Ray Nish dedicated his life to providing information to the public through fair and accurate journalism that served as a watchdog over government. The retired Modesto Bee managing editor died Friday morning at a Modesto hospital at the age of 87.
Mr. Nish retired in October 1985 after 37 years with the newspaper, 23 years as its managing editor.
"He's been involved in journalism since the time he was in high school," said Lois Nish, his wife of 67 years. "That was his passion in life: News. Getting information out to the people."
Mr. Nish served in the Army Air Forces as a P-38 fighter pilot during World War II. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying some of the toughest missions over the Pacific, his family said.
Bee Opinion Pages Editor Judy Sly said Mr. Nish's knowledge of aircraft was evident whenever staff members had to write articles about airplanes.
"Because of his experience as a pilot, he seemed to know everything there was to know about airplanes," said Sly, who was hired at The Bee by Mr. Nish in 1973. "If you happened to be writing an article that involved an airplane, you had to find out the model and so forth. And you better get it right, because he would know immediately if you didn't."
Mr. Nish worked for The Associated Press in San Francisco, the Chico Record and the Berkeley Gazette before joining The Bee as valley editor in February 1948 when Modesto's population was pushing 20,000 and growing.
Set an example
The Bee's editor and senior vice president, Mark Vasché, said Mr. Nish was a man of high principle personally and professionally.
"I first met Ray in 1970, when he hired me as a beginning reporter," said Vasché, who succeeded Nish as managing editor in 1986. "Over the years, he set a tremendous example for me and others with his commitment to journalism, to this newspaper and to the community it served."
After retiring, Mr. Nish wrote and edited works about the history of California's Central Valley. Among his writings was "Read All About It, A Historical Review of Stanislaus County Newspapers." He researched and wrote a 4-inch book about his family's history.
"He was fascinated with history, and he loved doing research," said his son, Steven Nish.
He said his father wanted to give Californians a better sense of where they come from and cared deeply about the average citizen.
"He believed a well- informed citizenry is the best chance for our country," his son said.
Dick LeGrand, a longtime Bee reporter and editor who retired in 2003, remembered Mr. Nish as a good boss, a sharp editor and a decent man who deserved the respect he earned.
LeGrand said Mr. Nish was a "hands-on editor" who worked long hours and was always mindful that accuracy and fairness were the top requirements of good journalism.
"He wanted The Bee to cover Modesto, surrounding communities and adjoining counties like a blanket, especially when it came to what he considered the paper's essential role of being a watchdog for the public interest," LeGrand said.
In a 1985 article about his retirement from The Bee, Mr. Nish credited his wife for supporting him during the lean times of his career, earning $18 a week in his first job for The Associated Press.
"It's been great," Mr. Nish said in the Bee article. "It's been a lot of sacrifices, but it has been worth it."
On Friday, the Nish family was still making funeral arrangements.
Mr. Nish was preceded in death by his daughter, Kathleen Jenner. He is survived by his wife, Lois; his sons Steven and Richard; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2394.