Source: Sherman Publications

Family was always first for former ed.

by Phil Custodio

July 20, 2011

For Jean Saile, family was most important.

She and her husband James Saile created a big one, with six children. As Clarkston News editor from 1971-1977, family was a frequent topic of her weekly “Hill ‘n Gully” column. Family’s why she joined the CNews in the first place.

“When she worked for Pontiac Press, she was gone a lot,” said Liz Coleman, Jean’s youngest. “She became editor to be closer to us kids.”

Jean passed away, June 13, at age 80.

She was born on the family homestead in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1931. She moved to Saginaw at 14 with her parents and started her career in journalism at Arthur Hill High School.

She wrote for the Saginaw News in 1947, left there to write a news radio show in Houston, Texas, then returned to Saginaw to report and write news for radio station WSAM.

In 1956, she moved to Rochester and worked as a reporter and editor of Rochester News. The Saile family moved into a 100-year-old house on Main Street at Middle Lake Road in Clarkston in 1966, and she took a reporter job with the Pontiac Press. Jean quit the Pontiac Press and became editor of the Clarkston News in 1971.

“What a fine thing it was for the Clarkston News and all the Clarkston area when Jean Saile came on board as editor,” said Jim Sherman, Sr., publisher at the time. “She had all the attributes a newspaper publisher could want. She was quick of mind and tireless in searches.”

She had great energy and lasting enthusiasm as editor, Sherman said.

“What a great personality,” he said. “She started each day at the office by bringing the staff together to go over their horoscopes. That beginning set a fine mood for the reporters and salespeople.”

She returned to the Oakland Press in 1977 for three years, and continued to perform freelance work for the rest of her life.

Her writing still appears in the pages of the Clarkston News – a letter she wrote in recognition of Dr. James O'Neill's 50th anniversary in Clarkston is posted on page 3B.

The Saile children, Patricia Sowder, Michael (Pam) Saile, Douglas Saile, Janet (Alan) Whitefield, Peter Saile and Lizbeth (Matt) Coleman, all attended Clarkston schools. Peter and Liz went to Clarkston Elementary, a short walk from downtown and the Clarkston News office at 5 S. Main Street.

“It was pretty cool – we used to leave school, walk downtown and raid her desk for change, then go to Rudy’s,” Liz said. “The newspaper office was downstairs, so we’d play upstairs with all the old typewriters.”

She helped her mom out at assignments, covering parades and other community events.

“I used to carry her extra film,” Liz said. “I felt pretty special, standing out in the middle of the road with her as she took pictures. It felt like I was working with her.”

After hours, she’d take her children with her on interviews.

“We’d have to be quiet,” Liz said. “She loved the people she worked with – Jim Sherman was a great friend of hers. She loved the community.”

Jean wrote about development issues in Clarkston, and Independence and Springfield townships, Clarkston school issues, localized national stories, as well as parades, festivals, and other community events.

In addition to family, her column documented her trials and triumphs in restoring a century-old house, and national issues like Watergate.

“She always had a nice column – I looked forward to it in the paper,” said Joan McCrary, longtime resident of Clarkston. “They were sprinkled with humor and well researched. She had a lot of history in her house.”

“I’d just begun getting her personal columns together as a token,” Sherman said. “She called her column ‘Hill ‘n Gully.’ And so it was, up and down, through personal things, pointed remarks, observations, hopes, and happenings. Jean, a whole lot of us miss you.”

America’s Bicentennial in 1976 was also a big deal in her writing and with her family.

“I remember watching the Fourth of July parade from our house on Main Street, just sitting out front,” Liz said. “She’d have a big Fourth of July party every year, with a jazz band she met through work.”

“She was a great patriot – she had great people there, with flags all over,” said Mel Vaara, assistant superintendent for Clarkston schools in the 1970s. “When you went to one of her parties, came back with a great feeling.”

Jean was a community leader at the Clarkston News, Vaara said.

“She listened well, she had a good sense of humor,” he said. “She was fair in her reporting, and a great friend. I miss her compassion, understanding, and her brightness.”

She made great strides for women in journalism, said Dr. James O’Neill, Clarkston pediatrician who treated all her children.

“I really loved her articles – I looked forward to them,” O’Neill said. “She was very accurate and had a way of getting a little more. She was a great newspaper person.”

She was a joy to see in the office, he said.

“She was a really kind person with a great smile,” he said.

After Jean left the Clarkston News, she continued to be active in the community. She was appointed to Independence Township Board in June 1990, served for two years on Independence Township Planning Commission, chaired her election precinct, and ran for Oakland County clerk on the democratic ticket in 1972, winning the primary.

“When she was appointed, I was very pleased,” said Joan McCrary, township clerk in 1990. “She always did her homework. She was so cognizant of the topics at hand, which came from being newspaper editor. It was really nice to work with her.”

Vacation meant travel for the Saile family, Liz said.

“We explored the whole country, went up into Canada several times, which is where she’s from,” Liz said. “We couldn’t always stop at a restaurant. All eight of us were in a station wagon, and mom would make sandwiches in the front seat and hand them back, assembly line fashion.”

As the children grew up and moved away, Jean and James would always visit. With three living out of state, family reunions were a priority for her, Liz said.

“She made sure us kids got together,” she said. “Family comes first. We were six kids – she taught us to love one another and make up when we fought. She was just a great lady.”

Jean Wright Saile passed away peacefully at home after a brief history of congestive heart failure.

She was preceded in death by James, who she married on June 28, 1952, and her brothers Melville B. Wright and H. Gordon Wright.

Her grandchildren are Jason, Eric, Steve, Sean, Jaime (Thom), Dustin (Laura) and Ryan (Lauren); and her great grandchildren are Maya and Avery.

She lived in retirement in Austin, Texas, from 1996 until 2005, when she returned to Oakland County to live out the remainder of life at Elmhaven Manor.

Private family arrangements were entrusted to Lewis E. Wint & Son Funeral Home-Cremation Services, Clarkston. Memorial donations may be made to Salvation Army or PBS.org. The family encourages you to share your memories of Jean on online at www.wintfuneralhome.com.