William Honeysett may have been soft-spoken, but his actions spoke volumes.
He made groundbreaking changes at The News Tribune during his tenure as publisher, was a key player in several community building projects in the 1990s, and was lauded for his civic involvement.
Honeysett, 77, died Sunday of natural causes after suffering from Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
“He was an ‘I want to be like him when I grow up’ kind of guy,” his 21-year-old granddaughter, Lauren Schilter, said.
Honeysett started life as a farm boy in Wenatchee and went on to spend his career in newspapers. He worked as a publisher for the San Bernardino Sun in California, then came to Tacoma and was president of Tribune Publishing Co. from 1983 to 1986, when it was bought by McClatchy Corp.
He was publisher of The News Tribune until 1991, when he was named vice president of operations for McClatchy.
Several major changes happened at the paper under Honeysett’s management. The News Tribune switched from an afternoon to a morning paper, “Tacoma” was dropped from its masthead, regional editions and bureaus in Federal Way and Seattle were added, and circulation spiked as more color photographs and graphics were introduced.
Karen Vialle, school board vice president for Tacoma Public Schools, served on the City Council and was mayor at the time Honeysett was publisher.
She recalled how instrumental he was in helping to bring together community members to set priorities for city government. Honeysett later had the newspaper take polls to figure out which issues, like beefing up economic development and creating neighborhood councils, were most important to people.
He pushed to get rid of the aroma of Tacoma and founded two American Leadership Forum chapters in Tacoma and Sacramento, California, associates said.
“He was very visionary in what he wanted to see Tacoma be,” Vialle said. “He saw the potential in what this city really could be.”
He also was a member of the Tacoma Community College Foundation and an Arts in the 21st Century commissioner.
Loved ones described Honeysett as brilliant, humble, hard-working and generous.
His daughter, Michelle Schilter, said she never ate in a restaurant with her dad where he didn’t anonymously pick up the tab for military personnel.
“He was a true person, a genuine person,” said his son, Rich. “If he asked how you were doing, he really wanted to know. And if you weren’t doing well, he wanted to know what he could do to fix it.”
Honeysett loved baseball — his wife, Norma, was part owner of the Tacoma Tigers — and ventured to take his grandson, Alex, to all 30 major league ballparks in the country.
The duo made it to nearly 20 before Honeysett became too sick to travel.
Even in her grandfather’s final months, Lauren Schilter said he insisted somebody bring him the newspaper every day. He also refused to give up his daily crossword puzzle.
Survivors include his wife, two children and three grandchildren.
No arrangements have been made for a memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the William & Norma Honeysett Endowed Scholarship at Tacoma Community College.