One evening in the early 1980s, Jean Godden, then a staff writer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, was invited to a lavish party in Broadmoor, a wealthy gated community on the east side of Capitol Hill. There she was introduced to the guest of honor—none other than William Randolph Hearst III, grandson of one of the most notorious newspaper barons this country has ever produced.
Her editor, Godden recounts with a spirited laugh, chose these words to enumerate her bona fides to Willy, as the then-publisher of The San Francisco Examiner was affectionately called: “That’s the broad who writes our editorials.” After which someone else at the soiree (not Hearst) cracked, “Nice legs for an editorial writer.”
It was sexist interludes such at this—common back then in this male-dominated craft—that predicated Godden’s passion for securing equity in woman’s pay. In fact, Godden, now 82 and serving her 11th year on the Seattle City Council, is seldom seen these days without a “No Wage Gap” button fastened to her lapel.
Last week, the Council voted unanimously to adopt an action plan to fix the city’s gender pay gap. The effort, led by Godden—who strongly believes it is unjust that a woman in Seattle earns 73 cents for every dollar a man earns—will, among other things, create a regional Gender Equity Initiative to encourage other employers in the Puget Sound area to address gender inequalities.
“This is something we need to straighten out. It’s gone on for too long now, and we need finally to do something about it. This issue is a passion of mine,” says Godden.
Godden, who lives in View Ridge, recently announced she will run in 2015 for a fourth term in the newly created Fourth District that stretches from Magnolia to Fremont—but it’s her time in the newsroom, beneath the P-I globe and later at The Seattle Times, that most animates her.
That’s understandable, for she became a beloved Seattle icon not because of her early days as a citizen activist, fighting various road-expansion projects and working to pass school levies as a PTA president, nor for any vote she’s taken on the Council, but because of her long-running gossip column, which informed, entertained, and sometimes infuriated. Godden once described her journalistic mission as slipping “some vitamins into [the readers’] Frosted Flakes.” She continues to write her own blog and contributes regularly to Crosscut.
“I always think of myself as a journalist,” Godden tells me during a recent chat at Einstein Bagels, below her council office at City Hall. “I still run around with a reporter’s notebook.”
What do you miss about Old Seattle?
“The characters, I miss the characters,” she says, citing such notables as Ivar Haglund, the Times’ crusty wordsmith Emmett Watson, and the flamboyant restaurateur and politician Ruby Chow.
Also on that list is J.D. (“Jasper David”) Alexander, a gruff old-school newsman who was editor during much of Godden’s tenure at the morning daily. Alexander, who died in 2006, loved a good meal and a stiff drink nearly as much as he loved political conventions and a good Page One story.
“He sometimes took me with him to the Metropolitan Grill,” Godden recalls, relishing a tale she’s often told to former P-I scribes. “One day I was with him for lunch. He always had two martinis. But this time J.D. had quite a lot of Bombay gin, and he overtipped. Oh my, it was a lot. So when we returned to the office, he realized what he’d done and sent a copy aide back to get it.”
Is there something, I wonder, which might surprise people to learn about you?
“Well, yes. I lived in 116 different places before coming to Seattle when I was 17. My father was a surveyor for the Tennessee Valley Authority. We lived in a lot of tents,” says the Connecticut-born Godden. “I’ve been to every state in the union. A few years ago, I finished off the last two—Alaska and Maine.”
Godden is having fun. Her health is good, her memory sharp. She just finished Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. She read half of it on a recent plane flight, and says she couldn’t put it down. The last movie she caught: American Hustle—“and it was great.” She dines out frequently, and while she enjoys the newer eateries (“I had crickets at Shanik. They were so crunchy!”), she finds herself returning to her old standbys: the Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s, and Ponti Seafood Grill. “You know, I still have the old Dog House menu,” she confides.
Asked about the new mayor, Godden says, “I’m very impressed with him. The old mayor [Mike McGinn], you know, was in my office three times in four years. This one has been in three times in four months.” Godden keeps track of this sort of thing. Feeling slighted can make her prickly.
So, Jean, what’s left on your bucket list?
“This,” she says, handing me an extra “No Wage Gap” button. “This is why I am running again.”