For Peg McEntee, truth was the work and words were the tools

The story was always in the foreground.

Former Salt Lake Tribune news editor and columnist Peg McEntee, who died Thursday at Intermountain Health Center of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was the consummate journalist, a lover of language and its power to impart knowledge.

During his 35-year career, McEntee has covered or helped cover most of Utah’s major events, first as a writer for The Associated Press and later as a mentor to reporters and a Metro columnist for The Tribune. As a western woman who has owned guns since she was young and shared tales of fishing in the Strawberry Reservoir, McEntee could handle both tough and tender stories.

“She often ‘spiced up’ my leads, as she put it, or found just the right word to make a sentence smoother, richer and more graceful. We never argued about her changes — she was always right,” wrote Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Tribune’s senior religion reporter, edited by McEntee for more than a decade, in a Facebook post. “Although Peg is not a religious person herself, she treats my beat and stories with the utmost respect. She brought deep sensitivity and keen observation to each assignment.”

Former Tribune reporter Mike Gorrell recalls competing and showing compassion with McEntee during the 1984 Wilberg mine disaster, when 27 miners died in a fire at an Emery County coal mine. “Peg had a toughness that miners respected, but also a soft heart. We shed tears together over drinks… a night after we both understood the horrific consequences of the mass deaths for those left behind.”

“My most vivid memory of Peg is when I was a news editor, and she was still at The Associated Press just before she came to The Tribune,” said former Tribune editor and publisher Terry Orme. “I submitted a story to the AP leadership that I thought was pretty powerful and important. She read it, called me and pointed out the many holes and dubious assumptions. She saved me and my reporter.”

As an editor, McEntee was holistic. She didn’t just edit her reporter’s copy. She helped them to master their lives.

“We had kids the same age, so we exchanged notes about parenting and parenting mishaps,” Stack said. “She was immensely proud of her daughter, Kate, who was – and is – remarkable.”

“She changed my life at least twice, but I remember her almost daily as a mom/sister/editor/life coach and friend without BS,” Hilary Groutage Weible said in a post on Stack’s Facebook page. Weible worked with McEntee at AP and The Tribune and is now an associate professor at Marshall University in West Virginia.

“She once held my teenage daughter on the phone and instructed her to apply pressure to a disk the length of her finger while I sped from Salt Lake City to Davis County to get Emily to the hospital in a pre-cell phone world,” said Weible wrote. “Years later, she found me at a school board meeting to break the news that my son had slipped off the roof of my house and broken his leg. The kids were fine and the stories came in on time thanks to Peg’s cool head.”

As a columnist for the Tribune from 2009 to 2013, McEntee challenged bigotry, as she did in a 2012 column about the banning of a gay-friendly book in a Davis County school library:

“Where do you start? Nothing in The House of Our Mothers teaches anything but love for family, friends and community. Even a book from the school library does not count as a curriculum; the only criterion is that it is appropriate for the child who reads it borrows, is age-appropriate. A library itself is a place of wonder where children and their parents can find books and other materials that could open dazzling doors to new worlds. Plus, it’s free.”

When she wasn’t dealing with the establishment, she championed underdogs. In her most recent column, she spoke about how she wandered the state to find the stories to tell.

“It’s one of the reasons I loved taking to the streets as a columnist and talking to people I wouldn’t have even met otherwise. Like the shopkeepers in Panguitch worried about the Alton coal mine, or the guy in Castle Dale who raises zebras and Watusi cattle. I spoke to a heartbroken merchant whose clothing store in Gunnison went bankrupt due to an underground gas plume and who received a pittance in a settlement.

“And years later, in Gunnison, I spoke to inmates who work with wild horses that have been moved to large pastures by the Bureau of Land Management. When I asked the guys what that taught them, they invariably said ‘patience’ – a good thing for someone who will one day be an ex-con.”

Her 41-year-old husband, Bill Throneburg, remembers a writer who was a voracious reader. “She did The New Yorker magazine when it came out weekly and she did the Sunday edition of The New York Times. And she was a proud patron of King’s English Bookstore.”

Margaret Marie McEntee was born in Salt Lake City in 1952 to Bernard and Elizabeth McEntee. She attended Skyline High School and the University of Utah. She married Throneburg in 1982 and they have one daughter, Kate Throneburg. She is also survived by five siblings: David McEntee, Merry Worrel, Patricia Snow, Marni McEntee, and Bill McEntee.

Funerals are coming up. Donations can be made on McEntee’s behalf to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Justin Scaccy

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