over time I came to realize my contribution was not simply expected, but valued, my ideas and insights as well. When someone relies on and trusts in you, it makes a difference.”

Throughout his nearly 30-year newspaper career, Ted received many awards from both the Washington and Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, most notably The Miles Turnbull Master Editor/Publisher Award in 2006, awarded by WNPA to those editors/publishers deserving of “the very highest honors and respect of the profession.”

Life after the Sounder

Since retiring, Ted became very interested in his family’s history. He studied Hungarian, audited classes at the University of Washington in Eastern European History, conducted research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and archives in Slovakia and Budapest.

He made four trips to Hungary and Slovakia to study Hungarian and conduct research. He visited several small villages where his ancestors lived and poured over volumes and volumes of town records of births, deaths and marriages to find relatives. In 2010, he and a cousin from Israel presented a paper at the International Jewish Genealogical Societies International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Los Angeles.

After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010, Ted organized a local support group that met monthly.

“Ted felt a strong connection to the group,” Kay said. “It gave him such a sense of purpose and accomplishment. He was ever hopeful of a cure being found.”

In addition to the multiple trips to Hungary and eastern Europe, Ted and Kay spent a year and a half living in Brooklyn with son Alex and family and enjoying his two grandchildren, Mila and Joe. While there he volunteered at the Women’s Press Collective, mentoring aspiring journalists and helping with the organization’s quarterly publication Collective Endeavor.

This past February, their daughter Marcy as well as Alex and his family joined Ted and Kay in Hawaii for a 50th anniversary celebration.

“Ted was ever the optimist,” Kay said. “He touched many people’s lives. He was a cheerleader for whatever cause he believed in and supported. He loved children, and was extremely proud of his own two children and their successes and accomplishments.”

Ted received a diagnosis of stage four lung cancer that had metastasized to the bone on April 22. He passed away at home on May 3, with his wife and two children at his side.

In remembering him, his grandson, Joe, age five, said what he really liked about Grandpa Ted was that he was funny and silly.

His granddaughter, Mila, age eight, said she admired him because “even when he’s tired, he never spoils the fun and is always game to do what people are doing – like going for a walk or swimming or out to dinner.”

There will be a potluck brunch "Celebration of Life" on Saturday, May 17 in the Madrona Room of Orcas Center at 10 a.m. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Kaleidoscope, PO Box 1476, Eastsound Wa., 98245 or the Northwest Parkinson's Foundation, 400 Mercer Street, Suite 502, Seattle, Wa. 98109, 206-946-6514,

To read publisher Colleen Smith Armstrong's personal story about Ted, go here.


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