It’s 7:15 a.m. on Pioneer Hill in Pullman. At the corner of Ridgeview Court and Highland Way, Pat Caraher, senior editor of Washington State Magazine, does what he has done nearly every weekday for almost 35 years. He steps out of his house and walks across town to work.
Seems like a simple thing, but in reality this walk is quintessential Caraher, resembling much of his lifestyle — simple, consistent, trustworthy, positive and unselfish, and yet, for all the same reasons, unusual.
Hey, how many people do you know who consistently walk to and from work, come rain, snow, freezing temperatures or sweltering heat? Or do anything consistently for 35 years?
And, if you think this is a mindless habit, think again. Some days he cuts through Greek row, on others he might pass by the old steam plant, or take a detour through Sloan, Thompson, Murrow, Todd or one of the many other buildings on campus. Along the way he looks for opportunities to greet faculty, staff and students, offer encouraging comments and ask a few questions, exploring if there is anything newsworthy or interesting brewing.
Caraher is a journalist, the son of a journalist. He’s a Cougar to the core, the son of Joe Caraher (‘35 Education), two-time president of the WSU Alumni Association. He’s the husband of Pullman native and WSU alum Laurie Busch (‘76 Music) and father of three Coug daughters, Maureen Wilson (‘99 Education), Seattle; Kelly Caraher (‘02 Human Development), Pullman; and Theresa Caraher, a WSU senior in Fine Arts, Pullman.
His beat for three-and-a-half decades has been WSU — its campuses, faculty, staff, athletes, teams and alumni worldwide.
Second time around
Caraher, a Seattle native, drew his first stint on the Pullman campus 1957-62, when he earned his degree in social studies. After graduation, he spent the next two years in the U.S. Army at Fort Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska, where he worked 50 hours a week in a message center, plus 20 hours on weekends in the post’s library.
Upon discharge from the military, he re-enrolled at WSU to pursue a degree in journalism. In addition to his studies, he worked on The Daily Evergreen staff, served as a stringer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and was an intern under Dick Fry, then WSU’s sports information director. In 1966, with degree in hand, he signed on as a reporter with the Eugene Register Guard, where he worked for three years.
When asked what drew him back to WSU for his journalism degree, Caraher points to his father. “I grew up in a journalism family … it just took a couple years in the Army to develop that focus.”
Caraher’s father, who died earlier this year at age 92, was one of Pat’s closest friends and encouragers. During his lifetime he was publisher of the Daily Interlake in Kalispell, Mont., a partner in the early years of the Eastside Journal in Kirkland, Wash., and editor of the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, Ore. Even after retiring, Joe Caraher wrote a column for the Klamath newspaper, covering a wide spectrum of topics. His last column went to press within 15 days of his death.
In the beginning, Hilltopics
In the fall of 1969, President Glenn Terrell and Alumni Director Pat Patterson hired Caraher to edit a new alumni newspaper.
“They decided they wanted to create a newspaper that would keep alumni informed on a frequent basis about university teaching, research and public service, as well as offer alumni profiles, class notes, sports and obituaries,” said Caraher.
With one month’s notice to design and plan the publication, Caraher kicked off Hilltopics in January 1970 with a daunting production schedule of 24 pages per issue and 10 issues per year. He was a one-man editorial staff, with contributions from the WSU News Bureau and some college writers.
Amazingly, he maintained that grueling production schedule for 10 years. Then the university gradually moved it to a quarterly publication between 1981 and 1992.
In addition to carrying the brunt of the writing and editing duties, he proudly notes that he kept it “on time and on budget.”
“The guy has done thousands of stories for Hilltopics on faculty, staff, students and alumni, and what’s amazing is that he retains the memories of those people,” said Fry.
“What he’s done for the university is phenomenal,” said Keith Lincoln, past executive director of the WSU Alumni Association. “Hilltopics was a great publication that was read cover to cover. He never lost touch with what is important and what makes WSU special — in addition to the special features, he always had a list of obits and class notes. Reading Hilltopics was always a warm, high-touch interaction. That kind of focus, that personal touch, is what makes WSU special. I hope we never lose sight of that.”
A new flagship
In August 2001, Volume 32, Issue No. 3, Caraher bid farewell to his faithful longtime readers, as Hilltopics and Universe — WSU’s science magazine — were merged to form Washington State Magazine, the university’s four-color flagship publication.
Although ending Hilltopics was like saying goodbye to an old friend, Caraher said the new magazine was the fulfillment of a dream. Three months later, the new magazine debuted to about 122,000 readers, complete with features, research, sports, class notes and obits from Caraher.
When asked how he liked the switch, Caraher said, in typical fashion, “George Bedirian, Jo Savage and Tim Steury were already in place as a team producing Universe. I feel grateful to have been accepted as a part of the magazine team, and to learn from them.”
Reality is, from his first day until today, Caraher has seen and pursued his goal with clarity: “to document the history of the university for others.”
Above all, Caraher sees himself as a “writer and news hound.”
“Writing wasn’t easy for me, but that’s different from saying it was hard. That may sound like semantics, but writing is a disciplined discipline,” said Caraher. “You’ve got to concentrate to stay on task.
“I enjoy the creativity, starting with nothing every issue. It’s like putting together a puzzle. You’re pulling stories and information from all over. Three months later you have a newspaper or magazine.
“It never gets old, there’s always something interesting to write about.”
One of the toughest challenges Caraher said he had as a writer and editor was the change in technology. Over an 18-month period, he had to pry himself from his manual typewriter, adapt to an IBM Selectric, then leap into the computer age.
To describe Caraher as computer friendly would be entirely inaccurate. Ask anyone in his office. But consistency and love for the craft more than make up for it.
During his years at WSU, he has seen four presidents — C. Clement French, Glenn Terrell, Sam Smith and V. Lane Rawlins — and reported on a wide spectrum of events and changes:
• creation of the WSU Foundation in 1979
• implementation of Title IX legislation
• the university’s centennial celebration
• opening of three urban campuses
• launching of the first major fund-raising campaign, which generated $274 million
• a multitude of coaches, athletic games, including two trips to the Rose Bowl
• construction of scores of buildings
To say the least, when Caraher retires in late September, it will be the end of an era that has touched the lives of many faculty and staff, and thousands of alumni.
“He is so dedicated and honest,” says Fry, “his word is gold. He’s always giving and unselfish. He’s the last person to think of Pat Caraher. He is one of the greatest friends of my life.”
Ditto that from nearly everyone who has worked with him.
The good news is, Caraher plans to continue writing and will serve as one of the university’s leading historians. But the first thing Caraher says he plans to do is travel with his wife to Tucson to — what else — watch the Sept. 25 football game between the University of Arizona and WSU … as well as see the Grand Canyon. And, rest assured, you will see him in the spring partaking in his favorite activity, cheering on the WSU baseball team at Bailey-Brayton Field.