O.J. Brightwell, a longtime newspaper executive who had a key role in the expansion of The McClatchy Co. as a national newspaper chain, died Dec. 29 of heart failure, his family said. He was 90.
Mr. Brightwell spent almost 40 years in top management jobs at McClatchy. He started at The Fresno Bee in 1949 and became research director at McClatchy Newspapers in Sacramento. As business manager of The Sacramento Bee during a 1978 strike by employees, he joined other company officials to produce and deliver the paper during the walkout.
"He said, 'If you can't pick up a broom, you shouldn't be in charge,' " said his son, Jeffery.
Mr. Brightwell served during the 1970s as assistant to the director of McClatchy's newspaper operations, Erwin Potts. When Potts and company President C.K. McClatchy drew up plans to start buying small papers, they turned for leads to Mr. Brightwell, an affable guy who had built relationships with executives at many West Coast newspapers.
"He knew all the publishers and would go to all their meetings," recalled Potts, who later became the first non-family member to lead The McClatchy Co. "He knew the publisher of the Tri-City Herald in Washington state, and the guy called us up and told us he was looking to sell.
"It was really the first significant acquisition that McClatchy had made since C.K.'s dad founded The Fresno Bee," Potts said. "O.J. was the guy who had the connection."
Mr. Brightwell's duties included negotiating deals for McClatchy's supply of newsprint and ink. He retired in 1987 but continued working as a consultant for the company for five more years.
Born in 1921 in Temple, Texas, he moved to California as a toddler and grew up in Selma.
He attended Reedly Junior College, Bakersfield Junior College and Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and worked at Lockheed Aircraft before World War II.
He served in the Army Air Corps as a B-25 pilot in the Pacific. He returned to Fresno County after the war and managed a bar, Queen of Clubs, in Orange Cove for two years.
He had three children with his wife of 64 years, Dorothy, and was predeceased by a son, Daniel, in 2007. He and his wife settled in 1997 in Las Vegas, where he died at home.
A fun, upbeat man "who was always the first guy at work in the morning," Mr. Brightwell was "very loyal to The Bee," Potts said. He was active in the Sacramento business community and belonged to the Sutter Club.
Meanwhile, he made a point to be home with his family at night and on weekends. He was a devoted husband and father who enjoyed hunting, fishing, sailing and horseback riding with his young children, his son said.
"He was always involved with his kids," Jeffery Brightwell said. "A lot of businessmen from that generation didn't always make time, but he always did."