This week, I wasn’t planning to write a column — I was too busy, didn’t have time to research the things I wanted to dig into, didn’t have any burning issues threatening to boil over in my mind, and knew that the gap between first and final draft wouldn’t be long enough to create anything really worth reading.
Then on Saturday, I got an e-mail about the death of Snoqualmie City Councilman Charles S. Peterson, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to write a column this week. My words were gone.
There’s often an odd, semi-permeable layer of insulation around newspaper folk, which allows us to cover the ongoing comedies and tragedies of our communities without becoming a part of them. Sometimes it’s helpful, but this time, I think it prolonged the shock for me.
I kept thinking of past conversations we’d had, and then of the people and places he’s influenced, throughout his long and meaningful career, and then of the vacuum that he’s left behind.
By Monday, I still hadn’t written a word of his obituary, and I was getting worried.
This piece, more than most that I have ever written, I knew had to be right — correct facts, respectful treatment, appropriate photos, and so on. This was former Mayor, longtime City Councilman, lifelong Snoqualmie resident Charles Peterson, after all.
I needed, for his sake, and his family’s, but also for my own, to depict him in as true and fair a light as I could, on a ticking clock, and in a shrinking space.
But who was Charles Peterson? I’ve had to answer that question a couple of times in the last few days, which helped me to worry less about the oh-so professional assembly of the facts and figures of his life and think a little more about who he was, to me at least.
He was the caller whose number, C&C Peterson, always made me smile when it showed up on the caller ID, even when he was calling to complain. And when he complained, his criticism was fair.
He was the author of about a half-dozen of my favorite Snoqualmie expressions. While they are all fit for polite company, I’m going to keep them to myself.
He was the contrast in more than one city council meeting, asking questions about city policy and action from different perspectives — the senior citizen’s, or the young family’s, or the minimum-wage-earner’s. He represented people with which he had nothing in common except their city of residence, because that’s what he was elected to do.
He was the husband who doted on his wife in that way that is quietly, entirely adorable, but would probably be terribly embarrassing to him if he realized someone had noticed it.
He was the elected official — one of several Snoqualmie is lucky to have — who actively sought his constituents’ opinions.
He was the guy who first pointed out to me that the Snoqualmie Valley Record is not listed in the actual phone book, although the long-ago defunct Snoqualmie Valley Courier was, under our phone number.
Which also means that he was the guy to stand up for the struggling print industry, the guy who made a point of coming to the office to pick up a copy of the week’s newspaper every Wednesday if his delivered one went missing.
He was a remarkable combination of dignity, wit, comic timing, and wisdom with a liberal sprinkling of the salt of the earth.
He chose his words carefully, and never said anything deliberately cruel or unkind within my hearing.
He was the guy, I have to sadly concede, that I will never have the words or the stamina to write a truly accurate, fair and representative column about. Not in this space, anyway.
A memorial service for Charles S. Peterson is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at Snoqualmie United Methodist Church. A reception will follow at Snoqualmie City Hall.
See next week’s Valley Record for a complete obituary.