Jonathan Newhall, scrappy journalist turned software engineer and thriller writer, died unexpectedly on Friday, February 19, 2021, in Oakland, California, following a stroke and a pulmonary embolism. He was 79.
Jon was the editor and general manager of his family's often controversial Newhall Signal in the 1960s. During his tenure, the paper's liberal editorial stance made it a renegade in the conservative southern California community.
In 1969, Jon wrote an editorial criticizing Governor Reagan's appointment of the local congressman to become the state's Lieutenant Governor. The editorial won the Greater Los Angeles Press Club's top award for a newspaper editorial that year. In 1970, the Signal took the lead in a contentious communitywide school board recall election – which the voters strongly approved.
In the 1970s, Jon turned his journalism skills and social conscience to founding Zodiac News Service. Based in San Francisco, it featured anti-Vietnam War, civil rights, environment, rock 'n' roll and counterculture news. Jon's mission was to provide reliable reporting, produced according to journalistic ethics and standards, to outlets seeking sources of news not reported in the mainstream media.
In the 1980s the middle-aged Jon surprised his family by moving into the computer field. Much respected by his young colleagues, he worked as a software engineer and project manager at the Bay Area companies, including Computer Logics, Simborg Systems, Oacis Healthcare and SAIC.
Later in retirement, Jon's penchant for politics resurfaced and he took up writing political thrillers. Just weeks before his death, he completed his most recent novel, which his family hopes to publish soon.
Jon was born in 1941 in Palo Alto, California, and grew up in Berkeley. He graduated from Cate School in Carpinteria in 1959 and was a lifelong supporter of the school, organizing fundraising and class reunions. He graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in economics in 1964.
After graduation, Jon moved to Newhall, which was founded in 1876 by his great-great-grandfather, gold rush pioneer Henry Mayo Newhall. There, Jon joined the staff of The Signal, which was owned by his parents, Scott and Ruth Newhall.
Jon always found ways to support his local community. In 1967 he helped organize the Santa Clarita Valley Boys and Girls Club, which recently celebrated its 53rd anniversary. In the 1980s, he served as a director of the family-based Henry Mayo Newhall Foundation and was the foundation's president from 2003 to 2007. He oversaw annual contributions of $600,000 to charities throughout California, including $200,000 to organizations in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Jon's other concerns included local animal shelters and, most recently, the Friends of Oakland Public School Libraries and its efforts to create a digital library for Oakland schoolchildren.
Jon was a life-long chess player and played alongside other family chess players – including his then 87-year-old mother – at such tournaments as the U.S. Open in Hawaii and the National Chess Open in Las Vegas.
After retiring, Jon devoted his time to friends and family, enjoying reunions with the Newhall and Falconer families as well as his Cate School classmates.
Jon is survived by his wife of 44 years, Bay Area journalist Barbara Falconer Newhall, and by his children, Peter Newhall (Emily) of Minneapolis, and Christina Newhall (Tim Beedle) of Studio City, and by his granddaughters, Zelda Newhall and Eliza Newhall of Minneapolis; also by his brother Skip Newhall (Lorie) and his twin brother Tony Newhall (Reena), of Valencia, California, and by many loving cousins, nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by his parents, Scott and Ruth Newhall of Piru, California, and by a sister, Penny Newhall.
No memorial service is planned as yet. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to East Bay SPCA or to the Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries.
Published in The Santa Clarita Valley Signal from Mar. 6 to Apr. 3, 2021.