KENNEWICK -- For more than three decades, Executive Editor Ken Robertson has been passionate about the Tri-City Herald as he led the newsroom staff to numerous national and regional awards.
He came to the Tri-Cities in 1976 on what he called a three-year plan, but the Montana native soon committed himself to the community and to "great journalism" at the paper.
On Friday, Robertson, 63, will wrap up 35 years of distinguished service at the Herald.
In choosing his replacement, McClatchy Co. executives said it was an obvious and easy decision.
Robertson, a University of Montana alumnus, is being succeeded by a fellow Grizzly -- his longtime City Editor/Assistant Managing Editor Laurie Williams.
Williams, 50, started at the paper in 1984. Her promotion to executive editor is effective immediately.
"If there's anybody who has earned the opportunity of becoming a newspaper editor, it's Laurie Williams," Robertson said.
Williams is now one of 14 female top editors within the company, including the McClatchy-Tribune wire service. And the first at the Herald.
The announcement was made Wednesday to the Herald staff by Bob Weil, McClatchy's vice president of operations.
He described Williams as the "next generation of McClatchy editor, a newsroom leader hard at work transitioning our business and our public service mission for the digital age, serving readers on multiple platforms and in multiple formats."
"What's important in local leadership, particularly in the news side, is really having someone understand the institutional history of the newspaper, the culture of the newspaper and connecting well with people who've worked here for a long time," he said. "It doesn't happen all the time, but whenever we can make that work, it's the obvious solution."
Weil made the trip from Sacramento to congratulate Robertson on the contributions he has made to the newsroom, the newspaper and the Tri-City community.
"We can't thank him enough for his service and leadership over the decades. Ken is the embodiment of that most fundamental McClatchy value: quality journalism," Weil said in a company memo.
Robertson came to the paper in 1976 after working as a reporter and a managing editor at The Helena (Mont.) Independent Record. He served as the Herald's city editor and assistant managing editor before taking over as managing editor in 1991. He became executive editor in 2000.
"It's been a long ride and the core of our success here has really been in content, news," Weil said. "I want to thank Ken for his stewardship ... his leadership for a long time."
He pointed out that in Robertson's 35 years, the paper has won 35 C.B. Blethen Awards, which are the Northwest's premier journalism awards. Twenty-nine of those were received while Robertson was at the helm in the past two decades.
Weil described it as a great and a bittersweet day. He said he is grateful that Robertson agreed to postpone his long-planned retirement until his successor could be named.
"He said, 'I will retire on your terms when you want me to do it,' and because of timing issues, he agreed to delay for us," Weil said. "Ken has been extremely accommodating. I thank you for that willingness to be flexible and really for the great contributions you've made here and in raising the bar on journalistic excellence."
Robertson confirmed that he has been working with McClatchy executives for the past few months to choose the right date based on his replacement.
He said he owes a huge debt to a list of former editors and publishers, including Bill Bequette, Jack Briggs, Cheryl Dell, Rufus M. Friday and Kelso Gillenwater.
"Most of all, I have a great debt to all the people who work here at the Herald who help make this a dang good newspaper every day. I think the thing that stands out is the commitment all of you bring. Everybody tries to bring their A-game every day," Robertson said.
He also acknowledged not being able to have done it without his "better half," Patti. The couple have three grown sons and three granddaughters.
They will stay in Kennewick, where Robertson is excited to pursue his hobbies, spend more time with family and the grandkids and continue with his volunteer work, including Junior Achievement. Robertson also will remain on the Herald's editorial board, at least until a new publisher comes on, and continue to work with the Herald's Wine Press Northwest magazine.
Williams is said to have literally grown up in the Herald newsroom, joining the paper's staff in 1984 as "a freckle-faced redhead" and a firecracker for getting the news. She worked her way through the ranks of assistant city editor and city editor before her promotion in 2000 to assistant managing editor.
Williams said she has stayed in the Tri-Cities for 26 years because of the great weather, news and people. She lives in Kennewick with her husband, Mark Arreola, and their 11-year-old son.
Williams acknowledged that she is facing "a real big challenge" in her new role because the industry has been in such turmoil, but said she has got a great team to work through it.
"We have our challenges but what keeps me going is thinking about all the thousands of people who depend on the newspaper each day. We just have to figure out how they want it -- whether it's on their doorstep or desktop, iPad or iPhone," she said. "We're just going to continue being a great newspaper."
Weil said corporate is "nearing a resolution" on a new publisher to replace Friday, who left in early June to lead McClatchy's Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky.
He jokingly blamed the delay on Tri-City Herald employees saying, "It's your fault because you guys have such a high standard for publishers, we can't just name anybody. ... It has to be a right fit."