Seattle columnist and longtime journalist Susan Paynter will retire

She's spent 39 years at the Post-Intelligencer. In an e-mail to friends, she recaps her career.
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<i>Seattle Post-Intelligencer</i> columnist Susan Paynter. (<i>P-I</i>)

She's spent 39 years at the Post-Intelligencer. In an e-mail to friends, she recaps her career.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter says she will retire at the end of the month. Here's her e-mail to friends: Aug. 2, 2007 Friends and cohorts, I'm not shy but I am retiring. My final column will appear Aug. 31 – a mere 39 years and 12 days after I strode into the P-I gin joint a brash 22-year-old who recognized this was the scrappy den of journalism for me. I thought I'd stay long enough to twist a few tails. There were dues but I was up for that, having already learned on-the-job at the then Bremerton Sun, to cover "club news," write a column, run a small features department, dummy pages, work in the back shop and shoot, develop and crop my own photos (while whispering discretely to 50th anniversary dads and newly installed grand poobahs of the Cooties Lodge that, ahem, the barn door was open). I had won some awards for the first series on abortion to be published in the state, which attracted the P-I's attention. First, of course, there would more brides (we called them birds) to write up on actual paper with carbons, more club news (and I don't mean nightclubs), openings of "Symphoneve" and even fashion (ack!) to cover – not a comfort zone for someone who confused décolletage with decoupage. But sharing snobby assignments with Phil Webber at the Rainier Club (then with a men-only entrance) helped. We convinced the gloved attendant we could not be separated because my photographer was legally blind. While management's eyes were diverted by "real news," I traded in my little black dress for a police press pass and a shot at the stories nice girls didn't do. A weekend with National Guard members who had mistakenly joined up to escape Vietnam. A six-part series when the state took the national lead on abortion reform (and the Times wouldn't touch the story). A 12-part (!) series on the Equal Rights Amendment. Prison reform at Walla Walla and at Purdy through an all-night, all-felon Christmas Eve pajama party. A harrowing visit to Dachau and to the Berlin Wall the day all any one of us could do was stand and watch a little Turkish ("guest worker") boy drown in the verboten waters between borders. For 16 years I got paid to watch TV. And yes, some actors and anchors are shorter and dumber in person. Then, for the last 16-plus – starting just after turning in a baby on-deadline with the able help of PI editor John Engstrom - I have relished sniffing out subjects for this column. It hasn't always appeared where it belonged but it still (as my early mentor, P-I editor Lettie Gavin would have said) beat the hell out of selling sweat socks at Sears. It's been a paper carpet ride worth the price of admission. People, some famous, some scary, the majority non-marquee – have amazed me with their trust to tell their secrets straight. A pair of former wives in matching floral muumuus who met at church and became the first lesbians to win custody of their kids in court. A governor, his wife resilient as he faced accusations of sexual harassment. A former mayor breaking the news of a painful public divorce. The daughter of a U.S. senator "coming out." A chief of police bravely baring his racist, homophobic rookie past. An artistic elementary school teacher who couldn't draw a straight line between herself and a student. The family of a special needs boy who was murdered by two 12-year-old playmates. I've won a few awards, made a lot of treasured friends and enraged a few enemies. And, for the past several years, I have highlighted some of the above along with other P-I stories on a weekly news wrap-up each Friday on KUOW's (NPR) Weekday program. What's next? Spending the final year of our son's high school career, and his last year at home, meddling as much as possible. Playing with our new puppy. Hopefully being a better friend, partner and citizen. Tending to Grandma. Getting the house in shape for eventual sale. Looking at my watch less often. And, maybe in a year or so, writing something that will last longer than one day. Through all of the above, whenever I have wobbled, I have counted on lavishly generous help from the sharpest, leanest, most collegial news staff in captivity. And each of the incalculable times I have needed a shoulder, a hand, a resource and a quick dip in a deep well of intelligence, you friends and "contacts" have been there on the other end of the phone. You know who you are. I thank you and will miss you. Please stay in touch. Fondly, Susan


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