Paul R. Leake, publisher of The Daily Democrat of Woodland for 51 years, was a California newspaperman whose outstanding devotion to his responsibilities resulted in several substantial contributions to Woodland, Yolo County and the state of California.
His courage and integrity put him in that special coterie of California newspapermen who, throughout the state's history, distinguished themselves in journalistic and public service.
Paul R. Leake, born in 1890 in Dixon, was a newspaper owner, editor and publisher who truly left his mark on the parchment of California's history.
He ranks with men like former California Gov. Friend W. Richardson, Thomas Storke, Joseph R. Knowland and Irving Martin — all inducted into the California Newspaper Hall of Fame — who spent endless hours successfully dividing their time between newspapers and public service.
Paul Leake was an engaging personality, with his handsome shock of white hair and easy manner. He graduated from the University of Santa Clara in 1912, completing the required courses in three years. He received the coveted Nobili medal, highest honor the university awards a student. Leake also was a varsity letter- winner in track and baseball. And in the 1920s, he was a ranking tennis player.
Leake aggressively served his community and newspaper in various capacities on The Democrat for 27 years.
As a first-rate reporter, Leake hammered out stories for The Democrat from 1912 to 1914.
He then mastered the business side of newspapering. Leake served The Democrat as advertising and business manager from 1914 to 1926.
And then in 1926 he became the owner-editor-publisher of The Daily Democrat when his father died.
It was only much later, in 1939, after a bright career as an unselfish and dedicated editor and publisher, that Paul R. Leake accepted a federal post.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Leake the U.S. Treasury Department's collector of customs at the Port of San Francisco. And he was reappointed to that post by President Harry Truman.
As the customs collector in one of the nation's most active ports, Leake was in on many of the most exciting stories of World War II and the Korean conflict.
But like all great newspapermen, he didn't reveal his sources.
During his service as customs Collector, Leake took steps to protect the United States and its hard-won liberties.
Only a few days before President Truman declared a "police action" in Korea, Leake's inspectors found a New York-laden ship carrying rubber, steel, iron and materials for munitions. The cargo was to be delivered surreptitiously to the Soviets for use against American troops.
Leake tied up the ship, and a New York shipping agent threatened to sue him for $10 million.
What made matters worse, the U.S. State Department agreed with the shipping agent. State Department officials told Leake he had no authority, and they hinted that his action would lead to the collector being fired.
Paul Leake remained unhindered. Leake warned the State Department that he would release the entire story to the press. He then called another California newspaper publisher, U.S. Senator William F. Knowland, a key Republican leader in Congress.
Leake suggested that an embargo halt trade with China. Knowland got his fellow senators and representatives to act swiftly.
Another incident in which Paul Leake displayed resolve and courage for the good of the nation occurred four days before World War II was declared.
A Japanese liner, due in San Francisco, "disappeared" with 75 Americans aboard. The captain, warned that customs officials knew the ship's whereabouts, brought it into San Francisco from its nearby hiding place.
The Daily Democrat's publisher knew that $3 million worth of parachute silk and other valuable cargo was on the ship.
Leake figured that since war could break out any day, the captain would make a run for it.
Leake boarded the vessel and told the owner that admiralty law would be used to impound the silk. All of the silk and the rest of the cargo were delivered into American hands before Leake freed the ship.
Later, one of Leake's inspectors uncovered a secret document on a Japanese ship. The material proved to be a Japanese war code, and the information was valuable to the U.S. Navy.
In 1952, Leake took a state position that added to his fame throughout California. Gov. Earl Warren, impressed with Leake's integrity and courage, tapped him to fill a vacancy on the state Board of Equalization.
Leake accepted the job of representing the 25-county Third District after the Republican governor assured his Democratic appointee that he would have free rein in cleaning up the state's scandalous liquor administration.
The Daily Democrat's publisher quickly began exposing corruption in the issuance of liquor licenses. Leake argued forcefully for divorcing the board's tax and liquor functions and creating a new state liquor department. California voters in 1954 approved a ballot measure that achieved Leake-conceived reforms.
As the Chico Enterprise-Record declared editorially, the citizens of California owed a considerable debt of gratitude to Leake "because he, more than any other public official, was responsible for the liquor reform movement of the 1950s."
Thanks to him, "California government was freed from the criminal grip of greedy and cynical political dictators who had held sway for more than a score of years."
This California newspaperman's efforts sent three legislators and six state liquor agents to prison. And the board's longtime kingpin, William Bonelli, fled to Mexico where he remained until his death in 1970.
California newspaper publisher and editor Paul R. Leake practiced courage and integrity to help make this state a better place, and his accomplishments in journalism and public service persist to this day.
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*