Cheering for a competitor and a friend

Assunta Ng, 04/07/2014

Why am I comparing a baby mouse like the Northwest Asian Weekly to a lion that leads the entire Northwest media kingdom? The Times is the largest paper in our state, and Kelly has been competitive since I met her in the 1990s. We competed not so much for business, but for stories about the Asian community.
Are there competitors that I admire?

Yes, there was one. Carolyn Kelly, retired president of the Seattle Times, used to be my competitor.

Why am I comparing a baby mouse like the Northwest Asian Weekly to a lion that leads the entire Northwest media kingdom? The Times is the largest paper in our state, and Kelly has been competitive since I met her in the 1990s. We competed not so much for business, but for stories about the Asian community. She wanted the scoop just as much as I did, not just to beat us but also to beat the Seattle PI, which stopped printing in 2009. It sounded strange that Kelly was so passionate about the Times’ coverage even though she was also the chief operating officer and didn’t deal with content directly. But if you know her, whatever she does, she gives 150 percent. It is no surprise that she broke all the glass ceilings at the Times and was named as president of the company.

Kelly’s circle of friends includes an army of people of color and Asian American friends and leaders, all who like her immensely. Some Asian Americans sources would give us both a story, some sources would time it so well that both papers would get it Wednesday so that the Asian Weekly would publish the story the same day as the Times.

“I am sorry I have to give the Times the story,” I recalled someone apologized to me.

The Times does have a bigger circulation. There are serious issues affecting the community, and the more coverage we can get, the better. Kelly was dedicated to her job and committed to journalism, and I respect that. She has also been supportive of the Asian Weekly in other ways. The Women of Color Empowered luncheon organized by the Northwest Asian Weekly has honored her a few times.

Leadership Tomorrow

Kelly lives a life of diversity. Jane Nishita, a close friend and award presenter for Kelly’s recent Leadership Tomorrow’s Edward Carlson Award, called her “an honorary Asian.” (Carlson was a successful civic and business leader and was the mastermind behind the Space Needle and Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair.)

That night at the Seattle Sheraton, an audience of 300 gave Kelly a standing ovation both before and after her receiving the award. A sea of people of color who were her old friends for decades came to pay tribute. One black friend from the Eastside, who hated driving across the bridge, was happy to show up to support Kelly.

According to Nishita, Kelly was instrumental in getting the Blethen family, who owns the Seattle Times, to “take an unprecedented position to defeat an Initiative on the Washington State ballot — I-200.” The initiative prohibits affirmative action for minorities and women.

Starting in 1995, Kelly has funded a scholarship specifically for students of color at her alma mater, DeSales Catholic High School in Walla Walla. Over the years Kelly has endowed over $30,000 to that scholarship.

Kelly’s support on diversity is generous. When the Seattle Times struggled financially several years ago, she would use her own money to sponsor events in minority communities but let the Times get the recognition.

She wouldn’t let go of opportunities to help young women of color. She would connect them to prominent woman leaders, even inviting them to her own home.

Kelly on building our legacies

A few excerpts from Kelly’s acceptance speech:

“… We’re not going to have much control over what folks say about us once we’re gone!” “… We’ve also all concluded that our legacies are probably largely already written; that our true legacy is really written in how we’ve lived our lives each and every day, whether people remember us or not."


“A legacy doesn’t happen in a moment; we may remember Eddie Carlsen for the World’s Fair and the Space Needle, but I bet he would be the first to say he didn’t do it alone, and to credit and recognize the others who helped make it happen. Eddie could do what he did because he’d spent a career, a lifetime, building connections, building trust, building a network that he could call upon to come together to make our community better.”

“The problems we face today may feel bigger, and maybe they are, but that isn’t an excuse not to act, it’s a powerful call to step up, to come together, to make a difference; to tackle the tough issues we face with caring hearts, open minds, an inclusive approach and a resolve to find common ground, to solve problems, not point fingers.”

I wish more politicians would listen to Kelly’s speech. So many of them enjoy pointing fingers instead of taking responsibility for their mistakes and oversights.

Thank you Kelly for your wisdom, and for who and what you are!