A newsman’s flair for the underdog
Nevada Appeal News Service
FALLON – He has been described in many terms … from a maverick who followed the beat from his own drummer to a man passionate about taking on the Washington elite and preserving water in a thirsty agricultural area of central Nevada.
Such a man was former San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Timothy D. Findley, who died in late November in Reno after being hospitalized for a series of illnesses.
Findley left the rat-race of the “City by the Bay” and moved to Fallon in the early 1990s. In recent years he was a frequent contributor to Range magazine, described on its website as a publication “devoted to the issues that threaten the West, its people, lifestyles, lands and wildlife.”
Findley, who is survived by his wife, Roxanne, of Fallon and son, Timothy Jr. of San Francisco, remained devoted to his writing despite declining health. His last piece on the legends and myth of the Mustang horse are chronicled in the latest issue of Range. Findley began writing on his next article for Range just days before his death.
A fierce competitor
Range Editor C.J. Hadley described Findley as the best investigative reporter she had ever met, a fierce competitor in disseminating the news. Hadley told the Lahontan Valley News she worked with Findley for 16 years, and he had a knack of scooping the daily newspapers on controversial issues. Yet, she said Findley would then grow frustrated with his story not being published in a timely fashion because Range is a quarterly magazine.
“He was fierce, relentless, honorable, always the perfect journalist,” Hadley said. Yet, she said Findley could be difficult. “He was the most high maintenance son of a b—- I ever met, but he was a gift to Range.”
Hadley said she was impressed with the way Findley could “toss the human element” into his stories and dig into the issues.
“Range was very lucky to have him,” she said.
In an interview with the LVN five years ago, Findley said he enjoyed working for Range and found it interesting to see how stories could easily be told through a television newscast or in a theatrical script.
“The basic is the same,” he said in the interview with former Editor Josh Johnson. “For the reporter, it’s a great adventure. I know some of the stories I write for Range would make a better damn movie.”
A 43-year friendship
It was that attraction of Nevada’s rustic beauty that pulled the Utah native and U.S. Marine veteran to the Lahontan Valley. He developed a friendship with American Indian activist Adam Fortunate Eagle Nordwald 43 years ago in San Francisco. Like Findley, Fortunate Eagle later moved to the Stillwater area east of Fallon after spending years in the San Francisco area.
“My daughter conducted a tribal ritual, like a last rite,” Fortunate Eagle said when Findley lay on his death bed. “Twenty minutes later he died.”
Fortunate Eagle, a Chippewa Indian born on Minnesota’s Red Cloud Reservation 81 years ago, said the Crows adopted Findley because of his loyalty and efforts to the Indian people.
“I first met Tim in 1967. He was working for the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America, a program designed specifically to fight poverty), recruiting Indians into the program,” recounted Fortunate Eagle, who said he was a chairman of a prominent American Indian organization. From there, the Chronicle hired Findley as a reporter.
As their friendship grew, so did the trust between them. Fortunate Eagle said Findley was privy to all the events leading to the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz, the former federal prison located on a rocky island in San Francisco Bay, that lasted 19 months, 1969-1971.
“In 1968 the U.S. government declared it (Alcatraz) a surplus property. We then laid claim to the surplus property,” Fortunate Eagle said.
As Fortunate Eagle and others formulated their plans to occupy Alcatraz, he said Findley became involved in almost every step of the planning and then wrote about their plight afterward. The feds, however, took a different view on the occupation, and worked for more than a year to remove the Indians and their supporters from the fortress.
Fortunate Eagle also acknowledged Findley could be a difficult man with whom to work.
“I called him a curmudgeon,” Fortunate Eagle said, laughing. “I knew and understood him, and he could also be a lovable curmudgeon.”
During the years while both men lived in the Lahontan Valley, Findley assisted Fortunate Eagle with the publication of several books, the latest a first-hand account of the Alcatraz occupation.
Fighting for water
San Francisco had been home for Findley since the late 1960s, but he was ready to move on. He also wanted to be closer to Fortunate Eagle.
“I was getting tired of San Francisco, and my kid was just beginning grade school,” Findley said in a newspaper interview. “I didn’t want him to grow up there, and we just wanted to move to the country.”
Findley showed an interest in the local issues, and became an ardent supporter of Jamie Mills, director of the Newlands Water Protective Association. He saw how Washington politicians were stripping the Lahontan Valley of its water and commended Mills for her valiant efforts in fighting Congress.
“When senators decided to strip this land of its water, a select few got together and decided it was time to flight or fight. Jamie was one of them, and she decided to fight,” Findley told the LVN after the meeting. “She’s the one that has kept it all together, and she’s earned it and serves it to continue.”
Mills was stunned to learn of Findley’s death. She said Findley had been a longtime supporter of the Newlands Water Protective Association, having helped keep the organization in existence when times became tough.
“All Tim wanted was for the farmers of the Newlands Project to be treated fairly and have their property rights respected by the very government that was created to protect those rights,” Mills said. “His strong voice for such a worthy cause will be sorely missed.”
“Tim Findley was a true friend of the agriculture producers in the Newlands Project. He wasn’t afraid to say it like it was – no matter who’s toes he stepped on or who’s egos he bruised. He detested what the federal government had arranged for and allowed to happen in the Newlands Project and took every opportunity to make sure others outside the area became aware of the abuses that were occurring against the farmers in Fallon and Fernley.
Mills said Findley’s investigation into The Nature Conservancy resulted in the ultimate congressional examination into TNC’s affairs and finances.
” It was Tim’s dogged pursuit of the investments and business partners of Sen. Harry Reid’s sons that resulted in a Wall Street Journal expose on the Reid family’s questionable financial dealings,” she said. “He was currently working on a book about the Newlands Project and the treatment of local farmers.”
Fortunate Eagle said Findley had a passion about water, and as a result of his aggressive style of reporting, Findley stepped on toes.
“Because of his aggressive attitude, he offended people who wanted to maintain the status quo. Anybody who knew him knew the mission. He knew we had to protect and preserve natural resources,” Fortunate Eagle said.
A colleague’s farewell
According to those who knew the 67-year-old Findley, the award-winning writer had been in ill health for some time, and his death recently came to light after a former Chronicle colleague, Carl Nolte, reported on his friend’s death.
Nolte noted that Findley also worked as a reporter for a San Francisco television station and also for Rolling Stone magazine.
“We were pals and newspaper types together in the 70s. He was so intense and so full of life, I can’t believe he’s gone,” Nolte said.
Nolte said the Chronicle hired Findley, knowing he didn’t have any newspaper experience. However, Nolte said Findley could “talk a good game” and persuaded the Chronicle to give him a job.
“Tim was full of energy,” said Nolte, a reporter who has pounded the beat with the Chronicle for more than 40 years. “We were in kind of a transition period. You had the older newsmen who still wore hats and smoked, and you had Tim. Tim was 30, been in the Marine Corps and kicked around a bit. He had strong views.”
According to Nolte, he spent many evenings arguing with Findley, but he also played flag football with him in the afternoons. Yet, it was at the Chronicle where Findley made his reputation.
Nolte painted a picture of a reporter who compiled an impressive resume. Findley covered the Indian occupation of Alcatraz; researched material on prison conditions by spending time at Soledad State Prison; and discovered in 1974 the identities of the members belonging to the Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical kidnappers of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
“Tim figured out who they (the kidnappers) were through his liberal contacts. He traced out the SLA. He knew who Cinque (the leader) was, Donald DeFreeze,” Nolte said, adding the SLA had already been involved in the killing of the Oakland school superintendent and shooting of two people during a bank heist.
Randoph Hearst, Patty’s father, was editor of the San Francisco Examiner at the time. When he heard that Findley knew the identities, he grew more concerned.
“Hearst called the Chronicle and said if you do this, you’ll kill my daughter,” Nolte said.
Yet, Nolte revealed a complex side to Findley.
“Mr. Findley had a reputation as a dogged and persistent reporter,” Nolte wrote in his Chronicle story. “He also had strong views about what he saw as injustice and little patience with authority, even where he worked. He quit his newspaper job at least twice and had later run-ins with his bosses in other media.”
“When he came to the Chronicle he was a breath of fresh air – a hurricane really. Of course, Tim never took care of himself. Why should he? He was either going to be shot while investigating some huge story or live forever. We will all miss him very much.”