After a career that included award-winning reporting and editing for more than 50 years, Palo Alto Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson announced this week that he will retire from his position in February.
However, readers will probably see more of Thorwaldson's writing in retirement than they have while he has been editor, since he will write a regular online and print column for Palo Alto Online and the Weekly upon leaving the paper.
"We are indebted to Jay for his many achievements during his 10-year tenure at the Weekly and will deeply miss his caring and thoughtful approach to covering the news and his mentorship of the many outstanding journalists that have worked under him," Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson said.
Thorwaldson said he finds it difficult to put into words his mixed feelings about stepping out of the center of community action and news, as well as losing daily contact with his colleagues at the Weekly.
"I will miss the many rewards of working for the Weekly and with the outstanding staff, whom I will miss terribly -- but I hope not to be too far away," he said. As for the Palo Alto/Stanford area, "Nowhere in the world could you find a more interesting community and people than in Palo Alto. It's been a true privilege to be a central part of local history and to have developed so many friends along the way."
Thorwaldson has been a prominent figure in the community for more than four decades, first as a journalist and later as director of public affairs at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation for 18 years -- during which he also regularly wrote freelance newspaper articles on a variety of topics.
At San Jose State University, he served as editor of the Spartan Daily campus newspaper and edited a feature/humor magazine, Lyke. After working briefly at the Los Gatos Times-Saratoga Observer, San Jose Mercury-News and Merced Sun-Star, Thorwaldson began what would turn into a 15-year stint at the Palo Alto Times and then briefly its successor paper, the Peninsula Times Tribune. He covered the Palo Alto city/community beat for more than a decade, reporting on regional transportation and land-use issues; the environment and open space; and many City Council and other meetings. Among his reporting highlights, Thorwaldson helped identify and break up a neo-Nazi terror group that bombed a Palo Alto councilman's home and made a death threat to Roy Kepler of Kepler's Books.
He became an assistant editor and ombudsman at the Times, writing editorials and columns. In February 1970 he drafted an editorial that suggested creating an open-space district to preserve the Skyline Ridge and foothills, an idea that became the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District.
In 1979, Thorwaldson left the Times Tribune to work on a community effort to save and revitalize the Stanford Theater, a project that ultimately contributed to David Packard buying the theater, renovating it and turning it into the beautiful classic movie house it is today. He also spent time working to save Bair Island off Redwood City from a major development by Mobil Land Co. and was involved in a number of community organizations. He served on boards or advisory groups for the Peninsula Conservation Center, the Chamber of Commerce, Adolescent Counseling Service and others.
In 1981, he joined the medical foundation and designed and led many community collaborations, including a groundbreaking public-education program on teen stress and family communications. He also was instrumental in the creation of the foundation's website, one of the first of its kind, in 1994.
When the editorship of the Weekly opened up in 2000, Thorwaldson was an easy pick, Johnson said.
"Jay's knowledge of the community, his solid journalism background and the tremendous respect community leaders had for him made him the perfect fit," Johnson said.
Thorwaldson led the Weekly editorial department through many changes, including a steady evolution to online publishing and becoming a 24/7 source of news for the community. In his 10 years as editor, the Weekly won the coveted General Excellence award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association six times, as well as many other awards.
During his tenure as editor, the Weekly successfully sued the City of Palo Alto twice to obtain documents it believed were public records. The first case forced the city to begin making public all e-mails between the staff and council members, as well as disclose e-mails relating to a dispute between then City Attorney Ariel Calonne and City Councilmember Nancy Lytle. The second case required the city to release documents relating to improprieties in the city utilities department.
Thorwaldson received the 2002 Outstanding Professional Tall Tree Award "for his contributions, continued dedication and commitment to the people of Palo Alto and Santa Clara County."
Thorwaldson is known by his staff as a tireless editor, posting articles on Palo Alto Online at all hours of the night and jumping on breaking news on weekends and weeknights. A stickler on grammar and journalistic writing style, he often engages writers and interns in extensive and detailed editing sessions to sharpen their stories. He considers mentoring younger writers one of his most rewarding responsibilities, an activity he plans on continuing through teaching.
He enjoys hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada and the deserts of Southern California and Nevada.