Earl Everett King, the area rancher and World War II veteran who as mayor of Gridley championed the town's right to community-owned utilities, died at home of natural causes April 23. He was 94.
Nov. 11, 1918, which marked the Armistice Day ending the "War to End All Wars," also gave birth to a Gridleyan who had signed no such truce and was ready for battle, be it in boardrooms or barrooms.
A member of the pioneering King and Watson families who made the Gridley area home in the mid-1800s, he liked his whiskey and never stood down from a fight, though his biggest weapons were an unflinching, often hard-headed determination and a wicked sense of wit that accompanied him into his last hours.
When Councilman Earl King assumed the office of mayor in 1962, he oversaw a city-wide tree-planting program and faced fierce political and industry opposition to his plans to provide the city with reliable and affordable power, free from the abuses of private utilities. Defense of community-owned energy had his adversaries comparing him to Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev.
He outlived every last one of those opponents and, despite his eventual resignation from politics, that early determination paved the way for Gridley to join much larger cities as a founding member of the Northern California Power Agency, to which the city until this day owes much for its financial solvency.
As a child of the Great Depression, he was a proud alumnus of the tiny, rural Butte School, west of Gridley. He graduated from Gridley High School in 1936, taking with him numerous state-wide awards for track. Well into his late 80s, he would still sprint to work.
As the first man in Butte Country drafted into service in World War II, King rose to First Sergeant as part of the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion, whose months of combat in France and Germany helped take the Allied fight against fascism directly to the Third Reich. In years of stateside training around the country during those war years, he met his future wife Ruth Hunter and developed lasting friendships with fellow soldiers from across the U.S.
Returning to Gridley after the service to build a house for his wartime bride, he worked several years on the railroad, moving into construction and real estate, and eventually the rice farm that was his passion until the end of his days.
His love of Gridley and his deep local roots defined him. Part of giving back to the community included years as a volunteer firefighter and, eventually, as fire chief. King was among the five founding firefighters responsible for the Gridley tradition that would become known as Red Suspenders Day.
The annual goat barbecue held in his honor on the E. King Ranch every November has for many locals become another indispensable tradition.
Page 2 of 2 - He was a decades-long member of the Loyal Order of Moose and took pride in never belonging to any religious organization. In later years, he did drink morning coffee with retired preachers and tried to convert them.
He worked hard and played hard, with special spots reserved for "7 and 7" on the rocks, the San Francisco 49ers, and Western Swing music. He will be fondly remembered for his playful imitations of Johnny Cash and Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Ruth Hunter King of Gridley; sister Evelyn Briggs of Yuba City; son Robert King and daughter-in-law Mary King of Gridley; daughter Carole King and son-in-law Dennis Woodruff of Oakland; grandchildren Brett King of Madrid, Spain; Brian King and Aisha Djalo King of Bissau, Guinea-Bissau; Megan and Jack Woodruff of Oakland; and great-grandsons Gabriel King, Devan Hill and Dylan Sharrock.
A public viewing will be held Tuesday, April 30, from 5-8 p.m at the Gridley Block Funeral Home. Services will be held Wednesday, May 1 at 2 pm at the Gridley-Biggs Cemetery. A reception will follow at the Moose Lodge.