Bonnie Washuk works at her desk in the Sun Journal newsroom in Lewiston on Wednesday.   Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — On Halloween night in 1983, the new city government reporter for the Lewiston Daily Sun headed out to cover a session of the Planning Board.

“I didn’t know anything,” Bonnie Washuk said Wednesday.

The big news that Monday night was the passage of a new master plan — a road map for the city’s future development — which is the sort of study that officials work on for months.

“I had to say, ‘What’s a master plan?’” Washuk recalled, adding with a laugh that she “filed that pathetic story on deadline.”

More than 35 years later — after covering nearly every possible beat at the Sun Journal, including the State House, education and the environment — Washuk filed her last story Wednesday before heading home.

Leaving, she said, is “very hard,” because she’s loved the job since day one, writing thousands of stories along the way, a mix of news and features.

“It’s such fun,” Washuk said, noting that the job of a journalist offers the chance to meet all sorts of interesting people and to learn about most everything at some point.

Born in Augusta as the oldest girl among eight children, Washuk had a close-up view of newspapers from early on because her father, John Clark, worked in the composing room of the Kennebec Journal.

Clark told his daughter that “news is filler” in the composing room, just stuff to fill the empty space between the all-important advertising. Even so, journalism caught her imagination.

She snagged a position at her father’s newspaper as a clerk while still in high school, kicking off her career at age 17.

Washuk said she nagged the editor into giving her a shot at writing while doing the Sunday night cop beat, and then started getting some bylines on other days, too, after finishing her clerical work.

When a younger brother got a job as a sportswriter for the Lewiston paper, she soon followed, arriving at age 27 at a job that would carry her to Social Security.

Initially shy, Washuk soon discovered she enjoyed talking with people. “If you don’t get out of that, you’re not going to last a week,” she said.

Washuk still loves interviewing random people on the street because she hears such “interesting, fun answers” from folks who are surprisingly ready to offer their thoughts. She also likes writing profiles because “it’s fun to get to know people.”

Her work has long won the respect of her colleagues.

In “This Splendid Game,” a 2004 book about Maine politics by Bowdoin College professor Christian P. Potholm, he noted her balanced pieces from the State House and her effort “to be objective and thorough day in and day out. She succeeds more than most other reporters.”

Washuk has always been ready to do the hardest stories, too, the kind that leave reporters a little wounded.

“It’s important to do that uncomfortable thing,” she said.

For instance, Washuk said, when someone loses a loved one “and you have to write about it, it’s so heartbreaking.”

But there’s a responsibility to go knock on their door and to offer grieving people the chance to talk. Some do. Some don’t.

“It’s like a trust to treat them the right way, the ethical, truthful way,” she said.

Washuk remembered crying with a Lisbon mother who lost two sons in a boating accident.

“These things never leave you,” she said.

Over the years, Washuk has watched the newsroom shrink in size as the city’s newspapers combined and subscriptions declined, part of a national trend.

“It’s not what it was, but I still feel it’s vital. We do a lot of good — and we try to do good,” she said.

She said she never wanted a job that would chain her to a desk. “It’s a calling,” Washuk said, and nobody does it for the paycheck. Instead, she said, it’s a job where people “can make a difference.”

Giving it up isn’t easy, though she will likely do some free-lance or part-time journalism work closer to home.

“I’m going to miss this community,” Washuk said, who at one time resided in Lewiston. “It’s a great place to work and live.”

But she’s tired of the long commute to her home in Portland, and can’t wait to take her grandchildren for the summer and to show them the joys of Maine.

“It’s really been a great ride,” Washuk said. “I feel very grateful.”


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