Gregg McConnell, editor of Wine Press Northwest magazine and retired publisher of the Tri-City Herald, died Jan. 12 at his winter home in Arizona after a brief battle with cancer.
McConnell, after retiring from the Herald in 2017, spent winters in Arizona with his wife, Diane, but remained editor of the quarterly magazine based in the Tri-Cities. His focus on leading the Northwest’s premier wine magazine and reporting on the region’s burgeoning wine industry had only sharpened in the three years after retiring.
In late November, he was pressing to complete the Winter 2020 edition containing the magazine’s 21st Annual Platinum awards celebrating the best wines of the year and had already begun planning the publication’s 2021 calendar year with his staff and freelancers.
That was interrupted when he learned in December he had developed an aggressive form of cancer. But after conferring with doctors, he remained optimistic. Sadly, within a few weeks, cancer claimed him. He had just turned 64 over the Christmas holidays.
“Gregg loved Wine Press and all of the contacts and friends he made along the way,” said Jerry Hug, general manager of the Tri-City Herald and Wine Press Northwest. “When he first came to the Tri-Cities, he became really enamored with the magazine and was fully on-board to make it better. He jumped right in and took classes at Yakima Valley College to better understand wine and all that went into the making and evaluation. He has put his heart and soul into the publication, and we will miss his creativity and his contributions. He had a great deal of fun and took it all very seriously.”
In his role as the magazine’s leader, “Gregg had become a great advocate for and supporter of the industry,” said Ken Robertson, a columnist for the magazine since its founding in 1998 and retired executive editor of the Herald. “In a rather short time, he’d become a devoted follower of Northwest wines.”
McConnell quickly became a capable wine evaluator and played a major role in organizing and coordinating the magazine’s four peer judgings each year, with results reported in the magazine. He also had begun serving on the magazine’s judging panels, “where he was respected for his quick insights and enjoyed for his dry humor,” Robertson said.
McConnell held management and executive roles at newspapers in Montana, Washington and California in his 42-year career.
During six years at the Herald and after retiring, he was active on boards of the Tri-City Development Council (TRIDEC), the Washington State University Tri-Cities Advisory Council, Visit Tri-Cities and the Regional Affairs Committee for the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He also focused on improving mental health organizations and other nonprofits, and was passionate about golf and ice hockey, cheering on the San Jose Sharks and Tri-City Americans.
Lori Mattson, president and CEO of the Tri-City Regional Chamber, said she thought the world of McConnell and was shocked and saddened by his death.
“I had the pleasure of working with Gregg very closely on our MyTri 2030 regional project several years ago and just really enjoyed getting to know him,” Mattson told the Herald. “I was really inspired by the passion he had for the Tri-Cities; what a big thinker he was.”
Tri-City Realtor Dave Retter said he first met McConnell through their jobs, but the two soon became friends and occasionally golfed together.
“Gregg had as much class as anybody that I have run into in my life. He was fair, he had an understanding of business and an understanding of partnerships, and how it’s going to be a win-win for everybody,” said Retter, broker/owner of Retter and Co., Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It’s a big loss. He’s just one of those people who will sorely be missed.”
McConnell was born and raised in Western Montana, starting his career in 1975 at his hometown weekly in Polson. He was a reporter-photographer, and then moved across the state to the same job at the twice-weekly Glendive Ranger-Review.
Early on, McConnell decided he would become the chief executive at a newspaper. His then-publisher had refused to run a column and told McConnell that if he wanted to be in the position to decide what runs in the paper, he needed to be a publisher.
McConnell said he accepted the challenge and started his first management job in 1977 as editor and general manager of a free-distribution weekly in Ronan, Mont. He joined Scripps League Newspapers in 1979 as advertising director in Hamilton, Mont.
He was in his late 20s when Scripps promoted him to publisher of a small daily in Taft, Calif., then publisher at the larger Petaluma Argus-Courier.
He moved to Washington in 1992 to work with Sound Publishing and spent five years as general manager for non-daily operations with Skagit Publishing in Mount Vernon. From 2002 to 2005, McConnell served on the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association board of directors.
He joined MediaNews Group in 2005 and returned to Northern California to lead the Lake County Record-Bee. In 2008, he was promoted to group publisher for The Reporter in Vacaville and the Daily Democrat in Woodland, and a year later became publisher of three MediaNews Group papers — the daily Enterprise-Record in Chico, the Oroville Mercury-Register and the thrice-weekly Paradise Post.
He was hired by The McClatchy Co. to lead the Tri-City Herald in October 2011. He was president and publisher of the Herald until retiring.
“I didn’t work with Gregg long, but he was a hard-working, sincere man who had his job as publisher at a time no one could envy,” said Jack Briggs, another retired Herald publisher and member of the editorial board. “He left this world much too early.”