For Frank Leeming, journalism was a calling

For some, journalism is calling. It’s an inner desire to tell stories and share facts with a wider community. Whether that be a small group or a national audience, journalism is a profession that draws a certain type of people.

Frank Leeming was one of those people.

Leeming owned this newspaper, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, serving as both publisher and editor from October 1983 until selling the business in June of 1992. During his tenure, the Journal covered news on all the ferry-served islands, employed a robust team of news and sports reporters, advertising and classified staff, production staff operating a full-service printing press, and support staff that made it all work day in and day out, deadline after deadline. While the Lemmings owned the Journal, the paper won more awards for journalistic excellence than any other paper of its size in the state.

Leeming passed away in his home in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, on February 25, 2023, at the age of 84.

Every week for eight and a half years Leeming and his team published a weekly journal filled with news, events, sports, opinions, ads, and community tidbits that informed, entertained, and educated this community.

Long before social media and the diversification of news outlets and sources, Leeming and the Journal were the primary source of information and news for this community, and every week Leeming and his staff of like-minded individuals produced content for an information-hungry readership.

Leeming was a true journalist in every sense of the word. He followed the core principles of journalism including truthfulness, accuracy, impartiality, independence, fairness, public accountability, and respect for others.

Leeming worked as a reporter, editor and publisher of both weekly and daily newspapers for nearly half a century, according to his family, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize twice during his career.

After graduating from the University of Missouri in Columbia, Leeming served as a reporter for seven years with the St. Louis Pos-Dispatch before becoming editorial editor for the Lindsay-Schaub Newspapers in Decatur, Illinois. Leeming was then named business editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer in November, 1971, working his way up to city editor and assistant to the executive editor before becoming circulation sales and marketing manager for both the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, a sister newspaper.

For a brief period Leeming was publisher of the Kingsport Times News in Tennessee, earning the newspaper the title of best large circulation newspaper in Tennessee, before moving to San Juan Island in October 1983 to take the helm of The Journal of the San Juan Islands.

Early in Leeming’s career, he was also a correspondent for LIFE Magazine and notably was credited with unearthing critical information and a photograph of James Earl Ray, the man responsible for the murder of Martin Luther King.

In the May 3, 1968 edition of LIFE magazine, the Editor’s Note includes praise for Leeming, saying “As soon as it was announced that James Earl Ray was the real name of the man wanted for the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, we set out to unearth and reconstruct the life history of this once obscure, now notorious human being. It was a chance for reporters to use every trick and technique they had ever learned, and on this story there were few tricks we didn’t try… and we had an invaluable ally in our St. Louis correspondent, Frank Leeming Jr., a veteran reporter on the Post Dispatch.”

“It was he who unearthed the cover picture in a scrapbook in Ewing, Mo. (pop. 324),” the Editor’s Note continues. “The competition was terrific. We were always a step ahead or behind the Los Angeles Times or the FBI. Leeming called the story ‘a reporter’s dream’ and was delighted to find that we were uncovering information that even the FBI had missed.”

A desire to own their own newspaper eventually brought Frank and his wife Joyce Leeming to Friday Harbor.

“Frank decided he’d like us to own our own newspaper when the owner of the Kingsport Times News decided to make his son publisher and Frank was let go,” Joyce said.

“Frank was working with a listing agent for weekly newspapers as we knew we could not afford a daily. We visited several in states east of Kingsport, then decided we’d camp across country in our little RX 7, a two-seater, looking at various papers throughout the west, including Montana and Idaho, before visiting San Juan Island.”

“We camped in state and national campgrounds in a tent, cooked over open fires, had showers in waterfalls and saw a lot of beautiful country, including the Grand Canyon. There wasn’t room for another pair of socks in the back of that little car.”

“We were immediately smitten with the island and proceeded negotiations with the owners. I believe their names were Larry and Roselyn Duffy but I’m not sure. I believe this was in 1983.”

“We bought the paper and Frank stayed on the island. I flew home to Kingsport and put the house on the market. Lewis, Dusty, the cat and dog and I arrived on Thanksgiving Day.”

In the Journal Franks’s news stories and regular columns ran the gamut from fearlessly holding the government accountable to fun facts and the well-known comic strip, The Far Side.

“Once settled I went to work at The Journal too. First on the front desk taking classified ads, then graduated to designing display ads and learning how to put those on the master sheet for printing. In those days one had to use wax to make the printed ad stick and had to apply borders by hand. We had our own press.”

“Right before we left Kingsport, computers first became available and we purchased one. They had two drawer-like slots. One side held the driver and the other the program was used to write the article, probably Word.”

“We were the first weekly to be able to connect the computer to the typesetting machine that printed out the paper used in the production department to make up the pages.”

After selling the Journal and retiring to Hot Springs Village, the largest gated community in the nation, he remained active in both journalism and his community. Frank served as editor of the Hot Springs Village Voice, a weekly newspaper, between 2005 and 2008. Frank was subsequently elected to the Hot Springs Village Property Owner’s Association board of directors representing 34,000 property owners.

During his career, Frank was a member of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, National Conference of Editorial Writers, and served as the director of the Tennessee and Washington state press associations.

Frank and his wife Joyce have five children – William C. (Dusty) Leeming and Scott (Barbara) Leeming in Friday Harbor; Patricia (Ron) Barrett in Charlotte, N.C.; Frank Leeming III in Waynesville, N.C.; and Lewis C. Leeming in Haskell, Ark.; and six grandchildren.

While no services were held at Frank’s request, he leaves behind a lasting legacy that influenced and illuminated life in this community and the comings and goings of residents of these islands back in the 1980s and early 90s.

Contributed photo
Journalist Frank Leeming Jr. chats with Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell.

Contributed photo Journalist Frank Leeming Jr. chats with Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell.

Contributed photo
Frank Leeming Jr. owned the Journal of the San Juan Islands from October 1983 to June 1992.

Contributed photo Frank Leeming Jr. owned the Journal of the San Juan Islands from October 1983 to June 1992.