Nick Valentine—founding editor of The Paper, the West County weekly newspaper that eventually became the Bohemian—passed away on June 25, after a short illness. He was 69 years old.
Working in the late 1970s as a chef at the River's End restaurant in Jenner, Valentine decided to retrain as a journalist at Santa Rosa Junior College after being involved in a serious car crash, says second wife Elizabeth Valentine, who owned The Paper from 1979 to 1989. After studying under Cathy Mitchell, the Pulitzer-winning former publisher of the Point Reyes Light, Valentine was hired by the Russian River News. But thoughts of creating a better, more aggressive community newspaper pushed him to start something new.
"He just wanted a good paper that would serve the needs of the community," says Elizabeth by phone from her home in Santa Rosa. "He was good at knowing the important stories on the river and the whole West County."
The first issue of The Paper went into circulation in June 1978. Conceived and designed by Valentine, production was made possible through publisher Bob Lucas, as well as a small group of staffers, including Valentine's first wife, Suzanne.
Valentine undertook editing, writing, design, illustration and more at The Paper for nearly a decade, covering essential stories in Guerneville and beyond. Working out of cramped office quarters across from the Pink Elephant Bar in Monte Rio, Valentine led a small but dedicated staff in stories about the devastating 1986 Valentine's Day flood, the flooding issues resulting from the growing amount of paved land in Santa Rosa, the impact of AIDS on the community and the controversial Dubrava housing development at Guernewood Park. At one point, articles about North Coast offshore oil drilling from The Paper were used in congressional hearings, says Elizabeth.
"He did a very good job focusing on the activist community and trying to keep the paper afloat," says Mary Moore, a longtime activist who founded the original Bohemian Grove protests. "In my archives is much coverage from the '80s, especially on Bohemian Grove, that wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for The Paper."
But things weren't always serious around the office, says Elizabeth. Staffers threw a "Slugfest"—a celebration of the banana slug, offering slug races and a "Largest Slug" contest. An "Ugly Lamp and Clock" contest "dragged on forever, with no winner ever announced, leaving us with an office full of ugly lamps and clocks which had been abandoned by their owners," she says.
"There were people willing to work for nothing because of what Nick molded the paper into," says Janet Zagoria, who worked as a production manager and photographer during those early years. While not the most social creature ("He really didn't like being around people outside the office, to the point that people in the community used to ask if there really was a Nick Valentine," says one former staffer, asking not to be named), Valentine was known for his attention to detail and his willingness to teach skills to people that they didn't know they had.
"He gave a lot of people a chance," says Zagoria. "Working there tested my mettle and helped me learn."
A few years in, when office politics surrounding the paper's masthead led to tension, Valentine eliminated titles entirely, listing everyone under "Production," without even naming himself as editor.
In 1988, Valentine stepped down as The Paper's editor. He went on to work for several years as a designer for Pomegranate Communications, a Petaluma publishing house specializing in cards and calendars. Eventually, he settled in Brisbane after marrying his second wife. He returned to live in the States for a short amount of time, but returned to Australia for his remaining years. He is survived by four adult children.
In the North Bay, Valentine's legacy is rooted firmly in his role as The Paper's first editor. A look through the archives at the current Bohemian office reveals a paper both down-home and strong-voiced, a passionate undertaking by a dedicated group of people. And still, says Elizabeth, if asked, Valentine probably would have described himself first and foremost as an artist and a painter.
"I'm glad our joy and passion came through," Elizabeth says. "It was a remarkable group of people under a remarkable man, and the paper we produced was a testament to that."