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Mr. Mac: Hugh McGilvra, always a journalist first

A passion for news drove publisher Hugh McGilvra
by:  Hugh McGilvra (right) with business partner C. “Jeeter” Gillette posed on Pacific University’s campus in 1928, shortly after the two men bought the News-Times. Gillette left Forest Grove in 1930 to become manager of the Coos Bay Times, leaving McGilvra to carry on the newspaper and start a major printing business in town.

While scores of people have worked for the News-Times over the past 125 years, one person, more than any other, is identified with the weekly paper.

Hugh McGilvra was born in Draper, S.D., Oct. 14, 1906. He moved with his family to Reedville, Oregon when he was eight and then to Portland soon after that. He was the oldest of eight siblings, which likely contributed to his disciplined work ethic early in his life.

His connection to newsprint and ink started early, when as a young man, he took both a morning and evening paper route and saved up enough money to enroll as a political science major at Willamette University in 1924.

Originally, Hugh's intent had been to attend law school, though when he began editing both the college yearbook and newspaper, he decided to move toward journalism instead, working for the Oregon Statesman newspaper in Salem and the McMinnville Telephone-Register while on breaks from school.

Hugh graduated in 1928 and later that year he and a business partner, C. 'Jeeter' Gillette, bought the News-Times for $17,000. He eventually expanded the paper to include a small countywide chain and also established one of the largest printing businesses in the state, Times Litho.

McGilvra was elected to three terms in the state House of Representatives in the 1960s, served on the Forest Grove School Board for 16 years, and Portland Community College for 11 years, where he was instrumental in planning for the Rock Creek Campus.

He taught journalism classes at Pacific University and was an advocate of the Bureau of Reclamation earth-fill dam project to create Hagg Lake.

He also volunteered on the Forest Grove Library board, the Forest Grove Planning Commission, served as president of the Forest Grove and Washington County Chambers of Commerce and the Forest Grove Rotary. For all his service, he was named Forest Grove's Distinguished Citizen in 1974.

After selling his newspapers, he and his wife, Louise moved to the Willamette View Manor retirement community in Portland in 1983.

He remained busy in retirement. According to his son, Paul, the press arranged for someone to pick his dad up five times a week and travel to a ranch near Hagg Lake, where he'd join volunteer crews to plant trees, clear brush - and enjoy working hard.

'He did not want to be inactive,' Paul McGilvra told the News-Times in a 2008 interview.

The former newsman was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which began to take over his body but in the end, his son said, McGilvra died the way he lived his life, in full control of his actions and with a clear head.

Despite all his civic engagements, 'Mr. Mac' never lost his love of news, covering the Washington County beat himself until the 1970s. Many local residents have stories of the publisher/owner pulling up on a bicycle (or, nearing retirement, a car) grabbing his trusty box camera and hopping a fence, with a notebook stuck in his pocket, to get a bucolic photo of a newborn calf, a prize tomato or a glorious western Washington County sunset.

In 1983, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association put Hugh in their Hall of Fame. He was the only living newspaperman to be so honored. He was also awarded the Amos E. Voorhies Award for journalistic achievement in 1972.

'He was a journalist first. There is no question about that,' Richard Bunker, former CEO for Times-Litho, said in an interview three years ago. 'The newspapers were his love.'