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Former Deseret News publisher Jim Mortimer dies

Published: Saturday, May 22 2010 12:20 a.m. MDT

Former publisher of the Deseret News, William James Mortimer gives a short speech after being inducted in the Utah Printing Hall of Fame at the Little America in Salt Lake City on April, 29, 2010. Behind Mortimer is his son David Mortimer.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — William James "Jim" Mortimer, 77, former publisher of the Deseret News and former general manager of both Deseret Press and Deseret Book, died May 20 after a long illness.

He served as publisher at the Deseret News for 15 years, from 1985 to 2000 — some of that time doubling as editor — to complete a newspaper career that he started as a paperboy. He had worked at Deseret Press from 1959 to 1963 and returned to Deseret Press from 1975 to 1985 as a general manager. He worked at Deseret Book in between.

"Jim is one of the finest people I've ever known," said Richard D. Hall, managing editor of the Deseret News. "His optimistic outlook on life was infectious. His kindness was always appreciated. His humility was always to be admired."

"He was a man with a real sense of community needs and spirit," said William B. Smart, former Deseret News editor, who joined the News in 1948. "That was his hallmark."

He also said Mr. Mortimer was a man of great integrity with a keen sense of the business community.

"He did a fine job for the Deseret News."

Mr. Mortimer sometimes referred to himself as "Deseret Jim," since he worked for the three different Deseret companies.

"My mother taught me to read from the Deseret News before I started school," he said in 2000 as part of an in-depth story at his retirement. "When I turned 12, I took a Deseret News paper route."

He was also part of a special panel that produced the current LDS edition of the King James Version of the Bible in 1979 and the Triple Combination in 1981.

He seemed a natural fit to be on the Bible committee. As the vice president and general manager of Deseret Book at the time, he was already responsible for producing and distributing scriptures for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"I was asked to serve as the secretary — the arms and the legs as it were — of three very busy members of the Quorum of the Twelve," he once told Mormon Times. "I carried out the instructions of those brethren. But I can't tell you the sweet, peaceful feelings that I felt every time we had a meeting with the Scriptures Committee."

Mr. Mortimer also once recalled what President James E. Faust had advised him to do in his first days on the Deseret News job. "When I was appointed publisher, he took me aside and said, 'The thing you want to do to succeed is put your arms around the people.' "

As Deseret News publisher he did just that. He made sure he knew everyone by name and tried to greet everyone individually each day. He regularly sang "Happy Birthday" to staff members at their desks on their birthdays. He was also instrumental in the construction of the nine-story Deseret News building that opened in 1997.

He became the 20th editor of the Deseret News in 1985 but had a second job there, too. He was the combined publisher/editor for 11 years, until 1996. Then he served as publisher only until his retirement on Aug. 1, 2000.

Born in Provo on June 26, 1932, in an old-style "maternity home," he moved to Logan with his family in 1943 when his father, a builder, took a teaching post at Utah State University. The building trade never really caught his fancy, however.

Books and writing were another matter. Hard work and love of language landed Mortimer a job with the Deseret News Logan bureau while he was in high school. One of his early news stories was reporting on the demise of the Bamberger Railroad line in September 1952.

College graduation in 1954 gave way to the Korean War, from 1955-56. He spent a good chunk of the war patrolling pipelines and guarding fuel supplies. After the war he did graduate studies in journalism at Columbia University and married his wife, Paula, on Sept. 17, 1956.

In New York, he worked part time as proofreader for Newsweek magazine.

A year later, master's degree in hand from Columbia, the Mortimers returned to Utah. The young reporter applied for and got a job on the Deseret News city desk.

In 1959, he took a job as sales manager at Deseret Press after Thomas S. Monson, now president of the LDS Church, left the post to serve as a mission president. When President Monson returned, he took over the operation and kept Mr. Mortimer on in the sales position.

Mr. Mortimer left Deseret Press and worked as a senior account executive at Wheelwright Lithographing Co. from 1963-66. He then moved to Deseret Book in April 1966 as an assistant to the manager. He became Deseret Book's general manager in January 1970.

While at Deseret Book, he coaxed Stephen Covey into print with the book "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations" and published several LDS classics. He also authored two appendixes to a reprint of James E. Talmage's "The House of the Lord" book. He also took Deseret Book into the computer age.

In May 1970, Mr. Mortimer received a new assignment — vice president and general manager of Deseret Press (which later became the Printing Services Department of the LDS Church).

Then, in 1985, he was called into then-Elder Monson's office.

"It wasn't uncomfortable for me to go to his office. I was there regularly," Mortimer once recalled. "But on this occasion I could see his demeanor was different. Elder Faust was also there.

"In a businesslike manner, Elder Monson said, 'Wendell Ashton has been called as a mission president and is going to retire. We'd like you to become publisher of the Deseret News.' I asked how long I had to think it over. He said, 'Thirty seconds.' Suddenly, I was publisher of the Deseret News."

Mr. Mortimer was a past president of the Utah Press Association and had been on the board of the Inter American Press Association. He was active in civic and service groups, served on various boards and won numerous civic awards.

During his career, he served on dozens of other boards, including the Utah Symphony, the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Utah Endowment Board. He was chairman of the United Way campaign and also volunteered on behalf of the Boy Scouts. In 1987, he rode an elephant from the train station to the Salt Palace to fulfill a Chamber of Commerce assignment.

He was past president of the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club and lieutenant governor of Division 8 of the Kiwanis Utah-Idaho District. He served two terms as president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association and president of the Printing Industries of Utah. He had served as vice president of the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

"Jim has been a leader in community affairs. He has been in the forefront of Chamber of Commerce activities and other civic matters," the late Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once said of Mr. Mortimer. "He is respected by people of the community. They know of his integrity as well as his wisdom. He has been a great friend of Scouting, serving in many capacities and assisting substantially in this great program for the training of boys."

"(He) stands for righteousness and sits on everyone's board," his son, Brad Mortimer, once said.

Jim Mortimer received numerous awards over the years.

In 1995, he was honored by the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America as a willing, diligent and effective business, community, church and family leader, with the Distinguished Citizen Award. He served more than 25 years on the Great Salt Lake Council's executive committee.

"Jim always comes through," President Monson said when that Scout award was given. "He's a people man. People love him, and he loves people.

"If you want to see the quality of a man, note how he regards his parents," he added, stressing how Jim Mortimer cared for his and his wife's parents in their later years.

"I first became acquainted with William James Mortimer when he was a reporter at the Deseret News Publishing Company working with Jim Hoagland and Jack Jarrard," President Monson once recalled. "However, I really became acquainted with Jim when I was general manager of the Deseret Press and he served as sales manager. I learned to appreciate his keen mind, his many talents and his devotion to the Lord and to his daily work. Our association was rich and rewarding."

In 1999, Prevent Blindness Utah presented its annual People of Vision Award to Jim Mortimer. That same year he also received the John E. Jones Award from the Utah Press Association, for "distinguished service and substantial contributions to the press of Utah." He was recently inducted into the Utah Printers Hall of Fame.

He had been chairman of the Youth Correlation Committee of the LDS Church, served as a regional representative, a bishop and a stake president. His most recent church position was as stake patriarch.

He and his wife, Paula, are the parents of five sons and two daughters. They also have 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are scheduled at noon Wednesday, May 26, at the Wasatch Stake Center, 8170 Short Hills Drive (3425 East) in Salt Lake City. Friends may call Tuesday, May 25, 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Cannon Mortuary, 2460 Bengal Blvd., and from 10:30-11:30 a.m. prior to the services at the Wasatch Stake Center. Interment will be at Mountain View Memorial Cemetery, Bengal Boulevard.

Contributing: Tom Hatch; Jerry Johnston

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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