Continuing Education

Remembering John Newman

In late October, Continuing Education received the sad news that beloved poetry instructor John Newman had passed away. We asked his longtime companion Deborah Handrich to share some words about John’s life as poet, teacher and friend.Image

John was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1953 and raised by his mother, Alice and his father, Bill.  He was the oldest of three children.  John’s formative years were spent on the east coast in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York where he discovered his love for nature.  He was often fishing, hiking, and canoeing.  As a favorite pastime, he watched birds and the clouds.  Later, he chose the birds and clouds to be the central theme of his early poems.

In his twenties, John’s curiosity for geology and cultures led him to drive through each state in the US.  He was proud to have visited every state and spend significant time outdoors.  He shared his love for the outdoors with his first wife, Rose, who he met in Spanish class at Seattle Central College in the late 1980s.

While always fond of writing, John became a student of David Wagoner at the University of Washington, a student of J.T. Stewart at Seattle Central College, and a student of Ruth Brinton at North Seattle College (NSC).  Ruth recommended John for employment in 1995 at North’s Writing Center, at that time called, “The Loft.”  He became an active member at the Northwest Poetry Writing Workshop that met Friday afternoons in the library at NSC.  Additionally, John volunteered countless hours as an editor for The Licton Springs Review, Crosscurrents, Lit Rag, and other local publications.  He also served as a judge for numerous state poetry competitions.  He found great pleasure by teaching weekend poetry writing workshops for North’s Continuing Education program.

John had a true love for simple things: organic food, nature, tai chi, yoga, and of course, poetry.  He shared all of this with his second wife, Debby, whom he met at the Loft in 1995 and married in 2003.  John had an active writing practice of rising at 5:45 a.m. and drafting until 9:45 a.m., daily – including weekends – for over 20 years.  John read his poetry at many Seattle events at Barnes and Noble and other venues, including Egan’s in Ballard, where he read his poems to jazz while sipping on a pint of Belgium beer. He found great joy in his poetry community.

He became a forager of culinary mushrooms, and he enjoyed going on outings to the woods with his friends Matt, Raju, Alice, Dale, and Richard.  John often took walks to Discovery Park to continue his observations of clouds. He had a wealth of friends from the poetry community and was admired by literally thousands of students. 

John was hugely prolific, producing over a thousand poems in his adult life, each one loved and cherished just as much as the friendship and smiles he shared with so many people in the community.


In winter, deer browse

buds of shrubs and saplings,

paw tufts of grass from snow.


They have followed trails down

through shortening days

when snow began to fall.


Snow has a beauty

that leaves tracks everywhere,

It starts high in the mountains

and descends with cold to the valley floor.

It takes shelter from the wind

in drifts. It breathes.

It flicks its tail.


Under its soft coat

are bones and muscle

that can leap any fence

and cross any road.


The beauty of snow

looks back from windows

and photographs, from the eyes

of all who see it

changes everything.


It has a heart that beats like ours

when we go out in moonlight.

The beauty of snow raises its head,

holds still, waiting for us to pass.

Then, in spring, it vanishes.

– John Newman

There will be a gathering in honor of John’s many contributions to the college community and a celebration of his art and life on Tuesday, November 21st at 3:00 pm in the North Star Dining Room located on the ground level of the College Center building, near the Security Office. Parking will be free the day of the gathering.