FBN honors Ray Newton for his commitment to truth, education and reporting America’s stories.
FBN honors Ray Newton for his commitment to truth, education and reporting America’s stories.
Ray Newton, a savvy street kid in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1940s, developed his knack for knowing where news was about to break. At age 12, he determined that place was Seals Stadium, where Joe DiMaggio’s younger brothers carried on the family’s baseball legacy, pitcher Larry Jansen won 30 games and local favorite Lefty O’Doul was not only a good pitcher and a great hitter, but the team’s manager for 17 seasons.
“I got to know all those guys. I was covering spring baseball in the Bay Area and writing for my junior high school newspaper,” he said.
Reporting America’s Stories
Following his love for words, Newton graduated with a degree in English from Kansas State University Fort Hays and then worked as a reporter for Rush County News in La Crosse, Kansas. He followed up with a master’s degree in communication and journalism from South Dakota State in 1961. As a budding journalist, he was working as a special news correspondent for the Santa Fe New Mexican when one of the biggest stories in American history sent shockwaves across the country.
Newton was standing next to his hard-driving boss, Tony Hillerman [best-selling author of mystery novels featuring Navajo Nation Police officers], when the Associated Press filed an infamous news bulletin on Nov. 22, 1963: “President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas.”
“‘Do you realize who that makes the next president?’ Tony said to me, noting the tension between President Kennedy and then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson.”
The next year, Newton was covering President Johnson when the U.S. and Mexico resolved a historic border dispute. The Rio Grande River had long marked the border between the two nations; however, it jumped its banks during a massive flood 100 years earlier, which caused it to take a different course further south. As a result, Texas acquired a square mile of land known as the Chamizal. On Sept. 25, 1964, Presidents Johnson and Adolfo López Mateos of Mexico met there, shook hands and ceremoniously signed the Chamizal Convention Act, which identified the land as belonging to Mexico. The two nations then shared the cost of forcing the river back to its original channel.
“That was a heck of a big deal,” said Newton, who was at the site, covering the story for the Santa Fe New Mexican, the oldest newspaper company in the West. “It was a major world news story, and it was celebratory watching LBJ formally proclaim the settlement.”
Newton has not only documented history in the making but has devoted decades to capturing moments of joy and sadness, shock and triumph in the American story. Through many pairs of shoes and reams of paper, his work has kept us informed and connected, including as a writer and photographer covering his beloved Flagstaff and Prescott for Flagstaff Business News and Quad Cities Business News.
At age 87, Newton continued to drop into that newsman stance when speaking to someone, leaning in with focused, inquisitive brown eyes, searching for facts and hanging on every word to get the information right. Because, to him, that matters. The relationship, the facts, the truth.
“I had a couple of jobs where they [editors] tried to alter my story. We ought to be objective tellers of fact, as best we can report it – giving accurate, honest information and hoping we give readers enough that they can make wise decisions. I’ve had some editors who want to twist it. I quit a job because of that. I will not do that.”
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Newton worked on special assignments for AP and as a news reporter/photographer for the CBS affiliate in Albuquerque, KGGM-TV.
Training Generations of Journalists
Newton’s unwavering code of truth and integrity has been his calling card, principles he has instilled in generations of journalism students at Northern Arizona University.
Newton joined NAU in 1973, as an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism. By 1985, he was a full professor and the dean of the College of Creative and Communication Arts.
“I was so pleased to be a part of that team in Creative Arts and seeing that journalism program grow. At one time, that was the biggest journalism program in Arizona, and we were selecting good students. We had excellent faculty and gave them opportunities to do what they could do best. I trusted that and loved what we did.”
Under Newton’s leadership, the college established a chapter for the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists. It also began the practice of bringing student interns into working newsrooms.
“That made the program so visible, but also gave students the opportunity to find out in advance what the real world is like, not what a textbook tells you. To have Bill Close [legendary Arizona anchorman known for his high standards] say to you, ‘My God, you’re making some of the best students.’ That made us so pleased with what we were doing.”
During this time, Newton served on boards of many professional journalism and broadcasting associations and consulted for newspapers, government agencies and educational organizations. He wrote for Reader’s Digest and became the publication’s director of writers’ workshops across the West and on cruise ships. As such, he assembled editors from top national publications such as Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Field and Stream and others, to offer writers insight as to what they look for in stories. “Writers streamed in from all over the region,” he said.
Newton worked as an associate to NAU President Gene Hughes for six years and calls him his “best boss ever.”
“A good boss is not afraid to try new things. A good boss trusts people to make things happen. A good boss will tell you straight out when something you write is pretty bad. You have to appreciate that!”
President Hughes sent Newton to Oahu, Hawaii, to study the Polynesian Cultural Center there. His vision, says Newton, was to create a Native American Cultural Center, which NAU has today.
In 1994, Newton became the director of research for the NAU School of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Throughout his career, he has been recognized with dozens of honors, awards and recognitions including “Outstanding Educators of America” and “Who’s Who Among Authors and Journalists.” Recently, he received the Prescott chapter Phi Kappa Phi honor society emeritus member award from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he serves on the Board of Visitors. In addition, FBN and QCBN are honoring Ray Newton and his commitment to teaching, advocacy for education and dedication to the truth with the Best of Business Ray Newton Excellence in Education Award.
“Ray is not only a critical part of the team and so well-respected and known throughout Northern Arizona, he is a stellar example of what it means to be a person of integrity in all he does. He has impacted thousands of lives and we feel so blessed to work with Ray and to have his journalistic talent grace our publications. But, more importantly, to have his friendship through the years,” said FBN and QCBN Founder Troy Bix. “Ray’s energy and dogged determination are unmatched. When he shows up, there is no denying the excitement he brings to a room or event.”
People Matter Most
What makes Newton most proud, he says, are the many students he has taught, mentored, cheered on through their careers and known as lifelong friends. What matters to him most are people.
“Like so many of my professors at NAU, I looked up to Ray and was thrilled when I learned that he was following my career after graduation and when he shared his pride and ongoing support,” said NAU Associate Vice President for Communications Kimberly Ott. “My admiration for Ray continued to grow when I realized that he is also a tremendous leader. I watched him work with the Flagstaff City Council and city staff to enhance the hospitality industry for NAU and Flagstaff. He continues to support the university he loves and show his ongoing selfless devotion to all the students he mentors.”
“Ray Newton inspired me in several ways: first, as a young university student, and then later during his encore career,” said NAU Teaching Professor of Management Theresa Bierer. “After retirement from academia, Ray continued to embrace all that life has to offer, with an energy and spirit that touches many of us.”
“I met Ray after he ‘retired,’ which meant that he was just as engaged in the community and seemingly 10 times as busy as he was before he retired! Yet, he always found a way to make time for people and listen to them intently,” said GoalBusters Consulting Partner Alice Ferris. “You felt like you were the only person in the room when you spoke with Ray. He was incredibly encouraging of me, and I will always remember that.”
Newton lists Dr. Gene Hughes as one of the five most influential people in his life. “He was a great example of solid, honest leadership.”
Ralph Carlisle “Smitty” Smith also makes the list. He was the Newtons’ neighbor in New Mexico, an MIT-educated nuclear engineer who worked alongside J. Robert Oppenheimer, the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory who was responsible for the research and design of the atomic bomb. “I’ll never forget Smitty telling us about the morning they set off the big bomb called “Trinity,” in the New Mexican desert near Socorro [5 a.m., July 16, 1945]. The sun was coming up and everything brightened beyond belief.”
Newton calls his adoptive father, Lou Newton, his hero and credits Lou and Evelyn, his stepmother, for getting him off the streets as a young teenager and being “very” forgiving. “They gave me an opportunity to make something of my life and I took advantage of it. They sent me to high school in La Crosse, Kansas, where I lettered in football, basketball and track.” Newton later coached high school students in those sports.
He also puts his family on the list. “They are so important to me: three children, Lynn, Sheri and Bill [Bill is deceased], four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They are so supportive, just nice, good people. I am just amazed at how close we are and how much we love and depend on each other.”
And above all, Patty, his wife of 66 years. “We’ve done so much traveling. We’ve enjoyed so much. We have had so many wonderful opportunities. Early on we didn’t have money. I worked in a donut shop and Patty was a dishwasher and accompanist making 60 cents an hour. Her patience and her pure sense of humanity are so admirable.”
With these words, Ray and Patty smile at each other with the kind of knowing that comes from deep love, appreciation and peace earned across nearly 70 years. As the two enjoy Culver’s cheeseburgers and fries in the quiet of this sunny Prescott afternoon, Ray accepts that he will not be wearing out any more soles chasing down stories. However, the legacy of this quintessential newsman will be carried on in other news fields of dreams by those he taught and those who strive to fill those well-respected and well-worn shoes. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
Earlier this year, Ray was diagnosed with inoperable bone cancer. Ray died at his home Monday night, April 10. He was 87 years old. Cards and letters can be sent to Patty Newton, 941 Lupine Lane, Prescott, AZ 86305.
Emmy-award winning journalist and editor Bonnie Stevens credits Ray Newton and his Magazine Writing class for helping her land her first job out of NAU as a writer for news anchors Bill Close and Mary Jo West at the CBS affiliate KOOL-TV in Phoenix.