Longtime Alaska journalist Rosemary Shinohara died of complications from the coronavirus on Dec. 13 in Anchorage. She was 73.
Born in Cordova, Shinohara later moved to Anchorage with her family. She went on to study journalism at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, her daughter Michi Shinohara said. There, she met Vincent Shinohara, an exchange student from Japan. They later married.
After a stop in the Midwest, the couple moved back to Anchorage and Shinohara embarked on a career that spanned more than 40 years as a reporter and editor documenting Alaska, mostly at the Anchorage Daily News.
Her first byline in the newspaper, in 1971: “Girl’s State to Meet in College, Glennallen.”
Her last byline before retirement in 2013: “Group to choose U-Med road route — Traffic planners say new road needed to allow growth in university, medical district.”
Between the two, Shinohara wrote thousands of stories about the collisions of policy and people in Anchorage.
“She wrote about land-use planning and public transportation, traffic plans and taxes, local elections, parks, housing and arcane neighborhood disputes,” wrote David Hulen, editor of the Daily News and a 25-year colleague of Shinohara’s. “Hundreds of stories. She worked weekend shifts, sat through countless public meetings, saw city administrations come and go.”
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Her favorite stories were the ones with “regular people trying to live their lives,” said Lisa Demer, a former Daily News reporter and longtime friend of Shinohara’s.
She loved “stories with people at the center, about how their lives intersected with government,” Demer said.
Shinohara also spent years as an editor shaping coverage, a stint writing editorials, and a year in Virginia working for National Public Radio.
Her work had impact: In 1977, she won a national Gerald Loeb Award for a 14-part investigation into problems financing and building the trans-Alaska pipeline. She was a part of the Daily News team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1989.
Shinohara and her husband had two children, Michi and Loren Shinohara. Her mom’s identity as a journalist was “a really important part of everything in her life,” Michi said. “She was very attuned to politics, what was happening everywhere.”
The newsroom was the backdrop to their childhood.
“She’d bring us to the office. I remember hanging around, playing on the typewriter,” she said. “I learned so many cuss words at such a young age.”
In 2013, Shinohara retired from the Daily News. She spent time with her husband, took trips to see her children and grandson, gardened, read mystery books and played poker with pals. Friends remember her relentless summer blueberry picking expeditions, sometimes in pouring rain. She liked nature and adventure, and completed the Gold Nugget Triathlon and the Tour of Anchorage ski race, said Demer. Sometimes, the two of them would get up at 7 a.m. and cross-country ski in the dark before work.
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she kept working out at a boxing gym to maintain her strength and never lost optimism, her daughter said.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, she took precautions, knowing that she was at high risk of serious illness. She had a lot to look forward to: She was excited to have another grandchild on the way, due in March. She and Vincent had recently celebrated their 50-year wedding anniversary.
It’s not clear where Shinohara contracted the virus, her daughter said.
Both parents got sick just before Thanksgiving and were hospitalized, improved and were released, Michi said. But Shinohara became ill again. She returned to the hospital struggling to breathe on Dec. 6 and died several days later, on Dec. 13, an experience her daughter wrote about in a series of postings on Twitter.
This week, frontline health workers started receiving vaccines in Alaska. Shinohara would have been able to get one too, probably sometime in the spring.
“We were so close,” Michi said. “We just had to make it a few more months.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the community where Shinohara was born. She was born in Cordova, not Nome.