It’s been more than two decades since Wallie Funk retired after many years as co-publisher of the Whidbey News-Times, but his legacy thrives, not only through this community newspaper, but through his art donation this past weekend to the City of Oak Harbor.
Anyone who knows Wallie recognizes his distinctive booming voice instantly — if it doesn’t shake the rafters, it certainly should.
Wallie’s donation of a sculpture to the city was announced at the opening night of the Oak Harbor Music Festival.
In addition to several decades worth of newspapers and photographs chronicling the community during a different time in history, the sculpture is just one more of Wallie’s many generous and meaningful contributions to this community.
Some of those gifts may be less tangible than a sculpture, but all are nonetheless invaluable.
For those who don’t know Wallie, he was co-owner of the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record for more than 30 years with co-publisher John Webber.
I had the good fortune of meeting Wallie while working on my high school newspaper, and the even better fortune of having him as a mentor and role model, a relationship that remains intact to this day.
Over the years, Wallie was one of the most highly regarded leaders in Oak Harbor. When he took you to lunch in town, it took half an hour to get to the table because he had hands to shake, backs to pat and stories to share.
If he realized how important he was, it wasn’t something he lorded over anyone. I suspect that, even to this day, he would laugh robustly at the very notion he did anything but what a newspaper publisher was supposed to be doing.
Longtime readers of the News-Times may remember Wallie’s weekly column, “Whidbey Wrap Up.” It was a mixture of local items of note, politics and humorous observances.
Along with the lighter items in his column, there were fascinating glimpses into Wallie’s world.
In October 1980, for example, Wallie wrote in his column that then-state Attorney General Slade Gorton dropped in, “tieless and shirtsleeves,” seeking support in his bid to unseat veteran Sen. Warren Magnuson.
Many local, state and federal politicians, as well as countless other community leaders, took a seat in Wallie’s wood-paneled office over the years, probably distracted as I once was by the countless photos, awards and mounted cross-section of a tail hook that hung on the wall behind his desk.
And, like me, they were probably seeking his approval.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it was critical to win Wallie’s support if a politician hoped to have any chance of winning the votes of Whidbey residents, especially on the north end of the island.
To this day, I have no idea about Wallie’s personal politics. I don’t know whether he is Republican or Democrat.
It never mattered. Any conversations we had about politics always centered around a candidate’s character and ethics, and whether they were truly the best choice to represent the people of Whidbey Island.
For me, Wallie’s ability to remain above the fray, focus on what’s best for the community and take the path that he believed to be right is a valuable lesson for all community newspaper publishers.
• Keven R. Graves is editor and publisher of the Whidbey News-Times. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org