George Remington

Former Billings Gazette publisher George Remington is pictured next to the Gazette building in 1985.

BILLINGS -- George Remington lived his life the way he reported the news: with fairness while striving for the truth.

Remington died Tuesday at 93.

An accomplished journalist and publisher for the Independent Record and Billings Gazette among others, Remington was a man known for his friendliness, wry sense of humor and extensive knowledge from literature to politics. 

He instilled an importance of remaining informed along with the value of written word in both his work and his family.

“When you have someone who is so involved and connected with what’s going on, it makes for some interesting table discussions,” George’s son David Remington said. “It wasn’t until we were older that we saw the true value in that.”

Remington was born in Anaconda to George Sr. and Alma Remington on December 27, 1925. After graduating Anaconda High School, he joined the Army Air Force as a flight navigator. Ready for active duty, the war concluded weeks before his deployment. 

Once the war was over, Remington enrolled in the University of Montana where he would earn a degree in journalism in 1950. It was during this time that he would meet fellow UM journalism graduate Lorraine Kurfiss, whom he would marry in 1951.

With his wife and degree, Remington then moved to Honolulu where he would work as a reporter for six years with United Press International and The Honolulu Advertiser and start a family with the birth of his son David and daughter Leslie in 1954 and 1959 respectively.

Excelling in his field and seeing opportunity back in his home state, George ascended the ranks at UPI and moved to Helena in 1959 to become state manager for six years. He would remain in Helena but go on to work as an investigative reporter for the Independent Record in 1967 before becoming editor there in 1967 and publisher in 1970.

Remington’s managing editor for the Independent Record at the time, Mike Voeller, noted Thursday that Remington was always regarded as an honest man who was well-liked by his community and newsroom. When Voeller and other retired journalists meet together once a month, there's always smiles whenever George is mentioned, Voeller said. 

“He was a hell of a newspaperman,” Voeller said. “He was a newspaperman’s newspaperman.”

Voeller recalled an editorial of Remington's that criticized President Richard Nixon during his reelection campaign. The editorial was picked up by newspapers throughout the country. 

He also remembered an incident when Remington was willing to accept a boycott from local auto dealerships and major advertisers after a series of articles painted them in a negative light. When the dealership’s president agreed with Remington, the boycott ended.

“One thing that you knew about George,” Voeller said, “was that he was going to be a straight shooter and that he was willing to back his people to the end.”

From his years in Hawaii and briefly in California to moving back to Montana, Remington had gained a sense of cultural wisdom from the different walks of life he came across through the natives of Hawaii and Montana along with the lower-income citizens from the cities where he worked.

After hearing a certain kind of comment from one of his children about a kid who wore the same clothes every day, he explained to them that it was maybe all they had and their parents couldn’t get them anything else.

“His values tended to side with the poor and the needy,” David Remington said. “Those are definitely values that we all carry.”

Always keeping the less fortunate in mind, George Remington was sure to live his life modestly despite his successful career. Never interested in status symbols, he was known to drive an old, beat-up Volkswagen for many years before passing it on to his son for college. He often joked that his only status symbol was his phone number with two zeros, referring to a requirement for all numbers with the UPI Bureau.

It was during his time as publisher that Remington oversaw many changes, including the installations of a new printing press along with one of the first newsroom computer systems. Along with the technological revolution of the time, Remington also hired Lee Enterprises' first female general manager, along with people of color in various roles.

“Equal representation was always important to him,” his daughter, Leslie O'Leary, said. “He was really ahead of his time in that regard.”

During this time, he would also welcome his third child and second daughter, Larisa, in 1968. 

In 1976, George Remington and his family moved to Billings where he would succeed Strand Hilleboe as the publisher for the Billings Gazette. He worked there until his retirement in 1986. For all his work and contributions toward Montana journalism throughout his career, he was the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Montana in 1992.

Throughout his accomplished career, David Remington insisted that George Remington was never too busy to be there for his family. When he wasn’t teaching his children about grammar, baseball or the arts, he was there to encourage or support whatever activity or goal they pursued.

“He was really devoted to his work and his profession,” David Remington said. “But he was a family man first. He was always there for us.”  

Son David Remington is a professor in genetics and forestry at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Daughter Leary is an attorney in Oregon. Daughter Larisa Willrett is a freelance writer and magazine editor in Illinois. 

Upon his retirement, George and Lorraine Remington moved into a log cabin they built along the Yellowstone River near Columbus before moving back to Billings in 1997. With all their kids all grown up and moved away, they would spend much of their retired years traveling across the country to visit them and their own families.

Although he was never deeply religious early in life, Remington was drawn to the ethics of faith and became active through the Columbus Community Congregational Church for the rest of his life, where he would sing in their choir and engage in their discussion groups.

When he wasn’t visiting with his friends or family, there was a good chance that George was walking his dog Charlie, catching waves along the Oregon Coast or skiing the slopes of Red Lodge in the winter.

A lifelong skier, Remington would go up the various slopes of Montana with his children every week of winter. He would continue to do so until dementia prevented him from continuing in 2010. David Remington noted skiing was one of the last things he was willing to give up.

George Remington’s life featured a career of integrity and a compassionate man who treated everyone with respect. His peers and family remember him as intelligent, approachable and always humble.

He is also survived by grandchildren Jeremy and Bethany Remington, and Justis, Olivia and Sawyer Willrett; and great-grandchildren Daniel and Bridger Remington.

A memorial service will be held at the Columbus Community Congregational Church in Columbus at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15. Memorials can be sent to the Committee to Protect Journalists or Columbus Community Congregational Church.

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