Remembering Olympia reporting legend Adele Ferguson

Remembering Olympia reporting legend Adele Ferguson

Adele

Adele Ferguson (Photo courtesy Legacy Washington)

State Capitol veterans and Olympia political observers were saddened by news that Adele Ferguson, the longtime Olympia correspondent for The Bremerton Sun, passed away Monday after a short illness.

Known by many throughout the Capitol simply as “A’-dele,” Ferguson was feared and respected by many, including legislators and other elected officials who were the occasional target of her often-biting weekly column in The Sun. After Ferguson retired as a reporter in 1993, she continued writing her column for many more years.

“Adele Ferguson was one of the most unforgettable characters I’ve ever met,” says John Hughes, who wrote her biography for our office’s Legacy Washington   program. “She was a trailblazer as a female journalist infiltrating the old-boys’ club of the Capitol press corps in Olympia, but she soon earned their respect with her skill as a deadline reporter and analyst. She could spot hypocrisy at a hundred paces. There was one thing about which she was intensely private: her age. As I was leaving her house after our final interview, she said: ‘If you print my age I’ll kill you!’ I wasn’t going to risk it! The Kitsap Sun, her old paper, printed her age in her obituary. I’m certain that newsroom will be haunted from now on.”

A hardbound copy of Hughes’ biography on the legendary scribe, entitled “The Inimitable Adele Ferguson,” can be purchased here for $22.50, plus shipping/handling.

Below are excerpts from Hughes’ biography on Ferguson:

In her prime, the Bremerton scribe was feared and loathed, respected and courted. More than 30 newspapers around the state carried her column. …

During his five years as Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate in the 1980s, Ted Bottiger of Tacoma warned his freshmen members about three things: “Adele Ferguson, Adele Ferguson, Adele Ferguson.” Ralph Munro, Washington’s former longtime secretary of state, says, “Adele is the only legitimate tsunami to ever hit the state capitol. Elected officials would rush to the one news stand that carried The Bremerton Sun in the Legislative Building to see who she had drowned in her column this week. Those who weren’t totally dead from the wave would often take weeks to recover their ego and energy. Adele knew how to hit and hit hard.”

She never spent a day on a college campus, let alone journalism school. Yet she became one of the most influential writers in state history. She told some brazen lies to get her foot in the door of a newsroom in 1943 and never looked back. A natural born storyteller, she’s a blend of Molly Ivins, Ann Coulter and Annie Oakley, the perky sharpshooter who boasted to an arrogant man, “I can do anything you can do better!” …

“She has the most marvelous skill in getting at the guts of an issue,” Dick Larsen, then of The Seattle Times and himself no shrinking violet, told the AP’s David Ammons for a 1991 story on Adele’s 30 years at the capital. “When the shock of her question wears off, very often we get real, usable information. So many of us in the press use sly and intellectual language.  She’s so blunt. She’s no-nonsense. It’s beautiful. She makes it hell on those who slip below the level of her expectation. She’s a tough political street guy.” …

“She wouldn’t let anyone get away with anything,” says Bob Partlow, a former reporter for the Olympian. “And she was just ‘Adele.’ It was one word, like ‘Pele.’ You didn’t have to say her last name. She was just a reporter’s reporter. She could drink with the boys, cuss with the boys and in every way hold her own with the boys. She came on the scene at a time when there weren’t many women in the press corps. It’s a tough job being a capitol correspondent. … She had to fight and claw into the male establishment and cut through the crap. I did a lot of investigative work over the years and she was like a role model and mentor to me. Her work put spine in my conscience. Not that I needed a lot, but it was always a reminder of what a reporter’s job really is. And she was hilarious, too. …She just had this incredibly wicked wit. I’m sure she would rather cut out her tongue than call herself a feminist, but she was a role model for other women to follow. On the whole, she’s just an incredible person.”

After 47 years, Adele left the Bremerton Sun on Feb. 25, 1993, taking pains to avoid any fuss. The paper couched it as a retirement. Adele says she resigned because she’d had it up to here with a new editor and arrogant whippersnappers who didn’t know the difference between material and materiel. “They’d change stuff without even consulting me and make me look ridiculous.”

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