Nancy L. McGuire, editor and publisher, dead at 72
“My memories of Nancy are the things of the heart; that was the world she lived in. Temper that with an iron but pragmatic will, a keen interest in the natural world, a respect for others, and then you’ve got something.” — Bob McGuire, brother
Nancy McGuire, AKA in these parts as “Nancy Nugget”, came into the world on Dec. 15, 1943, a blessing to Frederick Bernard McGuire and Elizabeth Melverna Giesy McGuire.
She died in the early morning hours on Thursday, Nov. 17 at the local hospital, surrounded by friends, after a long, determined and vigorous fight against cancer.
Her only sibling, Robert E. McGuire, survives her, as well as her sister-in-law Josefina McGuire and her two nieces Christina Maria McGuire and Laura Lynn Starkand. She also leaves her beloved dogs Mortimer and Flip, for whom Nancy personally selected safe and happy new homes.
Nancy was predeceased by her mother and father, Frederick and Elizabeth.
All that Nancy McGuire was contributed to her success. She was a champion of children, a friend to those facing personal difficulties, a promoter of Nome and the community, a lifelong educator and an enemy of those she perceived as corrupt.
Nancy indeed had strength of heart that directed her professional and personal life—robust in her career as a newspaper woman and strongly compassionate in her personal commitments to friends and community, which she loved.
Nancy came to Nome in the mid-1970s, fell in love with the people, and stayed. She described the Seward Peninsula town as “cantankerous a town as you’re likely to find,” to a writer from Alaska magazine.
Nancy grew up on a farm in Mars, Pa., and often joked about being from Mars. She attained a bachelors degree and masters degree in Pennsylvania, then taught school for 10 years in Shaker Heights. When she first came to Nome, she found a job at Northwest Community College as director of Arts and Science, followed by a job at Norton Sound Regional Hospital as a grant writer. She also worked at Sitnasuak Native Corp. as reindeer project director and as Nome area director of Easter Seals Home Health Care. At the same time, she began to hang out at the Nome Nugget newspaper as a volunteer, and became friends with the feisty editor and publisher, Albro Gregory, a former White House correspondent, and friend of Helen Thomas. She bought the Nome Nugget and put out the Jan 2, 1982 issue as editor and publisher.
Nancy had no children of her own; all the children in the community had a place in her heart and she treated all with compassion. Several years ago, a young boy wanted a dog, but could not keep one at home. No problem, Nancy said. The dog could stay at the Nome Nugget office, and the boy could come there every day to feed him and walk him. When the boy moved away, “Mortimer” joined Nancy’s beloved black Labrador, “Flip” in the McGuire household.
Nancy enjoyed giving grade schoolers their first paying jobs at the Nome Nugget as paper boys and paper girls who would dash to the Front Street office on paper day after school to get their bundle of copies.
When Nancy bought the Nome Nugget in 1982, 34 years ago, there were no newspaper vending boxes. Youngsters ran the news around town and in and out of businesses. Nancy let them keep 20 cents for themselves out of each 50-cent sale.
They learned geography as they helped sort newspapers into mailbags labeled for the 50 states.
Uly Hall remembers when he and his young friends would hide from “Aunt Nancy” in canvas mailbags hanging from a rack in the newspaper office. Thus began a friendship that lasted until last week.
“She was proud of me and I was proud of her. Nancy was a trooper to the end and in passing on,” Hall said Friday. ”She had impressive grace in departure.”
Nancy established the Arctic ICANS, Arctic I Can Survive Cancer, a group formed to give social, emotional and financial support to persons fighting the vicious disease. People look forward to ICANS fundraisers—Christmas trees in December and plant sales in the springtime. Whenever the grapevine told her that someone had been diagnosed, her first response would be, “Find out what help they need, would you? Ask them if they need money for groceries or anything.”
Nancy had patience and sympathy for people in trouble, even if they had put themselves in the mess. She had endless patience for friends and employees with imperfections. She never met an underdog she didn’t like, even a victim of one’s own bad decisions. Hers was to soothe broken hearts and mend broken wings, so that those afflicted by life could fly again.
Before she came to Nome, Nancy taught science for 10 years in Shaker Heights, Pa. All her life she had curiosity and appreciation of nature, evidenced outwardly by her love for plants, birds, dogs and natural events. Plants lined every window of every room in her home and took up the larger part of her kitchen table and almost every flat surface that would support a flower pot. Some had names. “Mickey” is a small stone cactus with pairs of leaves that resemble ears, living in a tiny pot.
As Nancy’s cancer progressed, she moved to the local hospital. Most of the plants went with her. Each day she asked a friend to bring more plants—the air plants in baskets, the Venus Flytrap, the cactus, the plastic pots within pottery and china pots.
Each winter, Nancy would join the December Bird Count. On that special day, Nancy would put herself in warm clothes, grab binoculars and a notebook, hop into her red GMC Yukon and head down the coast to sight and record how many of each species.
In the spring, when birds started flying into the region to nest, Nancy’s binoculars resided on the dashboard and the seat beside her.
She recognized them all, and spread the knowledge around. Even if a friend knew little about birds, they could spot a red-necked phalarope twirling in the roadside ponds, or an early loon floating on ocean overflow before the winter ice left the Bering Sea, according to her friend, Mary Straub.
“Nancy was the consummate educator in our many trips about town through the years in the spring and summer; stopping to observe the different species of waterfowl was mandatory. She soon learned my knowledge of such was very much lacking so out came the bird guide and binoculars (They were always at the ready). I was instructed to find the bird, pronounce the name then look it in the ‘book,’” Straub said Saturday. “Ornithology was just one of her areas of expertise . She never failed to astound me on her knowledge. Not only could she pronounce the proper name, she could spell it.
“And by the way, some of it did stick. I know a Red-necked Phalarope when I see it,” Straub said.
Nancy’s iron will informed her newspaper. She worked long hours and turned a newspaper deep in debt to a thriving weekly putting out the local news that counts. In and out of the office, Nancy had a fluent command of Anglo-Saxon and easily told off people of any rank she perceived as bullshitters or purveyors of bullshit ideas.
Her editorials, short and sweet, usually less than 200 words, could praise good ideas and good people, or put a thimble to the noggin when needed. When she felt a public figure or agency or situation stood in the need of correction, she did not hesitate to load up a large caliber editorial and aim for the gut.
Nancy’s eyes sparkled whenever a reporter handed her a pithy, smart-ass headline on a story. She never edited color out of a story. Nancy wore both the publisher and the editor’s hats, yet she kept a bright line between editorial activities and ad sales.
“Do we want to have readers think a piece is in the newspaper because someone bought an ad?” she explained to a new reporter. “Do we want readers to think that some people can ask for their names to be kept out of the paper and we do it for certain people?” If a person’s name appeared on the Seawall police blotter that came each week from the cop shop, it stayed on the list. Years ago, when a school teacher dropped to one knee and begged her piteously to take out reference to his arrest for drunk driving, she refused, saying, “Don’t get a DUI then.”
Nancy told a fellow journalist that she didn’t know a damn thing about journalism when she came here, but that understanding science helped her understand how to ask questions and demand answers. And answers she would get. Everyone would not always agree necessarily, but Nancy did strive to be fair in her reporting – getting out the facts and allowing those who might differ to express their opinion in return. It was important to her that the pages of the Nugget documented the history and happenings of the community and region, as it has for over a century, and what she desires to continue for the next century to come.
Nails in the walls of the Nome Nugget office hold up state and national awards her newspaper has earned. We all know of her 34 years at the helm of the Nome Nugget – the longest run of any other editor and publisher. She was extremely proud of the fact the Nome Nugget is billed Alaska’s Oldest Newspaper. Her stated intent is that the Nugget will continue as an independent newspaper under private ownership.
Writing and photography were a passion, and she believed strongly in freedom of the press. Nancy received the Alaska Press Club First Amendment Award in 2012. The Alaska Press Club presents its annual Howard Rock/Tom Snapp First Amendment Award to spotlight an individual, group or organization in Alaska that has promoted, defended or preserved one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. Not only taking on locals when she felt it warranted, she was always up to a battle with anyone for what she believed was right. When Universal Studios included fake stories attributed to the Nome Nugget in a science fiction movie, she sued them – and won.
Nancy could be harsh, but fair. “She was always in charge,” said her friend, Shirley Tisdale. Indeed she was. One reporter has never forgotten when years ago she over-asserted in the Nugget office, and Nancy snapped, “I’m NOT going to have a turf battle with you, because it is my turf!”
“Her public persona to those who knew her as editor and publisher of The Nome Nugget may have led some to find her hardhearted; she had strong opinions, and demanded accountability,” John Handeland, friend and neighbor, said. “Yet, she was quite private personally, having many acquaintances and a smaller circle of those special and whom she trusted, who were allowed to know her lighter, gentler and caring side.”
A week ago, when an assistant consulted with Nancy in her hospital room over her editorial—Nancy could no longer use her hands to type—“Be sure to put farewell to everybody at the end,” she said.
That farewell editorial came out when the Nugget hit the newsstands a few hours after she died.
“I told you, she was in charge to the end,” Tisdale said again.
Rest in peace, Nancy L. McGuire.