James Newton Wallace passed away on Easter Sunday, 2 months before his 99th birthday.
He was declared by Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the New York Times to be the “Oldest Paperboy in the World.” To me, he was Grandpa.
He owned a newspaper, Winters Express, for roughly 30 years. As a reporter, he met 7 U.S. presidents including John F. Kennedy at the White House in 1962. The U.S. Information Agency made a documentary about his newspaper entitled “Winters Express,” which was translated into 18 languages and shown in more than 100 countries. He earned the Thomas Jefferson award from the National Weather Service for recording the temperature and rainfall every day at 9:00 a.m. for nearly 60 years. And, the city of Winters named an alley after him called “Newt’s Expressway.”
Even after he retired, he continued to go to work every day – until a month before his death. In his 90’s, he could be seen riding his bike along the streets of Winters on his way to work.
The news of his passing devastated me. I wanted to shut off my feelings because the pain was unbearable. But, I knew I needed to move through them in order to prevent disease. So, I sat with my emotions and allowed the tears to flow freely. In that space, a letter emerged that I would like to share with you:
I still have a difficult time accepting that you are gone. I wake up and start the day as if everything is fine. Then, something triggers a memory of you or Grandma and I find myself heart-broken all over again. Instantly, tears fill my eyes, a knot forms in my throat, and my heart becomes heavy with sadness. Even though I knew this day was approaching, the pain is too much to bear. I miss you even more than I thought possible.
You were there for me at a pivotal time in my life. When Grandma Ida passed, I realized I didn’t know much about our history; I didn’t have family stories I could pass down to my children. I realized I didn’t really know where I came from. I felt lost. But, you changed all of that.
You opened your home and your heart to me. In my quest to learn more about Grandma, I flew to California and spent time with you. Your house felt empty even though I saw Grandma everywhere. I saw her sitting on the sofa with one of her quilts draped over her lap. I saw her cooking her famous rolls in the kitchen where a clock with the words “Ida’s Kitchen” still hung, and I saw her tending to her flowers that were now dying and overgrown with weeds.
Those few days together were emotionally difficult, but they were also a blessing. You shared family photo albums, letters you wrote to Grandma during your courtship, and awards she had won over the years. We even visited her grave together. Because of your willingness to share stories of your life with Grandma, I had the great fortune of feeling closer to her than ever before.
In the process, you taught me about our family lineage. You gave me a better understanding of who we are, where we came from, and the struggles we have overcome. I learned about the character qualities that our family was built upon, including: strength, determination, self-reliance, and faith in God. And, I saw first-hand how you are a shining example of those qualities.
You always lived within your means, never asking for anything. You’d rather go without than ask for a favor or a handout. You woke up every morning and made sure you provided for your family and your community. You built a successful newspaper company with hard work and dedication. And, you continually fought to protect our right to free speech in spite of the opposition you faced. You once said, “the printed word is one of God’s gifts to free men.” You dedicated your life to protect that gift – a gift that many of us take for granted.
My father once told me that you had the courage to publish the truth, as you saw it. When I asked you if you were ever afraid to write the truth you replied, “Write, no. Print, yes.” But, you did it anyways because, “It was the right thing to do.”
And, that’s what I admire about you the most. You always did the right thing – not the easy thing, not the convenient thing, and not always the most popular thing. You stood for your principles regardless of the consequences.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being the man I’m proud to call my Grandpa.
Thank you for teaching me the importance of passing our heritage onto our children.
Thank you for demonstrating that principles matter.
Thank you for being an example of integrity and discipline.
Thank you for showing me how to love family, friends, and neighbors unconditionally.
Thank you for reminding me to never take life for granted.
Above all, thank you for giving me the greatest gift of all – time shared with you.
You gave me stories that I can pass on to my children and that they can pass on to theirs. And, it is through those stories, that I no longer feel lost or alone. All I have to do is think of you, and I’m home. For that gift, I am forever grateful to you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
So, even though the pain is still unbearable and I can’t look at your photo or share stories of you with my children without crying, I will honor your memory the best way I know how. I will continue to wake up every morning, put one foot in front of the other, and live my life to the fullest – just as you did.
And, in the moments when I’m strong enough to put my feelings and my needs aside, I realize that I’m happy for you. I’m happy that you lived a long life filled with children and grandchildren, amazing accomplishments, and unforgettable stories that will be passed down from generation to generation. But, most of all, I am happy that you have been reunited with Grandma, the love of your life. She waited a long time for you to come home.
I love you Grandpa. You will never be forgotten.
With my undying love and gratitude,