William Ellery McClatchy, a world-class croquet player and the last member of his generation to oversee the family's newspaper business, The McClatchy Company, died Tuesday at age 86.
He died of natural causes at his home in Pope Valley in Napa County, said his nephew Kevin McClatchy.
William Ellery McClatchy was the middle of three brothers who inherited and expanded a storied California newspaper tradition. His elder brother James was a career newspaperman who died in 2006 as former publisher and chairman of The McClatchy Company. His younger brother C.K. was editor and president of the company before his death in 1989.
He was active behind the scenes in running the company founded in 1857 by his great-grandfather James McClatchy. He served 28 years as a board member and officer of The McClatchy Company and he was a co-trustee of family trusts.
"He had a tremendous interest in the company and the family, and he always tried to be a balance between the two," Kevin McClatchy said. "He cared a great deal about the company and the role it has played in California and in journalism."
For himself, Mr. McClatchy chose a life outside California as an architect. He spent many years in New York, where he restored old barns as homes, and in Palm Beach, Fla. He never married or had children.
He was a nationally ranked player and prominent figure in croquet for many years. He encouraged new players, supported development of croquet lawns and promoted the game at the international level. He served as bridge between Eastern and West Coast clubs and hosted the prestigious Ink Grade Invitational tournament in Napa County.
In 1995, Mr. McClatchy was voted into the sport's hall of fame by the Croquet Foundation of America. He received the 2005 President's Award for lifetime contributions from the United States Croquet Association.
"We're all students of the game, but he was a teacher in many ways," said John Leonard, a Sacramento member of the United States Croquet Association. "He encouraged lots of young people to get involved in the game and supported education."
William Ellery McClatchy was born Jan. 4, 1925, in Fresno to Carlos and Phebe Briggs McClatchy.
His father was the founder and first editor of The Fresno Bee, and his aunt Eleanor led McClatchy Newspapers for more than a half-century. His grandfather C.K. owned and edited The Sacramento Bee for many years.
"This is the passing of an era, the last of the fourth generation," Gary Pruitt, chairman and chief executive officer of The McClatchy Co., said of William Ellery McClatchy. "He certainly played an important role as a link to that past."
Mr. McClatchy briefly attended Stanford University. He served in the Army as a sergeant in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II.
As an architect, he specialized in developing passive-solar buildings in Putnam County in New York. He returned to California and produced award-winning olive oil on a small orchard where he lived in Pope Valley for more than 20 years, family members said.
"He was a very warm person who threw very good parties," said his nephew Will McClatchy. "He was a very generous man."