Roscoe Conkling Torrance, known as Torchy, was a Seattle printer and civic booster. Among his numerous civic causes, he was best known as an unflagging sports fan, a tireless booster of the University of Washington football team: the Number One Husky. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Torchy Torrance First Citizen of 1989.
Roscoe Conkling Torrance was born on September 2, 1899, in the small Whitman County railroad town of Diamond. His parents, William Grant and Margaret Alma Kirby Torrance, named him, their fourth child, after a nineteenth-century politician his father greatly admired. When Roscoe was nearly 3 years old, his mother died in childbirth (the infant also died).
William Torrance struggled to raise Roscoe and his siblings, hiring a housekeeper, who treated the toddler cruelly. After a few years, William moved the family to Spokane. Young Roscoe attended Longfellow School, delivering groceries and selling the Spokesman-Review to help the family budget.
He proudly spent his spare moments volunteering as batboy for the Spokane Indians baseball team. At age 12 he moved with his father to American Falls, Idaho. William farmed wheat and alfalfa. There, Roscoe joined the baseball team at American Falls High School, also playing on the town team. In 1916 he moved back to Spokane to finish high school. He made the football team, captained the baseball team, and was voted Yell King, among many other extracurricular activities.
Redheaded Roscoe Torrance acquired the nickname Torchy while leading cheers during a pep assembly at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane. It was a name that would stick with Torrance all his life, as would his predilection for cheering on his chosen teams.
University of Washington
In 1918 Torrance entered the University of Washington. He pledged Sigma Alpha Epsilon, his older brother Kirby’s fraternity. Torchy’s early college experiences were dominated by World War I, which was raging in Europe. When America entered the war on April 16, 1917, many University of Washington students took leaves of absence to join the military. On October 1, 1918, the Student Army Training Corps was established on campuses across the country, the University of Washington among them. Torrance quickly volunteered. He was scheduled to leave for Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when armistice was declared.
While in college, Torrance worked as athletic property manager, a muddy, messy, difficult job that nevertheless kept him closely involved with the athletic department. He joined the baseball team his freshman year, touring Japan with his teammates in 1921. As president of the Associated Students of the University of Washington, he helped raise the funds to build the new sports stadium in 1920. The University of Washington teams were called the Sun Dodgers until 1921, when they became the Huskies.
Upon his graduation in 1923 Torrance happily accepted the position of freshman baseball coach and assistant graduate manager for University of Washington athletics. In 1926, he served as assistant graduate manager when the Huskies played Alabama in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
On March 15, 1924, Torrance married Ruth Doris Inkster. The couple had met at a high school dance in Spokane. They had three children, Shirley, John, and William. Sports were integral to Torrance family life. Shirley Torrance attended her first "away" game (Huskies vs. Alabama in the 1926 Rose Bowl) at age 4 months. The family car was upholstered in Husky colors.
Shortly after his wedding, Torchy Torrance took a job selling billboard space for Foster & Kleiser Company, an outdoor advertising company. On weekends he earned extra money playing for numerous small town baseball teams throughout Puget Sound.
Business and Community Life
In 1931, Torrance and William H. Seifert bought the Western Printing Company. By 1938 they also owned the Wood and Reber Advertising Agency. The firm later merged with Metropolitan Press. Torrance served as president. Later still Craftsman Press purchased Metropolitan Press and Torrance became vice-president.
Torrance was a member of the Washington Athletic Club Board of Directors. In 1933, with a few other board members, he conceived the 101 Club, the Club’s exclusive club-within-a-club. The 21st floor of the Washington Athletic Club’s building at 1325 6th Avenue in Seattle was renovated to house the 101 Club. Torrance remembered, "The 101 Club went on to become one of the finest organizations in the city, supporting athletics and civic promotions of all kinds" (Torrance, p. 175). Olympic swimmer Helene Madison (1913-1970) was one of Torrance’s protégés who was assisted by the 101 Club. In 1933 Torrance helped Joseph Gottstein (1891-1971) launch Longacres racetrack in Renton. Torrance handled ticket sales, advertising, parking, and held the printing concession.
In 1937 Rainier Brewery owner Emil Sick bought Seattle's professional baseball team, the Seattle Indians. The team was renamed the Seattle Rainiers and Sick made Torrance executive vice president. Torrance acquired land on Rainier Avenue between McClellan and Bayview streets and oversaw the construction of Sicks' Stadium. Signing new players was also Torrance’s responsibility. Torrance received $250 a month for his work for the Rainiers, and Western Printing handled the stadium’s lucrative program-printing business.
From 1926 to 1936 Torrance served in the Marine Corps Reserve, volunteering for active Marine Corps duty in 1942 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was returning to Seattle from baseball meetings in Florida when he heard news of the attack. Despite his age (he was 42), blindness in his left eye, and the fact that he had three children, he volunteered for active duty. He served in the South Pacific as part of the 3rd Marine Division, earning a Bronze Star with Combat "V." After the war he returned to his printing business and his position with the Rainiers. He also became more deeply involved in fundraising and recruitment for the University of Washington football team.
Torrance was one of the founders and original board members of Greater Seattle, Inc., producers of the annual Seafair celebration. From November 10, 1952, to December 15, 1955, he served as president. In 1968 Torrance was chosen to be Seafair’s King Neptune XIX. Actress Joan Crawford, then vice-chairman of the board of Pepsi-Cola, crowned his Queen, Karen Ann Brown of Kent.
Torrance served as the Washington state chairman for the March of Dimes campaign for polio research for more than 20 years, beginning in 1936. During his years leading the Washington March of Dimes campaign, the state ranked among the leaders of contributors nationally. As if in tragic emphasis of the need for such research, in 1952 Torrance’s daughter Shirley developed polio. By then the mother of two young children, Shirley Torrance Lincoln underwent treatment at the Infantile Paralysis Center in Warm Springs, Georgia. She returned to Seattle after several years.
In the mid-1950s the University of Washington athletic department became embroiled in a controversy over a so-called "slush fund" administered by Torrance. Torrance raised money for athletes through the Greater Washington Advertising Association and was actively involved in athlete recruitment. At the time, recruitment by boosters was legal. Although the Pacific Coast Conference limited the financial aid players could receive to $40 per month, the Greater Washington Advertising Association routinely provided players with more funds. Many members of the Association also hired players to do part-time work, among them Torrance in his printing plant. Torrance felt strongly that the stipulated $40 was not enough for players to get by on. Torrance recalled in his autobiography:
"I organized a group -- mostly of downtown businessmen -- with the goal of putting Washington back on the athletic map as well as the academic one ... There was nothing devious about our organization. The leading citizens in our community participated in it, and it was of general knowledge to the newspapers because Charles B. Lindeman of the Post-Intelligencer and Bill, Jack, and Frank Blevins of the Times all contributed to it. We had nothing to do with the actions of the coaches. We never told them who to play, when to play or what athletes to go after. Our purpose was to support the program and the kids. There were 75 or more individuals involved at one time or another. Some gave money, some provided jobs or both” (Torrance, p. 150).
This situation exploded in January 1956 when Husky coach John Cherberg (who later that year became Lt. Governor of Washington) was fired following a series of player complaints about his coaching style. Cherberg charged Torrance and other boosters with turning the players against him and publicly revealed the slush fund. Athletic director Harvey Cassill resigned, the slush fund was dissolved, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association placed the University of Washington on athletic probation. This meant that no UW team was allowed to participate in any NCAA championship in any sport. At this, Torrance distanced himself from further direct involvement with the University of Washington athletics department.
In 1962 Ruth and Torchy Torrance co-chaired Seattle Mayor Gordon S. Clinton’s hospitality committee for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition. Among the many dignitaries they wined and dined were Jonas Salk and President John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby.
Ruth Torrance died on November 20, 1971. Like her husband, Ruth Torrance had been a leader for the March of Dimes and the Salvation Army. The Torrances were married for 47 years.
During the 1970s Torrance's longstanding dedication to the Seattle community began to be recognized with honors and awards. In 1972 the University of Washington gave Torrance its Distinguished Alumni Special Service Award. In 1974 Torrance received the Charles E. Sullivan Award from the Puget Sound Sportswriters and Sportscasters. The award honors devotion to amateur athletics.
In 1980 Torrance was inducted into the UW Hall of Fame and into the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame. The Seattle Times later quoted University of Washington football coach Don James (1932-2013) as saying, "In all my experience with several universities I never met anybody like him. I never met a guy anywhere who was so 'for' a university" (November 24, 1990). Another Husky football coach called Torrance "an absolutely unbelievable encyclopedia of Husky tradition" (The Seattle Times, November 24, 1990).
On August 2, 1976, Torrance married widow and fellow Washington Towers resident Madge True, a Spokane native who was an active member of the Associate Women of the Washington Athletic Club. Although True was a graduate of Washington State University, after she married Torrance she caught her husband’s Husky Fever. The Seattle Times, noting that if Torchy Torrance were cut "he’d bleed purple and gold," quoted Madge Torrance as explaining that "'married to Torchy, you HAVE to be a Husky'" (December 15, 1977).
Torrance served as the chairman of the board of the Western Pacific Insurance Company. He was a member of the National Association of Manufacturers and the Association of Washington Industries. A director of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Torrance also served on the boards of the Salvation Army, who gave him their coveted Others Award, and the Boys Clubs of America. He was a member of the Rainier Club, the Seattle Rotary, Harbor Club, the Seattle Golf Club, and the Nile Temple. Torrance was also a post commander of the American Legion, from whom he received the Award of Merit. He had become involved with the Amateur Athletic Union while still a student at the University of Washington, and continued to help that organization all his life. In 1972 Torrance received the Pop Warner award for service to youth.
On July 6, 1988 Governor Booth Gardner and Seattle Mayor Charles Royer proclaimed R. C. "Torchy" Torrance Day in the state and city. The Washington Athletic Club renamed its casual dining room Torchy’s in his honor.
On September 13, 1989, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors honored Roscoe C. Torrance with its annual First Citizen Award. The First Citizen Award honors outstanding personal contribution to the Seattle community. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted, "Long associated with the University of Washington, Torrance has been one of the school’s most prominent and influential boosters and patrons. He recently published his memoirs in a book called Torchy, with all the proceeds going to the UW baseball program" (September 9, 1989). After Reverend Dr. Dale Turner, All-American football star Hugh McElhenny (whom Torrance had recruited to play for the Huskies in 1949), County Executive Tim Hill, City Councilman George Benson, and other notable Seattleites sang his praises at the banquet at the Sheraton Hotel the "dapper, gray-haired Torrance" responded modestly: "All this recognition and these kind words have been overwhelming ... Somebody must be nuts” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 14, 1989).
Torchy Torrance died on November 24, 1990, of congestive heart failure. He was 91 years old. Huskies football coach Don James told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I’ve been at seven universities but I’ve never met anyone like the No. 1 Husky. He never asked for anything. He only wanted to know what he could do to help. He’d call every week during the season, but the call would only last 15 or 20 seconds ... I’ll never forget him" (November 30, 1990). Husky athletic director Mike Lude told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Torrance was "a Husky tradition" (November 30, 1990).
In April 2001 Roscoe C. Torrance was among 58 fans, former players, and former and current coaches selected to be part of the University of Washington’s Baseball All-Century Team. Torrance’s tenure as a member of the University of Washington baseball team was 1918-1923. His tenure as a Husky fan continued for the rest of his life.