A Linotype Man to the End

Jonathan Sawyer, whose unexpected death Nov. 21 was reported in last Friday’s Gazette, was for twenty years a mainstay of this paper’s back shop printing staff.

Jon joined the Gazette staff part-time while he was still in school, following his frequent encounters on Pease’s Point Way with Elizabeth Bowie Hough, the paper’s late copublisher and editor with her husband the late Henry Beetle Hough. She would often give young Jon a ride, warning him that it was much too cold for walking.

Betty Hough cottoned to the exuberant schoolboy and in time suggested that he might be interested in learning the printing trade. Jon Sawyer did — with determination, enthusiasm and great ability. In the days when newspaper print was set with hot metal, he became an expert linotype operator and repairman. Strong and agile, he was also an expert at hefting giant rolls of paper in place for Tuesday and Friday printings.

Jon left the Gazette in the 1980s. Though he had mastered modern methods of cold type printing, he preferred the old hot type method and joined a Boston printing company still using it. But he remained devoted to the Gazette he had known as a youth, and always stopped in to say hello when he was on the Island.

Like his mentor Betty Hough, whom he described in a tribute at the time of her death in 1965 as “sometimes angry like a stormy sea,” Jon Sawyer could often be loud and angry. The back shop at any newspaper is a place where workers under deadline pressure sometimes need to let off steam. But often too, as he wrote of Mrs. Hough, Jon had a disposition softer than a sunny breeze.