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William R. Mathews, the Star’s curmudgeon editor and gifted editorial writer

Mathews plaque

The Arizona Daily Star today (Nov. 22) ran an editorial (read it here) that first was published on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 23) 1961. The newspaper did not say who the writer was, but I think I recognize the direct clarity of style and thought as being that of William R. Mathews.

Mathews was a professional curmudgeon, otherwise engaged as editor and publisher of The Arizona Daily Star from 1930 until his death in 1969. It was said one could not get elected dog catcher without Mathews’ approval.

It might have been true. He played politics full time, locally, statewide and on a national basis. He seemed to have a direct pipeline to the State Department. He predicted the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor two weeks before it happened. He was aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbor when the Japanese surrendered.

He was a gifted writer as the editorial shows. It surprises me that he was so good. He also was incredibly productive; his editorials appeared everyday even when he traveled so extensively. I imagine he never dreamed he would write editorials for a living.

Mathews fought in the Great War, and was a hero, capturing Germans and winning the Croix de Guerre. He was the business manager of a Santa Barbara newspaper when fate beckoned, and he accepted a position at the Star for 2 percent ownership. In return for the small interest in the paper, Mathews was to watch over the paper’s business affairs, a sort of ballast to Ralph Ellinwood who was editor by virtue of the fact his father bought the paper for him. His father, E. E. Ellinwood, was an attorney for Phelps Dodge.

Medical School entrance

Ralph Ellinwood was by all accounts a good editor. He was a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and had worked for the Sacramento Union. He, too, had fought in World War I and spent time in a German prison camp. Ellinwood died young in 1930 after only a few years in charge of the Star. Ownership fell to Ellinwood’s widow, Clare, and Mathews. He ran the editorial operations. Mrs. Ellinwood played a part in management.

There’s very little to commemorate Mathews’ contribution to the city. There’s a small plaque with his bust in relief outside the entrance to the UA School of Medicine. He was the driving force behind the UA medical school, having campaigned personally and in print to bring it here.

Mathews carried out Ralph Ellinwood’s desire to establish the liberal tone to the Star’s editorials. Thus he is among the first to blame for the Star’s alleged reputation as The Red Star.


  1. I believe William R. Mathews was more than a 2% owner. I am of the understanding that he and Ms. Ellinwood were equal owners and that there was a third 2 to 3% male owner.
    There is also a bust of Betty Boyers Mathews, W. R. Mathews’ wife, at the U of A Law School where she generously donated to have it built. Mr. Mathews not only donated time and editorial space for the School of Medicine, he gave much financially as well (so I have been told).
    I do know first hand that he was a very kind man.

    • I believe you are quite right. Mathews acquired a greater ownership and perhaps the majority of shares. I know that he continued to own the Star with Clare Ellinwood, who lived into her 90s. Had the pleasure of meeting her when she made a visit to the Star at its present location at Park and Irvington. One of the saddest days for the city of Tucson was in August of 1973 when the Star left its building at 208 North Stone Avenue downtown and plunked down at its present site. It was such a joy to work downtown. The owners of the two papers had planned to build a plant where the TEP parking garage is located downtown. But it was in the path of the proposed Butterfield freeway. The papers were plagued by a lack of space to store newsprint. They also needed better access to a rail spur.

  2. onel valdez says:

    I have the present privilege of being welcomed into the home of 87-year-oldWilliam R Mathews, Jr. thrice a week to ensure he is in good health. Every single day spent with this great man’s son is like knowing him & his legacy myself. I felt it such an honor to learn firsthand how he was like through the thoughts of his son. Bill Jr is also a very good conversationalist and I’ve learned a great deal about history, geography & old Tucson from him.
    I would want to hope old friends would come and visit Bill Jr. at his home in Tanque Verde. I think reliving memories of his rich past would help him to be in a better health.

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