Keeping an Eye on the Prys: Remembering Tom Pry (1940-2011)

The (Sellwod) Bee became the cornerstone of the Pry Publishing chain of weekly newspapers in the 1970s. Co-founder Tom Pry died last month.Before there was the Pamplin Media Group – the network of suburban newspapers surrounding Portland and outflanking The Oregonian, there was Pry Publishing and its chain of inner-city newsweeklies. Slowly, word is leaking out of Arkansas about the passing of the co-founder of Portland’s smallest publishing empire – Tom Pry.

It’s no surprise if you’ve not heard of, or have forgotten, Pry Publishing, which Tom and Marcia Pry (1942-2001) operated in Portland for about 20 years. So far, only two small Portland papers have produced an obit for Tom.

The Prys owned at least seven Portland-area weeklies at a time when small community papers were an endangered species. The remnants of Pry Publishing now are owned by a variety of different newspaper ventures.

The empire started in 1974 when the Prys bought The Bee of Sellwood. That paper, now a monthly, had served Southeast Portland since 1906. Later, the Prys operated the Hollywood News (a precursor of the Hollywood Star), Northwest Neighbor and St. Johns Review, still later founding the Mid-County Memo serving Gateway and Parkrose, Portland Family Calendar and the short-lived East Bank Focus, plus a printing press and graphics shop.

The Prys drew no salary at the start. Tom kept his day job as a copy editor at The Oregonian while putting out The Bee. Eventually the company grew to 55 employees. One of them was Bob Meyer, who became the Pry’s first new employee and worked briefly at The Bee as a reporter and ad salesman.

“Tom had a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor, which often took people off guard, yet he was very serious about getting facts right in the newspaper,” says Meyer. “I think his background in history and political science gave him the perspective that what's in a newspaper is important because the newspaper becomes a historical document.”

Adds Meyer: “Tom could type faster than anyone I have ever known. He was an excellent photographer and built a darkroom in his basement. He was an early fan of R. Crumb's comics.”

And a final Meyer observation: “He also was a packrat and delighted in dragging home things that he found along a highway or sidewalk, which he called ‘roadkill.’…Joanne [Bob’s wife] and I still have a sofa pillow that Marcia made as a gift for me from a bolt of roadkill fabric.”

The Prys, their sense of curiosity and their sense of community journalism are missed.

Link: Obituary in The Bee