Veteran journalist John Michael (Mike) Middlesworth, the former managing editor of The Honolulu Advertiser who later followed his passions to help his Hawaii island community, died earlier this month. He was 81.
Middlesworth — with his penchant for wide-brimmed hats — followed his newspaper career by immersing himself in Hawaii island issues.
In 2010 Middlesworth served on the Hawaii County Redistricting Commission, followed by his service on the Hawaii County Grand Jury through 2011. He was also a member of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Hawaii, the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, the Wine Connection, Aloha Golf Club and Pua Golf Gang.
He was a member of the Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission, a former board member of the East Hawaii Regional Board of Hawaii Health Systems and business manager of Has-tings & Pleadwell: A Communication Company.
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an email Thursday, “Mike was a valued member of the Judicial Selection Commission who brought a wealth of life experience to the commission’s work and treated everyone with respect. As a former journalist, he knew how to get to the heart of a matter quickly. We were very fortunate to have him serve on the commission, and he will be greatly missed. Our sympathy and aloha go out to Mike’s wife, Barbara, and the rest of his family.”
Former Advertiser reporter and columnist Will Hoover said the reason he came to Hawaii in 1987 from Iowa was because of Middlesworth.
“Here’s how Mike Middlesworth changed my life for the better in less than 10 seconds: It’s 7:30 in the morning in February 1987, and I’m shivering in bed in Des Moines, Iowa, when the phone rings,” Hoover said. “There’s 4 feet of snow on the ground, the temperature outside is absolute zero, giant flakes of snow are falling from the sky and I’m currently an unemployed newspaper reporter.
“When I pick up the phone, I hear this gruff voice on the other end of the line say, ‘How would you like to come to Hawaii and look over our operation?’ A couple of days later I’m in Honolulu accepting an invitation to write for The Honolulu Advertiser. I’m been living in Hawaii ever since. End of story.”
In 2001 Middlesworth was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and survived.
By that time he had had a long career in newspapers that began as assistant sports editor at the Port Huron Times Herald in Michigan in 1961. He moved from newsroom positions at newspapers in Oklahoma, Michigan and Indiana before serving as managing editor of the Advertiser between 1973 and 1986. He then became the Advertiser’s business manager from 1986 through 1993.
Middlesworth then became a newspaper consultant from 1993 through 2001 to clients that included the New Zealand Press Association, El Nuevo Dia (San Juan, Puerto Rico), Los Angeles Daily News, the Hawaii Newspaper Agency, Virgin Islands Daily News and the Kingsport (Tenn.) Times-News.
In 1998 he also took a temporary position as CEO and executive editor of the Virgin Island Daily News in St. Thomas.
“Mike never gave up,” said his wife, Barbara A. Hastings. “He was a newsman at the pit of his being, checking facts and sharing info with folks across the country. He mentored many excellent journalists. He served his Hilo community and the state. I was honored to walk with him. Oh, and he golfed and golfed.”
For 18 months between 1999 and 2000, Middlesworth drove across the mainland to research a book called “Eating at Mom’s” that remains unpublished. From 1997 to 2003 he also was a partner in Hilo’s Fiascos Restaurant.
Middlesworth was born on May 26, 1938, in El Paso, Texas. His father, Hal, also was a newspaperman who went on to become public relations chief for the Detroit Tigers baseball organization.
Middlesworth graduated from Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology in 1961. He also served in the Army.
Middlesworth, who lived in Waiakea Uka in Hilo, died Jan. 14.
He is survived by his spouse, Barbara; three children from a previous marriage: Andrea Farleigh of Kailua, Cara Middlesworth of Kailua and Chad Middlesworth of Waikiki; four grandsons; a stepdaughter, Rhea Hastings Olsen; and two step-grandsons.
A celebration of life is scheduled for Feb. 21-23 in Hilo. For more information, contact event@HastingsandPleadwell.com.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks to consider contributing to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes press freedom and defending journalists’ rights. Visit cpj.org for more information.