Nancy L. McGuire, who owned and operated the Nome Nugget newspaper for 34 years, died in Nome of cancer on Thursday. She was 72.
McGuire was born in Pennsylvania on Dec. 15, 1943, and grew up on a farm. She taught science in high school and college and came to Nome in 1973 to teach at the Northwest Campus of the University of Alaska. For the next few years she had a variety of occupations, including fishing for herring roe, working with the Norton Sound Health Corp. and the Alaska Science Foundation and volunteering as an EMT and reporter for the Nome Nugget.
The Nugget was owned by Albro B. Gregory, a feisty lifelong newspaperman who was famous for ferociously butting heads with authorities. When his wife died, he decided to sell the paper — but not to just anybody. He wanted the new owner to be as stubborn as he was.
McGuire became the new owner on Jan. 1, 1982. Gregory had run the paper for 11 years; McGuire did it for three times as long. During that period other papers in rural Alaska came and went. The Nugget, which had first published during the gold rush, remained a staple in the town and village stores from Barrow to Bethel. In recent years she put the circulation of the paper at 6,000 with another 4,000 online. The population of Nome itself is about 3,700.
Under her direction the Nugget won several professional awards, including the Alaska Press Club's "Best Weekly Newspaper" and"Howard Rock/Tom Snapp First Amendment Award," both in 2012. The Press Club award called her "a fearless, unapologetic journalist … unafraid to use the press freedoms afforded by the First Amendment to tackle controversial issues in a small frontier town in remote Alaska."
Former Mayor John Handeland, her neighbor, said, "I couldn't walk by the Nugget without her banging on the window and telling me to come in." Handeland took the responsibility for contacting her relatives in Pennsylvania and preparing the first draft of her obituary. "We were friends and foes for many years," he said.
McGuire reveled in reporting the civic life and political wranglings of the community. "War correspondents have it easy," she told this reporter in 1997. "If they want to see some real violence they should cover a meeting of the Nome school board."
"The biggest story of all is the community itself, and the people in the region," she told the Juneau Empire. "They are good folks and I love them."
But, she added, "I often hold them to task for things."
She also held powerful out-of-town interests to task. When the corporate giant Universal Pictures included fake stories attributed to the Nome Nugget in a science fiction movie, she sued and won.
McGuire learned all she knew about reporting by working at the Nugget. "I didn't know a damn thing about journalism when I came up here. (But) understanding science helped me to understand how to ask questions and demand answers."
She took special pride in being fair to all sides, which she felt was especially important in a small town. But she insisted people take responsibility for their public statements. She would not publish an unsigned letter to the editor.
Foreseeing the advent of the internet age earlier than some other members of her profession, McGuire began producing an internet edition of the Nugget in 1995. But Nome had no internet service provider at that time, so she founded nome.net. She kept up with modern desktop publishing trends and her staff created its own software when there was none to be found that suited their needs.
McGuire had battled cancer for several years, Handeland said. Among her other activities, she was the president of a cancer help group, Arctic I Can Survive Cancer.
She maintained an active work schedule into this year, coming to Anchorage to attend the annual banquet preceding the start of the Iditarod sled dog race. But, sensing the end was near, she recently prepared a final editorial that ran on the day she died.
"An effective editorial starts the reader thinking. That's its job," she wrote. "I hope my editorials have done that. … I have loved Nome and the folks in our community and our village neighbors since the day I took over in 1982. I must depart soon. I will bid an affectionate farewell to all."
Handeland said he expects the Nugget, which is billed as Alaska's oldest newspaper, to continue under private ownership.
A funeral mass will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at St. Joseph Church in Nome. Details for a summertime celebration of life will be announced at a later date.