KOMO-TV’s Bill Brubaker was “that guy” — that guy we invited into our homes night after night, day after day, year after year.
With his on-air partners, Ray Ramsey (weather) and Bruce King (sports), Bill brought us up to date on what was going on in our world and why it was important. We laughed with him, cried with him, celebrated with him. Bill was our friend; he was my friend. Sadly, we lost that friend last weekend. Bill Brubaker passed away. The lifelong Edmonds resident was 85. His wife, Marlene, preceded Bill in death just two months earlier.
I met Bill Brubaker – “Bru” – more than 40 years ago, when I joined the KOMO news team. Bill and Marlene took our family under their wing, told us what a great town Edmonds was, and their daughter Teri was our girls’ favorite babysitter. My wife Sonja literally “grew up” with Bill; her family was among those who invited him into their homes each night.
Bill was born in Spokane, graduated from WSU when it was still called Washington State College and launched what would become a legendary career in 1959, on the radio in Roseburg, Ore.
A year later, he landed a summer job at KXLY radio in Spokane. When the station switched to a rock ‘n’ roll format, his on-air name became “Bashful Billy” Brubaker. In 1962, he got the “big break,” joining KOMO radio just in time for the Seattle World’s Fair. And he almost lost his job on his first day. Bru didn’t recognize a guy who walked into the building and tried to throw the man out. That guy was Oliver Fisher, corporate executive with Fisher Broadcasting, which owned KOMO. To hear Bill tell it, Mr. Fisher was very gracious about the actions of this brash young man.
Good thing he kept his job, because by then Bill had married Marlene and had moved to Edmonds, where they eventually raised two daughters, Terianne and Kathryn. They lived here for more than 50 years.
At KOMO, Bill began a legendary broadcast career that spanned 25 years. On his first reporting assignment, in 1965, Bru spent five days living on a tugboat, reporting live on the transfer of Namu — the first Orca in captivity — from Canada to Seattle, Namu. Later that year, he took to the anchor desk with Ray Ramsey and Bruce King, and the threesome kept KOMO’s 11 p.m. news at the top of the ratings race for 13 years. A few months later, Bill took over the 5 p.m. anchor duties as well.
When a feisty piglet at the Evergreen State Fair tried to upstage Bill, they worked it out, live, on air. The piglet didn’t give up without a noisy sparring match. Bill thought he’d got the last word. The piglet proved otherwise!
In his time at KOMO, Bill garnered numerous awards, including an Emmy. The Seattle chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted Bill into its “Silver Circle,” a lifetime award for broadcasting excellence. In 1991, the Freedom Foundation awarded him its Medal for Public Communication. During that time, he had joined the Naval Reserve and rose to the rank of captain, spending 36 years with the Navy.
Closing the door at KOMO in 1987 opened so many more doors. That year, Bill was appointed to the Snohomish County Council to fill a vacant seat. He was re-elected to two full terms. On the council, Bill served as president of the Puget Sound Regional Council, vice chairman of the Regional Transit Authority, and chair of the Snohomish County Transportation Authority. He also chaired the council’s transportation committee.
Bill was a licensed pilot and with his passion for transportation issues, mid-way through his second council term, he was a perfect pick to become state assistant secretary of aeronautics. Bru was based at Seattle’s Boeing Field, where he oversaw the state’s 16 emergency airstrips as well as the coordination of search-and-rescue efforts for missing general aviation aircraft, and training for pilots and mechanics.
In his “spare” time, Bill authored two books; a raucous take on the inside secrets of Northwest broadcasting, titled “Never As It Seems,” and another on the exploration of Pacific Ocean seamounts, for which he was one of two media representatives on board. He was also primary editor of a history of the Naval Air Reserve. Bill was an advanced scuba diver and spent time on ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau’s boat Calypso.
Faith was a big part of Bill and Marlene’s life. Marlene earned a masters degree at Trinity Theological Seminary in Indiana. In Edmonds, she began Stillwaters Counseling and participated in a number of ministries. She and Bill served as delegates to the U.S. State Department’s 2nd Annual Ministerial Conference on Religious Freedom and attended the International School For Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem.
For me, Bru was a mentor, a man with a wicked sense of humor, a vast knowledge of the world, a warm and gracious guy at work and home and, best of all, a friend. Bill was “that” guy; a dedicated broadcasting pro who represented the best in journalism. He was that guy who gave of himself and his life in service to others. Bru was that guy who made you feel welcome, made you think, challenged you, made you laugh and feel good about life. Bill Brubaker was that guy.
— By Bob Throndsen