Ruth Newhall Dead at 93
Former Signal owner-editor remembered for contributions to the community.
By Patti Rasmussen
Signal Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
eople don't pass away in The Signal, they die.
Ruth Newhall accepts an award in January 1997 for lifetime achievement at the SCV Press Club's 'Newsmaker of the Year' awards dinner.
Photo by Dan Watson-The Signal.
So said Ruth Newhall, chastising a Signal reporter who was writing a news story about the death of a prominent local citizen.
Ruth Waldo Newhall, former editor of The Signal newspaper, died Monday at the age of 93 in Berkeley. Newhall became a well-known figure in the Santa Clarita Valley after she and her husband, Scott, bought The Signal in 1963.
Newhall died in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center of apparent heart failure after a brief illness, said her son, Skip. Coincidentally, Newhall died in the same hospital in which she was born, though it had been renamed and relocated since her birth.
Born and raised in Berkeley, Newhall graduated from University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in art and philosophy and served as vice president of the student body. She was a teaching assistant at Cal for two years after graduation.
Newhall married Scott in 1933 and, two years after their marriage, Scott and Ruth bought a sailboat to sail around the world. They made it as far as Manzanillo, Mexico, where a storm damaged their boat. The two rode horseback for three months through the Mexican countryside when Scott was kicked by a horse and his leg became infected. They returned to San Francisco and Scott's leg was amputated.
Ruth Newhall worked at the San Francisco Chronicle first as a secretary for editor Chester Rowell, then Herb Caen. Eventually she worked as a reporter in the editorial writers department and on the city desk. Newhall also taught journalism at UC Berkeley and Mills College in Oakland.
During this stint, Ruth Newhall gave birth to her four children Skip of Valencia, Jon of Oakland and Tony of Valencia; daughter Penny, the youngest, was killed in a 1955 truck accident.
"She was less a businesswoman and more of a career woman," Skip said. "She had a lot of interests. She taught me a lot about the English language and she was known for her good cooking."
"There was no such thing as a bad Ruth Newhall dinner," he added.
After working at the Chronicle for nearly 30 years, Ruth Newhall wrote that Scott grew restless.
"I'm tired of being one of the hired help," he said. "Let's buy a paper of our own."
"We both knew it had to be a small paper, because anything we bought would have to be purchased with borrowed money. We had been sending our three sons through Stanford University and our bank balance was negative," Ruth Newhall wrote in a 1996 edition of the Old Town Newhall Gazette.
During her tenure as editor of The Signal (1970-79 and 1985-88), Newhall created the news briefs section that ran above the masthead called "Our Amazing Planet." A memorable brief in 1977 included the news of the death of Elvis Presley, which Newhall titled, "The Pelvis is Dead."'
The Signal received numerous letters to the editor regarding the brief, including one from a subscriber who said he would love to write her obituary when the time came: "Idiot publisher and owner of Newhall rag is dead."
Newhall was also responsible for the weekly Demon Rum section, which published the names of individuals arrested for driving under the influence.
The who's who of the valley were often mentioned in Newhall's gossip column, "The Gossip by Mimi." Often, Newhall would leave out names. An example includes this 1977 entry "After the glorious victory of the Hart Chieftains at the Battle of the Bands in the Hollywood Bowl Friday, school Supt. Clyde Smyth answered the phone. Said a cranky male voice: ŒSo your kids can read music. Can they ready anything else?' Click."
Clyde Smyth, former Santa Clarita mayor and councilman, was the superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District during the Newhalls' tenure at The Signal.
"Ruth was straightforward, honest and really professional," Smyth said. "I didn't always agree with her, but I always knew where she was coming from."
Smyth met Newhall in the early '70s. The Hart district was trying to pass a bond to expand and renovate schools. It fell on his shoulders to debate the issue with Ruth Newhall in a public forum.
"She didn't think the money would be spent properly and wisely," he said. "We did win (the election) and not long after she came up to me and said she wanted me to know she was wrong. She became a real supporter of the Hart district and what was right in the valley. She was a pro and will be sorely missed, not only professionally but personally."
An involved and dedicated member of several committees, Newhall participated in numerous volunteer activities including the Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Health Foundation, HMNMH Home Tour committee, SCV Boys and Girls Club and the College of the Canyons Foundation.
Newhall was also a founding member and past president of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society in 1975. Newhall wrote a column saying it was unbelievable that the community didn't have an historical society.
Former Councilman Carl Boyer said Newhall was also a supporter of the formation of a new county and hosted a dinner at the Newhalls' home.
In 1968, Ruth and Scott moved from Berkeley to a Victorian mansion in Piru. During restoration, the mansion caught fire and burned to the ground. The Newhalls were able to rebuild the old Victorian in time to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Nov. 20, 1983.
The home was used for fund-raisers for many local organizations until the 1994 earthquake, which did some major damage to the structure. It was rebuilt again and has become something of a Ventura County landmark.
Ruth Newhall was the author of several non-fiction books, including a pair chronicling the history of The Newhall Land and Farming Co. She also wrote a history of the Folger Coffee Co., and one on the Spreckels Sugar Co.
The Newhalls sold The Signal to Charles Morris in 1978 and left in 1988 to begin the Santa Clarita Valley Citizen newspaper.
Morris, whose Georgia-based Morris Multimedia still owns The Signal, said Newhall was a talented individual and a gracious hostess.
"Ruth was an incredibly talented person. I enjoyed her intellect and working with her. She was a very talented journalist ... and a gifted writer."
Morris said she was fun to be around and said that, though he knew her in the later years of her life, she had a "somewhat ageless demeanor."
Although she was known for her wit and no-nonsense demeanor, those close to Newhall also remember a sweet side.
Signal columnist John Boston began working with Newhall in 1971 as a stringer and assistant sports editor. As he came and went from the newspaper, Boston said he always remained her friend.
"Underneath the relentless vigilance there was a mile-wide streak of sweetness that few ever saw," Boston said. "When I heard (about her death), I was awash in that wonderful feeling of looking across the room year after year and seeing that twinkle of delight and wickedness in her eyes."
Added Boston: "She is someone I would always follow into battle."
Scott Newhall preceded his wife in death in 1992. Ruth is survived by her three sons and several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Memorial services are pending.
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