Jim Wrightson, a veteran journalist who covered three decades of California politics as a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for McClatchy Newspapers, died June 11 after a brief illness, his family said. He was 93.
Mr. Wrightson spent 37 years writing about the Central Valley and the state Capitol during a pivotal era in California after World War II. He joined McClatchy in 1955 as a Fresno Bee reporter and was sent to cover the Legislature in Sacramento. In the 1960s, he was dispatched to Southern California to open McClatchy’s Los Angeles bureau and spent five years writing about politics, water policy and major events.
“He also covered presidential politics when those campaigns came to California and followed them in the Central Valley,” said his son Neal. “I remember as a kid going to rallies for John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.”
Mr. Wrightson returned to Sacramento in 1971 and was named an associate editor, writing editorials and op-ed articles for McClatchy Newspapers. In addition, he teamed with reporters on big stories and drew on his experience covering state government to provide historical context for major projects, including a series on questionable land dealings by state workers in the construction of Oroville Dam.
“Jim worked at the Capitol and knew all those guys,” Sacramento Bee reporter Denny Walsh said. “Even if his ideology wasn’t compatible with them, they still liked him. Jim was admired and respected at the Capitol for his integrity.”
Working with reporters reignited Mr. Wrightson’s enthusiasm for his professional roots near the end of his career. With special permission from McClatchy Newspapers President C.K. McClatchy, he returned to reporting and staffed the one-man bureau in Los Angeles until he retired in 1985.
“That’s really what he wanted to do,” his son said. “He always loved that work the most. It was hard for him to sit in an office all day writing think pieces. He was a newsman.”
The only child of a gas company worker and a nurse, James Robert Wrightson was born Feb. 13, 1921, and raised in Baltimore. Following a devout Methodist upbringing, he became a pacifist and registered for the draft as a conscientious objector during World War II.
Assigned to alternative service, he worked on construction projects at Civilian Public Service camps in New York and California. He married Dorothy Davidsohn, a member of the War Resistance League in New York, settled in the Los Angeles area after the war and worked for the National Farm Labor Union.
He began his journalism career at the Altadenan newspaper and worked for the Delano Record, the Taft Midway Driller and the Tulare Advance Register. He moved to Pasadena after retiring and lived in Oakland since 2006.
Widely respected as a Capitol observer, he was was interviewed for an oral history project by the California State Archives. His lengthy career also spanned changes in the newspaper industry.
“He had an Olivetti typewriter that he carried everywhere he went,” his son said, “but when McClatchy went to word processing, he did that, too.”
In addition to his wife of 72 years and his son Neal, Mr. Wrightson is survived by a daughter, Beth, and two grandchildren. A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. June 28 at Lake Park Retirement Community in Oakland.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.