John MacNaughton was a gentleman and a gentle man. While this may not have squared with his role as a World War II gunnery-training officer, he was old-school polite and a man of principle, the sort of person who when invited to dinner brought flowers for the Mrs.
After the war John returned to his job as associate editor of the daily Brandon Sun but like so many newspapermen, he wanted to own his own newspaper. This led him, his wife Alexis and their three children to Ladysmith in 1953 to buy the Chronicle and the Chemainus Herald.
The MacNaughtons were typical newspaper owners of that era, good people, independent and hard-working, precise in their use of the language and supportive of their community. The bottom line was a necessity because after all a newspaper is a business but for the MacNaughtons the bottom line was never the focus, the focus was to produce a good newspaper. But finding enough coin to rub together and pay the bills wasn’t easy and in 1963 the MacNaughtons were forced to combine the Chronicle and the Herald; they continued to operate the papers separately but printed both in Ladysmith on a press that had long ago seen its best before date.
But, still, the balance sheet remained out of balance and eventually John was forced to shut down his hot metal production equipment, and the press. A new process called photo-offset was at hand and while he couldn’t afford to buy into it, he took advantage of it by sending his news and advertising copy to Victoria for typesetting and printing. During that difficult transition he had to lay off staff and by the time health forced him to sell the Chronicle, in 1974, the late Jean Rogerson was his only paid help, there to take care of the front office.
About this time central printing plants were setting up in earnest and this meant publishers no longer had to go into debt to buy costly presses on which to print their newspapers; instead, they could buy press time from the central plant. The Chronicle became a central printing plant in 1978 after moving into the empty Overwaitea store on High Street and purchasing a seven-unit web offset press on which a dozen other newspapers were printed. Group ownership was next for the industry and where there were 22 independently-owned community papers on the island in 1974, today you can count them on one hand and still play the piano.
Through all this John remained a respected member of the newspaper community. He won awards and fellow publishers elected him president of their newly-created, province-wide association.
After the MacNaughtons sold the Chronicle, they spent a number of winters in Mexico where they became fluent in Spanish. They said they came to love the people of their small village, and the time spent there allowed John to recover his health and to later become a justice of the peace in Ladysmith.
Alexis had humour: She was at the police office one afternoon to gather the week’s news when a pretty lady in a short skirt appeared at the front counter and caught detachment commander Ken Sutherland’s attention, causing him to set aside his conversation with Alexis for a moment. After the short skirt left the building, Alexis asked Sgt Sutherland if she wore a short skirt the following week would she have his undivided attention.
The MacNaughtons are gone now and Ladysmith is the poorer because of it.
Contributed by: Rollie Rose
Image added by LDHS from their files
Alexis passed away in the Ladysmith & District Hospital on March 15, 1985. John would join her five years later on March 13, 1990.