Tacoma won when Honeysett took an activist role

If you like the revitalization Tacoma has undergone in recent years, Bill Honeysett is among those who deserve much of the credit.

Honeysett, who died Sunday at age 77, was president and later publisher of The News Tribune between 1983 and 1991. But he saw his role as extending far beyond running the newspaper. He was an activist publisher who believed the paper’s editorial board – which he led – should play an important community leadership role.

It wasn’t enough for him that the newspaper reported on events and – on its opinion pages – editorialized about them. He wanted to take a proactive approach, to focus attention on areas where community leaders and businesses could do a better job and be more accountable to the public. The goal: to improve the quality of life in the South Sound.

One way he did that was by initiating an annual agenda for community action that continues to this day. The editorial board’s 2015 agenda will appear Sunday on this page. Honeysett likely would have agreed with its priorities and come up with a couple more.

Another way he sought change was by forming the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma, bringing together movers and shakers to work together toward downtown revitalization. That group included such leaders as Weyerhaeuser Co. CEO George Weyerhaeuser, Russell Investment Group CEO George Russell and Puget Sound Bank CEO Bill Philip.

They helped lay the groundwork for the city’s focus on the arts, which would lead to today’s museum district. The council also worked toward establishing the downtown University of Washington campus.

Honeysett loved Tacoma, but one thing about the city really bugged him: its infamous wood pulp “aroma.” He thought it did more to hurt the city’s image than anything else and interfered with its ability to move forward. He was determined to use the newspaper’s bully pulpit to convince the smell producers to clean up their act and city officials to be less tolerant of the stink.

The editorial pressure he applied got results. Today the distinctive aroma is rarely smelled, and much of the credit is due to Honeysett.

Other accomplishments include helping keep Tacoma’s Triple-A baseball team and bringing the American Leadership Forum to Tacoma. Many South Sound leaders in both the public and private sectors have benefited from ALF’s leadership training, and the community has benefited from the classes’ projects.

Honeysett was one of Tacoma’s biggest fans, but he could clearly see past its strengths and home in on what still needed to be done to make it a better place. He made a difference, and he will be missed.