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Howard Markley “Mark” McMahon, who founded the Los Alamos Monitor with his wife June, Dan Miles and John Barnett in 1963, died in Davis, California on Sunday.
Markley was born Sept. 12, 1928, in Dallas, Texas. He began delivering newspaper for his father, Howard, who was publisher of the Abilene Reporter-News, at age 12.
After attending college and serving in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, McMahon went to work for the San Angelo Standard-Times in San Angelo, Texas, in 1954, where he met June McDonald Hazlip, who was editor of the women’s page at that time. They were married Jan. 29, 1955.
McMahon took a job at Albuquerque-based The Oil News. One day his work took him to Santa Fe.
“And when he came back he was so excited he burst into the house and he said, ‘Guess what. Los Alamos doesn’t have a newspaper.’” June told the Los Alamos Monitor.
“So three weeks later it did. We just started one right away. We were young. We didn’t know what we were doing.”
They packed up their two sons, Steve and Brian (their daughter Susan was born in Los Alamos is 1965), sublet a small apartment from a lab employee on sabbatical, rented office space over a department store and got to work.
They printed the first edition of the Monitor in 1963.
In a 40th anniversary article chronicling the paper’s founding, McMahon recalled that his partners provided the seed money, while he and June provided most of the labor.
“My parents were always partners in every bit of this. They founded the newspaper together, they worked on all these things together,” Steve said.
According to Steve, there had been six attempts to start a newspaper before the Monitor succeeded.
“But they were the people. They were newspaper experienced, and that was the time, because that was the time when the Atomic Energy Commission was opening up the town for commercial development,” Steve said.
“(The other papers) just didn’t work out because they weren’t done by people who knew the newspaper business. But of course, both of us had been in it all of our lives, so we knew exactly what we needed to do. And if we didn’t know, we made it up,” June said. “The town was so excited about having a newspaper that they just accepted us.”
June credits their early success to their employees, including a woman she describes as “just a bundle of enthusiasm” who came in and asked to sell subscriptions.
“So she got busy and she sold subscriptions like you wouldn’t believe. So before long she had already sold 1,000 subscriptions in nothing flat. People were excited about having a newspaper, so it really took off and ran,” June said,
“We had a perfect combination of the right people at the right time, and everybody wanted a paper because there wasn’t anything.”
Steve described his parents as “working like demons” for the first four years. June spoke about some of the challenges, including having to drive the weekly paper to printing press in the Texas panhandle to get it published.
“So we would get the paper together – we’d have to work all night at that – and then Mark would get in the car and drive to Texas, and sleep until the paper was printed then drive back,” June said.
Soon they were able to find a printer in Albuquerque. According to June, “After that it was pretty easy,” but Steve recalls that even that trip had challenges.
“The roads between SF and Los Alamos were still quite awful and sections passing through arroyos were prone to flooding during summer thunderstorms. My parents would stack the newspapers in the back of their station wagon, over the back wheel to give them traction for driving through the flooding arroyos,” Steve said.
During their tenure, the Monitor was frequently the top-prize gatherer in the state in its size category in the New Mexico Press Association’s Better Newspaper competition and McMahon won several first place awards for his work.
“The Monitor, during my dad’s time, was the most awarded newspaper in the state by far,” Steve said.
Brian recalls his father’s commitment to using the latest technology.
“My dad was really into word processing. He was a big believer in getting ahead of things. So he always had state-of-the-art computer stuff. For a small newspaper, he was way ahead of his time,” Brian said. “As technology evolved, my dad spent money on what was then called a front-end system, so you could essentially go to a camera ready document, edit on desktops.”
June recalls that when they built its own building on DP Road and purchased their own press, the Monitor became the first paper in New Mexico to have offset printing.
Los Alamos resident DyAnne Short went to work in the production department of the Monitor when she was 19 years old.
“The McMahons were wonderful people. Mark was very active in the community,” Short said. “We had wonderful reporters back in those days and lots of them. And they would go to the county and do digging.”
Short recalls that McMahon had everyone from county officials to former Senator Pete Domenici coming to his office.
“He had the movers and the shakers of the state on all levels coming down to the Monitor,” Short said. “And I can remember stories being picked up by AP all the time, because we had good writers and they did digging, investigative reporting.
“It was a wonderful place to work back in those days, tremendous staff. It was a time of change in the newspaper business, where we were quickly moving toward more advanced technology.”
Short grew close to the family by babysitting the children after her shift ended at the Monitor. McMahon walked Short down the aisle when she was married in 1972.
“So that little job provided me with a second family,” Short said. “So even though Mark’s gone, I will forever stay in touch with the rest of them as long as we’re all here.”
McMahon made several other significant contributions during his time in Los Alamos. He became co-founder and first president of Chamber of Commerce and also helped Los Alamos Historical Society.
1978, the McMahons sold the Monitor to Landmark Communications and moved to Winnemucca, Nevada to take over The Humboldt Sun until 1998. The couple also owned and operated the The Western News in Libby, Montana from 981‒2004) and The Kootenai Valley Eagle in Libby, Montana from the mid-1980s‒2004.