Long after Rod Cardwell retired as managing editor of The News Tribune, the note cards kept coming.
The cards were his trademark: grace notes of encouragement, praise for a job or a story well done, treasured by those who knew him, worked for him and loved him.
“He was the best journalist I ever worked with,” said Charlie Rice, a longtime reporter, columnist and editor at the paper.
Cardwell, a Gig Harbor resident, died Wednesday at age 86 in University Place after a week in hospice care. He spent 29 years at The News Tribune, starting in 1957. He witnessed and presided over some of the biggest stories in Pierce County and Tacoma history.
When President John F. Kennedy visited Tacoma in 1963, Cardwell chased him down for a quote and got it. When Tacoma Mayor A.L. “Slim” Rasmussen clashed with City Council members in late-night shouting matches, Cardwell was there.
In 1978, as a racketeering scandal led to the downfall of Pierce County Sheriff George Janovich, Cardwell, then managing editor, and his team of reporters broke story after story. When federal investigators targeted Puyallup Tribal Council Chairman Robert Satiacum, Cardwell persuaded his edgy superiors to run tough-minded coverage.
Those were only a few of the big ones — and while Cardwell fought for those stories, those who knew him speak first of his gentle nature and soft-spoken demeanor.
“He was a very good managing editor,” said Jeff Weathersby, a former News Tribune reporter who worked on many of those big stories. “A gentle and thoughtful man who ran a very happy ship.”
“He was just a lovely person,” said Cheryl Tucker, an editorial writer who has worked for The News Tribune since 1978. “He was always very supportive, and nurturing of young journalists.”
The note cards would come in the mornings, dropped off by Cardwell if he noticed an especially good story. His handwriting was terrible, Tucker recalls, but his meaning was plain: nice job.
Marion Woyvodich, who worked for the paper in the 1980s, remembers Cardwell’s “empathy for the underdog,” embodied in a column he wrote in the ’60s and ’70s, called “Faces and Places.” He was never brusque and never lost his cool, she said.
Woyvodich remembers how Cardwell hired her — she had interviewed for a spot at the paper, but there were no vacancies. A little later, a spot opened up. Cardwell remembered Woyvodich and recruited her when she wasn’t expecting it.
“He was good reporter,” she said. “Found my mom, called my mom, tracked me down.”
His long residence in the community was an asset; when a story emerged, he could link it to recent or distant history, placing it in context, giving journalists deeper angles.
“Write local” was his mantra, said Rob Tucker, a longtime reporter and editor.
“This was before studies came out that basically said what he said,” Tucker recalled. “That’s why readers stayed loyal to us.”
Cardwell was born May 15, 1928, in Santa Cruz, California. His family later moved to Ferndale in Whatcom County, where he wrote for his high school paper. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and graduated from Western Washington College (now Western Washington University) in Bellingham with a degree in journalism.
He had three children from his first marriage, and four stepchildren from his second. One of them, Joseph Turner, became a fixture and a hard-nosed political reporter at The News Tribune. Turner died in 2014.
A funeral Mass for Cardwell will begin at 11 a.m. April 25 at St. Nicholas Catholic Church, 3510 Rosedale St., Gig Harbor, with a reception to follow at The Lodge, 7083 Wagner Way NW, Gig Harbor, where he resided at the time of his death.
Remembrances can be made to the Rod Cardwell Endowment for Excellence in Journalism at the University of Washington. Supporters can find an online link at giving.uw.edu/rodcardwell, or by sending a check to the University of Washington, 4333 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Box 359505, Seattle, WA 98195-9505 (Please put Rod Cardwell Endowment in the memo line).