Mike Province, who worked 36 years at The San Diego Union-Tribune, sells his books at 2017 Oregon City Author Fair.
Mike Province, who worked 36 years at The San Diego Union-Tribune, sells his books at 2017 Oregon City Author Fair. They include four volumes about growing up in Missouri. Photo via Mike Province

Helen Copley, the late publisher of The San Diego Union-Tribune, may have been raped in the years before she met her second husband, media mogul James Copley.

That’s the suggestion of Charles M. “Mike” Province, a retired computer systems employee at the San Diego newspaper.

The claim isn’t in his latest book, “A Long Way From Flat River: My Newspaper Years with The San Diego Union-Tribune.” ($25 via Amazon, published this month.)

But in a chat with Times of San Diego, Province expanded on speculation in his 10-page Helen Copley chapter.

Mike Province’s 17th book includes a history of the paper, its mergers, technical evolution, homes and owners.

Noting that details of Copley’s first (and shortlived) 1951 marriage to John Hunt were slim, Province wrote: “It may well be that Helen was the victim of something quite sinister. I am sorry to report that my conclusions are based on circumstantial speculation and are purely theoretical in nature.”

On Tuesday, Province said: “My suspicions are that Helen may have been a rape victim. The circumstantial evidence is the patchwork information concerning the history of her ‘marriage’ and the subsequent agreements signed when she received full and complete parental control of David,” who became publisher after her death in 2004 at age 81.

Province views the Copleys with reverence (and dedicates the book to the memory of Jim and Helen). But his self-published autobiography, the latest in a series, contains revelations that often paint a dark picture of the La Jolla family.

Among them are Jim Copley’s 1965 divorce from Jean Maclachlan Boyd, whom he married in March 1946, and the unwarranted “trust” lawsuit by their adopted children.

“Michael and Janice Copley filed a lawsuit against Helen alleging that she and her brother committed fraud and that they attempted to steal money from the Trust,” Province writes. “Their lawsuit had no mention of Jean Copley, who was still pulling in a cool $100,000 per year according to her settlement from Jim.”

Lawyers for Michael and Janice hired a private detective “who was given instructions to visit Helen’s home town in Iowa with the specific purpose of digging up dirt on her,” he writes.

Also sought: evidence that Helen’s divorce from John Hunt might be considered invalid.

In 1982, the case ended at an appellate court, with Michael, Janice and David
each being awarded one-third of a multimillion-dollar trust.

On the eve of Wednesday’s 150th anniversary of San Diego’s daily paper, Province shared thoughts on his current life and 36-year U-T career.

“I’m an independent and hate all politicians equally,” he said. “I voted for Trump because I despise Hillary.”

Where does he get his news?

“I get news online,” Province said. “The major sources such as CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC are all shills for the Dumbocrat party.”

Province, 74, was known at the paper as a World War II history buff with expertise in Gen. George S. Patton. He wrote several books on the Army leader known as “blood and guts.”

Why Patton?

Mike Province in 1985 at Copley Computer Services Inc. in La Jolla. Photo via author

“In the Army, I was stationed at Patton Barracks in the early 1960s, worked at Campbell Barracks on the ancient IBM punch card machines, and I grew to admire his abilities over the years,” he said.

But Province also became close to several U-T writers and learned about the Copleys through personal interactions and careful observation.

After his 2005 retirement, he and his wife, Lacy, moved to Oregon City, Oregon.

“We like wet, cold, rainy weather,” he said. “Unfortunately that’s been changing. Lacy and I have been married for almost 48 years and we live alone. Lacy has a small ETSY shop where she sells articles she makes; her store is Little Robin Cottage.

Besides the U-T and the war, he says he’s also interested in old movies, old books and personal histories of people from the 1800s and early 1900s.

“Books are the greatest invention ever,” he says.

This interview was conducted via email.

Times of San Diego: How many people have read or bought your books — on Patton? On your Missouri childhood?

Mike Province: The number would be in the thousands for the Patton books and the hundreds (I guess) for the childhood books. The U.S. Naval Academy bought a bunch of my “Patton’s One-Minute Messages” for instruction to the academy’s students. Without the “Patton” name, the childhood memories don’t get a lot of publicity, but most of the stories relate to growing up in a mining town and the history of lead mining.

Helen and Jim Copley in 1969, four years before his death. Photo via author

Are all your books self-published via CMP Productions?

“The Unknown Patton” and “Patton’s Third Army” were originally published by Hippocrene. “Patton’s One-Minute Messages” was originally published by a “military” house but was bought out by Random House.

You did great research on the Copleys. What were your major sources?

My sources were notes of conversations over many years with employees of the Copley Press and Union-Tribune, especially the “old guard.” I also researched what was available through court documents in San Diego courts.

You write: “The Copley organization was easily one of the best when it came to employee appreciation and they were always throwing a party of some sort for the worker bees.” Former leaders of the Newspaper Guild local at the U-T might disagree. You don’t mention the near strike in 1989 and the successful campaign to decertify the newsroom labor union in 1998? Why is this left out?

It was left out because it was a simple struggle for control of the newspaper. I mention how the unions had become so powerful in the 1940s and 1950s that they threatened the literal existence of the newspaper industry.

I also remember [U-T general manager] Gene Bell telling me once, “I don’t need a union to tell me how to run this newspaper.” Management and unions have been at each other’s throats forever, back to the days of “guilds” hundreds of years ago. It’s nothing new. I can’t think of a single thing a union ever did for the benefit of the newspaper as a publishing organ.

Mike Province at his workstation in 2005, shortly before he retired. Photo via author

You write: “Today’s newspapers are a far cry from the type of newspapers we published in the old ‘broadsheet’ days. The paper was bigger, better and easier to read; the news was presented in a more interesting way; the comics were larger and funnier; and the writing – oh, the writing – was vastly superior to anything being printed today.” Do you read the U-T now or follow any of its writers? If so, what is your opinion of the current operation and its journalism?

Today’s newspapers are nothing more than a regurgitation of “news” from sources such as AP, NYT, etc. They all have the same talking points and seem to me to be nothing more than a daily “magazine” format. When one realizes the U-T isn’t even printed in San Diego, it shows how “generic” the news industry has become.

Given your computer savvy, did you raise any alarms about the coming Internet competition for the U-T? What did you privately think about the U-T’s strategy in the early years of the Web?

I often made comments and suggestions about Internet competition when we had meetings, but the more I made suggestions, the less I was invited to meetings. U-T had a very wrong-headed strategy about the Internet and the WWW, as did almost all other newsprint companies.

Mike Province also profiles U-T writers Gus Stevens and Don Freeman in his new book. Photo via author

I think the only companies that halfway understood the possibilities of the medium were the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones. I think they were the only ones who made money on the Internet in those early days. I could write a whole thesis about how U-T should have handled the transition into online news/advertising, but it’s not worth the trouble.

Suffice it to say they should have watched how advertisers, car sales, etc., were beginning to use the Internet and jumped on the bandwagon with their own brand of adjunct sites.

David Copley is widely assumed to have been gay. Although you note his Mission Beach pink-and-purple getaway “Casa de Bananas,” you didn’t mention David’s orientation in the book. Why not?

I knew and liked David, and his “orientation” was none of my business. At least he didn’t flaunt and throw his “orientation” in people’s faces and demand that they “embrace” his lifestyle, like a lot of homosexuals do. Before my brother committed suicide, he let his “drama queen” lifestyle consume his entire raison d’etre.

You write: “No ‘publishing’ enterprise around today could afford to print one of the old ‘daily’ newspapers; those vintage 100-page broadsheet newspapers from decades ago. Newspapers are a corpse just waiting for burial.” How long will the U-T last as a print product?

I think the U-T will be in print for at least my lifetime, but only because it’s “called” a newspaper. There has to be some semblance of newsprint involved to retain that image.

You profile Bill Copley, the adopted son of Ira Copley and brother of also adopted Jim Copley. Bill, an artist and socialist, sued to get a share of the Copley newspaper wealth. What parts of Bill’s story are new to readers?

I don’t know how to answer that. I have no idea what people might already know about the deadbeat.

You directly quote (at length) many people in your work life, going back decades. This is a helpful storytelling device, but how accurate are these quotes?

They are as accurate as my memory and notes allow.

You profile and share writing samples of your U-T friends Gus Stevens and Don Freeman. Who were your other favorite writers at the U-T? Who deserve their own books and why?

I would like to see Neil Morgan’s work in a book, along with Nick Canepa, and Lt. Gen. [Victor “Brute”] Krulak. I find their writing to be excellent and the material is historically interesting.

What do you think about today’s journalism — no matter the platform? What do you think about the president’s “enemy of the people” and “fake news” attacks?

I think “journalism” is pretty well dead and the president is correct in his assessment of the situation. There was a time when stories were checked and double-checked for accuracy and accountability, but that is no longer so. For some reason, today’s “journalists” think the First Amendment gives them the right to destroy a person based on hearsay, unsubstantiated allegations and “protected” sources.

Why should readers or San Diegans buy your latest book?

Because it’s an interesting book with interesting stories — it concerns the history of San Diego, and I need the money.