Joe Carroll went from San Francisco to become a big player in small- town Auburn.

Obituary: Old-school newsman Joe Carroll ruffled feathers in Placer County

Published: Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 4B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2013 - 8:09 am

Joe Carroll, a veteran Auburn newsman and columnist who wrote stories and ruffled feathers in Placer County for many years, died June 14 of lung cancer, his family said. He was 81.

Mr. Carroll, an old-school reporter with an irrepressible sense of humor, was a noted newspaperman, political aide and raconteur for six decades. Starting in 1953 at the San Francisco Examiner, his career took him from cub reporter in a big city to big player in a small town.

He joined the Auburn Journal in 1963, reporting local issues and rubbing shoulders at popular watering holes with politicians, business leaders and other newsmakers. He covered the community like a cop, meeting sources and finding news where it happened.

"He covered all of downtown Auburn on foot," said Jon Engellener, a former Bee reporter in Placer County. "He didn't drive. He went in and out of stores, cafes, bars and banks. He asked people how their kids were doing in the service or in college or wherever. Everybody knew him."

Mr. Carroll's insight into personalities and politics was reflected in his "Auburn Oracle" column in the Journal. With a lighthearted approach and razor wit, he celebrated local people and poked fun at movers and shakers. His pointed observations and breezy writing style – including brief items and boldfaced names – earned him devoted readers and renown as the "Herb Caen of Placer County."

"He was a wordsmith who wrote a column that either made you very happy or very upset," former Auburn Mayor Hank Gonzales said. "But he always told the truth. Everybody read his column."

Mr. Carroll left the Journal in 1976 and worked as a speechwriter and Capitol aide for Republican state Sen. Ray Johnson and Democratic Assembly Speaker Norm Waters. After 14 years, he returned to his first calling at the Auburn Sentinel newspaper, where he wrote the "Auburn Auger" column about government and politics.

"He was like Caen on a small scale," retired state appellate judge Bill Newsom said. "In Auburn, he defined the community by writing about the people and what kind of town they lived in, just like Caen did in a larger community."

The son of a railroad executive, Joseph Francis Xavier Carroll was born Jan. 7, 1932, in New York and moved with his family to San Francisco in 1935. He was sports editor of the student newspaper at St. Ignatius High School and graduated in 1949.

He joined the Examiner the day after he received his English degree from University of San Francisco in 1953. He covered the crime beat and worked on the copy desk before helping Dick Nolan start "The City" column in 1958.

He had two marriages, to Ann Carroll and Carolyn Carroll, that ended in divorce. A former smoker, he retired from the Sentinel in 2009 after a heart attack and had several strokes before he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

"He went right down to the end without flinching and with a firm belief that he was on his way to heaven," said Denny Walsh, a friend and Bee reporter. "When the possibility arose that there may be no heaven, he would say, 'There better be. Otherwise, I've wasted a lot of clean living.' "

Mr. Carroll was predeceased by a son, Patrick. He is survived by four children, Joe of Sacramento, Jim of Crockett, Melissa McClary of Rocklin, and Connie Drago of Roseville; and four grandchildren.

A viewing is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, and a vigil at 7 p.m. Thursday, at Chapel of the Hills, 1331 Lincoln Way, Auburn. A funeral Mass is set for noon Friday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, 11600 Atwood Road, Auburn.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Placer SPCA at www.placerspca.org.

Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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