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Originally published Friday, January 4, 2013 at 6:56 PM

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Jeri Lafromboise, unexpected news 'matriarch' | Obituary

Jeri Lafromboise took control of The Chronicle in Centralia and other newspapers when her husband died unexpectedly.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Imagine that. The little woman actually knows business. She probably kept the paper... MORE

When Jeri Lafromboise's husband died at an early age, his business associates assumed she would sell the newspaper chain he had assembled.

What did she, a schoolteacher, mother and former University of Washington cheerleader, know about running a business?

She knew more than was apparent, because her late husband, Richard Lafromboise, talked over his business decisions with her and sought her counsel.

From her first husband's death until a few years ago, Mrs. Lafromboise controlled The Chronicle in Centralia, two weekly newspapers, a printing operation and a sign company.

Jeraldine Royce Loomis Lafromboise died Dec. 28, just days after she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She was 79.

"She said there's no way in hell I'm selling. This is my husband's business, and we built this business together," said Jenifer Lafromboise Falcon, who in 2011 succeeded her mother as chairman of the board of Lafromboise Communications.

"Her life took this tremendous turn, a 180, and she embraced it with everything she had and made it extremely successful — successful enough to pass it down to me. She was an amazing woman," Falcon said.

Born in Hoquiam on Dec. 14, 1933, as Jeraldine Loomis, Mrs. Lafromboise graduated from Auburn High School in 1951.

She was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority at the UW, where she also was a cheerleader for four years and homecoming queen in her senior year.

In 1955 she married Richard Lafromboise, whose family owned newspapers in Bellevue and Enumclaw, and who acquired papers in Ellensburg, Aberdeen, Centralia and Redding, Calif.

Mrs. Lafromboise was pregnant with her second child, Jenifer, when Richard died in 1968. She sold off the daily newspapers other than The Chronicle, but later acquired — and at times resold — other properties.

The company currently publishes two weeklies, Nisqually Valley News in Yelm, Thurston County, and The Reflector in Battle Ground, Clark County.

David Duryee, who was a bank trust officer when Mrs. Lafromboise received the newspaper business as part of a trust, said he "very, very seldom" saw someone take over a spouse's business the way she did.

"She didn't hesitate at all. She stepped up and said, 'I want to do this, and I want to learn,' " said Duryee, who has been a Lafromboise Communications board member since Mrs. Lafromboise took over the company.

Mrs. Lafromboise was "the matriarch of the company," said Dennis Waller, who was publisher of The Chronicle for 19 years.

"What I liked about her was she allowed me to be autonomous. She never once told me or other people which direction to go politically or which stands to take. She let us have our own independent thinking."

Mrs. Lafromboise was diagnosed with a form of dementia around 2007, and gradually reduced her involvement in the company.

When Falcon, taking an MBA class on family business, asked her mother about her succession plan, "She said, 'My succession plan is I'm going to die on the boardroom table with my cowboy boots on.' ...

"She didn't want to think about it. She thought she was going to be here forever."

She married William Dray in 1991 and, with him, split her time between their homes in Laurelhurst and Kent.

An avid Huskies fan, Mrs. Lafromboise attended all UW home football games and many away games — and liked sitting on her Laurelhurst dock listening to the UW band practice on the other side of Union Bay. She also enjoyed dancing and skiing.

She was a member of the UW Alumni Association and Tyee Club, Seattle Executives Association, Toastmasters, Eastern Star and Daughters of the Nile.

Mrs. Lafromboise is survived by her mother, Jennie Meade, of Indio, Calif.; her husband, Dray; her son, Richard Lafromboise, of Shoreline; Falcon, her daughter, of Seattle; and four grandchildren.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Price-Helton Funeral Home, 702 Auburn Way N., Auburn.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

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