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Pennington, W. J. "Jerry" (1919-1985)

HistoryLink.org Essay 7194 : Printer-Friendly Format

Jerry Pennington's primary career was as a newspaperman, working his way up in The Seattle Times from accountant to publisher and chief executive officer. His leadership garnered national recognition for The Seattle Times. Pennington also took time to extend his leadership skills to the boards of directors for corporations such as PACCAR and Western International Hotels and for non-profits like the Seattle Foundation. Pennington was instrumental in establishing a fundraising system for Children's Orthopedic Hospital in the 1970s, a system that became the Children's Hospital Foundation. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Jerry Pennington First Citizen of 1977.

Early Years

Weldon J. "Jerry" Pennington was born March 1, 1919, in Tacoma, and his father died when he was 11. The family with four boys moved to Ellensburg and Pennington worked on a farm and in a grocery store as he went through school. Pennington graduated from the University of Washington as a Certified Public Accountant in 1942, and he served in J. Edgar Hoover's Federal Bureau of Investigation during World War II. This experience probably influenced his autocratic style. Wiry and athletic, he once played golf with professional Arnold Palmer, besting the champion on several holes.

In 1945, he married Dorothy G. Kinney. Together they had four children, Susan, Scott, Sally, and Steven.

Pennington joined The Seattle Times in 1951 as chief financial manager and he rose through the organization and shifted to journalism. He became president in 1967 and publisher and chief executive officer in 1982.

A Competitive Spirit

Pennington's competitive nature and his quest for excellence resulted in an ever-increasing share of advertising revenues for the Times in the 1960s and 1970s, to the detriment of the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The P-I finally declared itself as a failing newspaper and entered into a joint operating agreement with The Seattle Times in 1983. Under this arrangement, the two papers shared printing, advertising, and circulation facilities while keeping their news and editorial functions separate.

Pennington's goal was to make The Seattle Times one of the top 10 or 15 newspapers in the country and the large number of journalism awards that the paper earned in the early 1980s, indicated perhaps that he succeeded.

Community Service

Probably more significant than his work at the newspaper was his wide range of civic activities. He is said to have stated, "I think you owe something to the community in which you earn a living" (The Seattle Times, March 17, 1985).

He served on the boards of PACCAR, Rainier Ban-Corporation, Rainier National Bank, Western International Hotels, Safeco Insurance, Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle Goodwill Industries, the Fifth Avenue Theatre Association, the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Sunday Newspapers, the Rotary Club, the Rainier Club, the Downtown Seattle Development Association, United Good Neighbors, the Seattle-King County Community Chest, the Washington Association of Certified Public Accountants, Junior Achievement, and the University of Washington Graduate School of Business. He also served as president of the Seattle Foundation and vice president of the Virginia Mason Foundation.

He served on the Mayor's Administrative Survey Commission to Review Seattle City Government (Little Hoover Commission) and was named one of the 100 Outstanding Young Men by Time Magazine and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce in 1953. In addition, he lectured classes at the University of Washington School of Communications.

Raising Millions for Children's Hospital

In 1971, he was a member of the Children's Orthopedic Hospital Men's Advisory Committee. The Board of Trustees, consisting entirely of women, approached him for guidance in ways to raise $28 million for a major hospital expansion. Pennington crafted a multilevel campaign to raise the money from corporations, individuals, and foundations. His organized philanthropy became the beginnings of the Children's Hospital Foundation. In 1979, Pennington, feeling that The Seattle Times should do more for the community, resurrected the 1927 Times Christmas Fund for Needy Families.

In 1977, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Jerry Pennington Seattle's First Citizen, citing his service to the community on a large number of corporate and not-for-profit boards of directors.

In March 1985, Pennington turned over the job of president of the Times to Frank A. Blethan while retaining the titles of publisher and chief executive officer.

A Tragic End

Pennington entered into semi-retirement, but less than three weeks later, he drowned in a boating accident near his Whidbey Island home. He was 66 years of age. After his death, Children's Hospital established the W. J. "Jerry" Pennington Award to recognize people and institutions who have had a significant impact on the hospital and its mission.

Sources:
Michael Fancher, "Meet the Man Who is the Quiet Force Behind the Seattle Times Fund," The Seattle Times, November 19, 1995, p. A-2; Frank Wetzel, "The Times Corporate Character," Ibid., April 19, 1987, p. A-15; "Weldon 'Jerry' Pennington," Ibid., March 17, 1985, p. A-18; Don Duncan, "Death of Jerry Pennington Stuns Civic Leaders," Ibid., March 16, 1985, p. A-1.


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