Newt Wallace, who bought the Winters Express newspaper in 1947, met with President John F. Kennedy in the White House and worked at the Express for more than 70 years, died on Easter at age 98.
Wallace called himself the “world's oldest paperboy” as he continued to deliver papers well into his 90s. Ripley’s Believe It or Not recognized his claim three years ago, and the New York Times covered the nonagenarian newsboy.
“He was known to like Olympia beer and cheap Scotch, which he claimed led to his long life,” his son Charley Wallace wrote in this week’s Express, which largely paid homage to Newt. Cigars, fried okra and fatty steaks were among his father's other favorites, he said.
Charley Wallace succeeded his father as Express publisher in 1983. Newt Wallace remained the paper’s “publisher emeritus” and worked full-time until officially retiring in 2015, but he never really stopped. Months shy of his 99th birthday, Wallace still arrived at the office for a few hours daily to organize advertising inserts and put together the paper’s history page.
“He came to work every day for over 70 years. He didn’t take time off," Charley Wallace said. “About a month ago he said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m not coming back.’ He went out his way.”
Newt was making jokes until the end, his son said. He died in his home with family members present on April 1.
“He led a good life,” Charley Wallace said.
Newton Wallace was born June 7, 1919, his father a Presbyterian minister. He went to high school in Muskogee, Okla., and graduated from Iowa State University.
A bad heart kept him out of the military during World War II, but he helped build a highway to Alaska, worked at a Long Beach shipyard and later took a job as a reporter at one of the city’s daily papers.
In his late 20s, he decided he really wanted to own a weekly. Asking around, he learned the paper in Winters was for sale.
“I had no idea where Winters was,” Wallace said in an interview with the The Sacramento Bee in 2008. “We had to look on a map for a while until we found it.”
He arrived in Davis by train, missed the bus to Winters and walked the last 10 miles, his son said.
Once he saw Winters, a little farm town nestled against the Vaca Mountains, he fell in love. It reminded him of small towns in Iowa.
Wallace plunked down $8,500 for the paper, which began publishing in 1884 and had 700 subscribers in the late 1940s.
At that time, Winters was a center of apricot production. For decades, the town had three car dealerships and a department store on Main Street.
Like many small-town publishers, Wallace reported stories, sold ads, poured molten lead for type and delivered the paper himself. His wife and children worked beside him “from the time we were 5 years old,” Newt’s son Polk Wallace said in 2015.
On printing days, Wednesdays, they’d often work long into the night. At the end of a workweek, Wallace would shoot pool with his sons and smoke a cigar before starting the news cycle all over again.
He played a role, from editor to paperboy, in putting out about 3,500 weekly papers over seven decades in Winters.
“I think the printed word is one of God’s gifts to free men,” Newt Wallace told a film crew in 1967.
He worked at a roll-top desk and wrote on a 1930s-era Underwood typewriter. He never took to computers.
When asked about his experiences in journalism, Wallace invariably mentioned one very long day in August 1953, when officials broke ground on the Monticello Dam, which created Lake Berryessa in the hills above Winters.
Wallace said his back was killing him from a herniated disk, but he covered the groundbreaking, one of the biggest events in Winters’ history.
He rushed his photographic negatives to Woodland, a 20-mile drive northeast, to be processed on deadline. Once there, he was told that a wood mill in Winters was on fire. He sped home to cover it and drove back to Woodland with the film.
By then it was 4 a.m., but Wallace was able to get back to Winters to print the paper and hand-carry that week’s issues to the post office by 9 a.m.
In the summer of 1962, Wallace and 24 other editors and publishers from California went to the White House to have lunch with President John F. Kennedy. Wallace was vice president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association and had been invited by White House press secretary Pierre Salinger to represent the state’s weekly papers.
On that day, he said, Kennedy spoke about some of the troubles facing the nation. Wallace commiserated.
“I’m glad you have this job instead of me,” he told the president, according to a news report. Without missing a beat Kennedy said, “This is the first I knew you were a candidate,” Wallace recalled with a chuckle.
Five years later, a film crew with the U.S. Information Agency came to Winters. It was making movies to be translated and shipped around the world to show people what life was like in America. It chose Newt Wallace and the Winters Express for a documentary about small-town weeklies.
In the film, Wallace talked about covering local news. A woman hits her husband on the head with a cast iron skillet, he said, or a rattlesnake is spotted at one of the town’s main intersections.
“All of these things are my business,” he told the filmmakers. “I reckon you could say that I put flesh on the facts.”
Winters City Manager John Donlevy said the Wallace family has “told the story of Winters” for the last 70 years. “They’ve been the glue of the community,” he said.
Wallace was president of the California Newspaper Publishers Association in 1964.
Tom Newton, executive director of CNPA, said Wallace and others publishers of his generation “really viewed themselves personally as a utility.” They provided an essential service to their towns, like water or electricity, while also being principal citizens, he said.
In 2015, Wallace said he had kept being a newspaperman into his 90s because he liked it.
“I had nothing else to do,” he said. “I don’t play golf. Besides, I enjoyed my work.”
Wallace's wife, Ida Wallace, died in 2011. He is survived by five children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Services are being planned.