A smooth writer who could tackle any topic with equal skill, Lew Hudson spent much of his working life with a keyboard and a blank page to fill.
Hudson died Wednesday, June 12. He was 91.
He came to the north woods from the open prairie of southwestern Minnesota and found a new home as a journalist, a teacher and an elected official. A tall, slender man with a deep voice, Hudson was employed in radio before he became a newspaperman at the Daily Globe in Worthington in 1961. He spent 25 years at the Globe as a reporter and editor before joining the staff at the Brainerd Dispatch.
A prolific columnist, Hudson estimated he wrote about 1,500 columns, writing three times a week. Writing a column opened a new, and as Hudson described it, and "exciting door" for him.
"Those Daily Globe columns caught the eye of Roy Miller, editor of the Brainerd Dispatch, and when the time came to leave Worthington, they were the key that opened the door to my assignment as senior editor of the Brainerd Dispatch," Hudson stated in a Daily Globe story in 2012. "During the last six years of my working life, the Brainerd column became an overwhelming reader favorite."
Hudson arrived in Brainerd in 1985. Before he arrived he already put together a storied career, interviewing men who were in the highest offices in the nation.
The father of four-LuAnn, Cindy, Becky and Fred-Hudson often captured slices of life in his columns and his foil in the battle of the birdfeeder, a squirrel named Claude.
Former Dispatch editor Roy Miller said Hudson developed a column in the Brainerd paper people couldn't wait to read. Hudson described it as 30 minutes of writing and about seven hours of polishing.
"My favorite column is when he wrote about Sunday school church Christmas pageants," Miller said. The columns captured a slice of life and incorporated humor.
Miller happened upon Hudson's writing when the Dispatch had the Daily Globe delivered for a few months after hearing about the writing prowess at the southwestern Minnesota paper.
"When you gave Lew an assignment he would bird dog it until he got it," Miller said Friday. "And he would stay with it and you knew you would get a story."
Miller said the biggest tribute he could say about Hudson was his work as lead writer on the scandal involving Colin Hall's bus manufacturing efforts at Brainerd International Trade Centre. The scandal led to an FBI investigation and financial losses for the city of Brainerd.
Miller said an industry expert said the Dispatch may have been able to capture a Pulitzer Prize for Hudson's work had it been entered. Hudson's work did earn the Stauffer Communications Founders Cup for best reporting of the year from the company's stable of more than 20 newspapers.
Terry McCollough, longtime and retired publisher of the Dispatch, said the BITC story was the biggest news story of the decade for the Dispatch. McCollough described Hudson as a consummate professional and a tenacious reporter who traveled to get the details to that story. "He was a great employee," McCollough said.
Mike O'Rourke, retired associate editor at the Dispatch, remembered Hudson for his discipline and marveled at how he could keep on top of all his assignments and still do his columns like clockwork. At 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., Hudson would put things away and go home to "Mrs. H," as he called his wife Irma in his columns.
"He was good at just about everything you could throw at him," O'Rourke said.
O'Rourke described Hudson as a smooth writer who could cover everything from crime, to crashes to complicated court cases. "He'd been very popular in Worthington. He was a big part of that community."
In 2012, in a profile on Hudson's collection of writings, Beth Rickers, the Daily Globe's features editor noted Hudson covered everything from "tragedies, trials, triumphs and turkeys" at the Globe. Hudson is credited with being a starting player in an ongoing race between two turkeys-one from Worthington and one from Cuero, Texas, known as the Great Gobbler Gallop.
Hudson, from a time when a working newsman wore a tie on a daily basis, had another side to his wardrobe choices, at least according to a Dallas Morning News Sunday magazine cover from 1974 where the Globe noted his attire included "bright red running shorts, tank top, black socks and short boots" as he urged a turkey down the street with a cowboy hat in hand. The photo was taken during the early years of the Great Gobbler Gallop that pitted the Worthington gobbler against a Texas turkey for the race and thus title of Turkey Capital of the World. Hudson was one of the original first turkey racers. In fact, the idea for the Gobbler Gallop began in the Daily Globe newsroom after Hudson wrote a story about two cities, separated by the breadth of the nation, both celebrating turkeys. It produced a challenge for a race, which Hudson and Jim Wychor accepted.
Steve Kohls, longtime Dispatch photographer, shared a love of the prairie with Hudson. Kohls said Hudson was recognized as an amateur archeologist. Kohls said Hudson was always fascinated by that.
"He had very high ethics," Kohls recalled. "He was an old style columnist, homey, folksy, clever. ... He could find humor in the everyday."
O'Rourke recalled what may be a little known fact with Hudson. The World War II vet was serving at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Chicago when he typed up Bud Grant's discharge papers. Hudson joined the Navy at age 17 in 1945. The war ended before he was stationed overseas.
Hudson had a storied career covering everything from small town fires to the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco.
"It's amazing all the stuff Dad accomplished in his life," his daughter Cindy Hudson Spartz said. She noted when Hudson retired there was a Lew Hudson Day at the state Capitol. Politicians from Dave Durenberger to former Vice President Walter Mondale remembered her father and his work, Hudson Spartz said. "Dad had a lot of brushes with a lot of important people."
While working in Worthington, Hudson interviewed Hubert Humphrey, Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Hudson flew a number of places covering stories for the Daily Globe in the paper's Cessna. Hudson Spartz has fond memories of flying with him on one of those trips to Walnut Grove. But Hudson may have remembered another flight with deep clarity-a trip with the famed aviators of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels.
"He said it was a tremendous experience," Hudson Spartz recalled. "He didn't want to do it ever again."
One of his dreams, she said, was to run for elected office. A dream he was able to do in his 16 years serving on the Brainerd School Board, ending in 2009. His daughter said he absolutely loved serving and took it very seriously.
"He covered so many different things," Hudson Spartz said of her father's career. "He liked the fact that Brainerd gave him a new lease on his career. He was so glad that was where he finished out his career."
The journalist turned elected official who could write anything, and who even taught a reporting class at Central Lakes College, ended his days in the lakes area. A memorial will be planned for a later date this summer.
"A really good guy, easy to work with and charming with the public," O'Rourke said of Hudson. And "a very good journalist."
Editor's Note: Story updated to correct use of Willmar when the city should have been noted as Worthington.