Longtime Union Democrat news reporter Lenore Rutherford died Saturday at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, following a short battle with cancer. She was 70.
Lenore Rutherford sits at her desk before a brief retirement from The Union Democrat in 2007. File photo / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Rutherford retired on May 31 after a 40-year newsroom career. It was actually her second retirement from the paper, leaving earlier for a short time in 2007 before resuming her newspaper work.
“I was deeply saddened to learn Lenore passed away,” said Publisher Gary Piech, who had worked with Rutherford at The Union Democrat since 1984. “Lenore was an institution in the newsroom. She was committed to the newspaper and the community, always seeking a folksy or heartwarming story to which readers could relate.”
She was likely the longest serving reporter to work at The Union Democrat, said former managing editor Sally Scott.
Scott and former owner and editor-publisher Harvey McGee hired Rutherford in February 1973 to work at the Tuolumne Prospector, a competing paper McGee had purchased in 1961.
Rutherford wrote almost every scrap of copy for the 12-page weekly Tuolumne paper.
“She didn’t have any journalism background, but she wrote very well. She was accurate,” Scott said. “She was able to get along well with even difficult news sources. Her ability to get along with all kinds of news sources was just amazing.”
When the Prospector closed its doors in 1975, Rutherford came to The Union Democrat in Sonora to work as a reporter, photographer and darkroom technician.
For many old timers, she may best be remembered for writing “The Gadabout,” a chatty, newsy guide to weekend dining and shopping that she began writing on June 11, 1976, and continued for more than 20 years.
Rutherford worked every beat at The Union Democrat and was especially known for her coverage of community events, including her hometown of Tuolumne.
She did “everything short of whipping papers onto porches from a bicycle seat,” former Union Democrat reporter and columnist Chris Bateman wrote in 2007.
She shot and developed photos, reported on strikes, fires, floods, elections, births, deaths and everything in between, including the rise of the Tuolumne Me-Wuk Indians, the prosperity of the tribe’s Black Oak Casino and the profound changes both have brought to the town.
Rutherford was recognized by the California Newspaper Publishers Association for her business and feature story coverage and was well known in the community.
In 1986, she left the paper for a few weeks to work with her husband, Bill, in the long-haul trucking business. When that didn’t work out, she returned to the paper, her son Dan Rutherford said.
She retired for about six months in 2007 when she joined her husband Bill as a dealer at Black Oak Casino.
She returned to The Union Democrat in late 2007.
“They were just nice people. Lenore was a very nice person, she was well-respected and popular as a dealer,” said Ron Patel, Black Oak Casino’s general manager.
When writing about the casino for The Union Democrat, “she has always been very fair and very careful in checking facts. We were very appreciative of her,” Patel said.
“She was just always there. She was our main source for The Union Democrat for Tuolumne,” added Carol Southern, of Tuolumne.
Southern and her husband, Dick, formerly a Tuolumne Park and Recreation District board member, have been involved with many Tuolumne organizations including the Lumber Jubilee and the Sheriff’s Community Service Unit.
“Every time I needed something put in about one of the activities I was doing, she was there,” Southern said.
The Southerns, like Rutherford, always listened to the police scanner.
“She’d say: ‘If you hear of anything, you give me a call,’” Southern said. “I had her home phone, her office phone, her cell phone. She will be missed.”
Rutherford was someone people could depend on, said Cathie Peacock, of Interfaith Community Social Services and the American Red Cross.
Peacock worked with Rutherford for 35 years and said she always captured “the essence” of things.
“Every time I called she was right there — it could be any time day or night. She was always so good about including everything and getting the stories right. I know one thing, I always depended on her over all these years,” Peacock said.
Rutherford was always diligent about searching out stories on her beat, said former Tuolumne County District 3 Supervisor Teri Murrison, who now lives in Boise, Idaho.
“Lenore wasn’t too sure about me when she first started covering my race, but we became friends. She was always fair and unfailingly curious,” Murrison said.
One of her favorite assignments was interviewing Laurence Kim Peek, a savant who was the basis for the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie “Rain Man.”
“She actually got a signed book from him. She thought that was a very neat interview,” said her son Dan Rutherford, of Tuolumne.
Lenore Rutherford was born on Sept. 1, 1943 in Susanville.
She and Bill Rutherford were married on Oct. 21, 1961. They moved to Tuolumne County in the mid-1960s and settled in Tuolumne in 1967.
She raised three children, Bill and Dan Rutherford, and Candi Perkins. She was a teacher’s aide at Summerville Elementary School, was in the PTA, and led a Girl Scout troop.
Bill Rutherford died last year.
Union Democrat Editor Craig Cassidy said Lenore was looking forward to a fresh start living with her son, Bill Jr., in Idaho.
“A lot of the Democrat’s younger reporters recognized her retirement as the end of an era. Some might call her style ‘old school,’ but she was really just a model community journalist,” he said.
“She seemingly knew everyone, and everyone seemed to know her. She understood the history of the place. She also knew how to live in a community — to really commit to it with your heart — while also reporting on it honestly. That can require a lot of self-discipline and diplomacy. And staying power — in an age when people tend to move every five years, and young journalists every two.”
A memorial service for Lenore will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at Tuolumne Community Baptist Church, 18426 Fir Ave., Tuolumne. A potluck meal will follow.