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Letts, Godfrey William (1898–1987)

by Lilian Kirk

This article was published:

Godfrey William Letts (1898-1987), newspaper editor, was born on 7 July 1898 at Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, son of Victorian-born parents Robert William Letts, blacksmith, and his wife Mary Alice, née Morgan.  'Goff' won a scholarship to Scotch College, Claremont, in 1912 and after matriculation studied accountancy at the School of Mines, Kalgoorlie.  He worked as an accountant for an auctioneer and then in the accounts department of the Kalgoorlie Miner until invited by his uncle, William Morgan, owner of the Donald Times, to become its managing editor.  Serving the Wimmera district of Victoria, this paper had been established by Letts’s grandfather in 1875 and owned by several family members, including Godfrey Morgan.

In 1921 Letts arrived in Donald with a bag of clothes, a bicycle and a .303-in. (7.7 mm) rifle, and began a career that was to last for sixty-six years.  He was involved in most aspects of the paper’s production, and gained particular respect for his insistence on the highest standards of English expression.  In 1924, with the foreman printer, C. E. ('Ted') Chessells, he purchased the paper, and on 27 December that year married Marion Christina MacDonald, a dressmaker, at Prahran Presbyterian Church, Melbourne.

Letts became keenly engaged in community affairs, marking the Times’s 1925 jubilee with a souvenir volume, Past and Present, featuring extracts of local history and photographs.  He covered every municipal council meeting, although he soon ceased publishing police court proceedings, being reluctant to denigrate anybody.  Hard work and long hours sustained the paper through the difficult years of the Depression and World War II, its price remaining unchanged and its wartime production benefiting from Letts’s foresight in making two large purchases of newsprint.  Overcoming the limited availability of photographic illustrations, he published his own sketches of personalities from the district and beyond.  His caricatures of sporting personalities also appeared in the Age and Sporting Globe; over two hundred pen and ink portraits were posthumously published locally in the G. W. Letts Sketch Book.

With interests extending beyond his paper, Letts was secretary (1925-53) and president (1959-60) of the Donald Pastoral and Agricultural Society, treasurer of the Donald Traders’ Association from 1928 until the 1940s, secretary of the Donald Enclosure Coursing Club (1942-44), and a member of the Donald High School council (1961-82).  Small, slight and wiry, he had been co-opted by the town’s football club immediately on his arrival, joining its 1924 premiership team, and he played cricket with the local Australian Natives Association team for many years.  For sixty-five years he was a member of the Donald rifle club, serving as its president, captain, secretary and treasurer, and winning its championship twenty-four times.  In 1938 he took second place in the Empire King’s prize associated with the New South Wales sesquicentenary.  A member of the Victorian Rifle Association council (1949-72) and president (1976-82), he competed with seven Victorian interstate teams, won the Victorian King’s prize (1949), and was captain-coach of State teams in the 1950s and 1960s.

Appointed MBE in 1974, Letts celebrated his sixty years as editor of the Donald Birchip Times (from 1973) in 1981, receiving tributes from Federal and State politicians.  He was a teetotaller and devout Anglican.  Admired for his professional integrity and scrupulous sportsmanship, he was reputed to have been the longest-serving newspaper editor in Australia.  Godfrey Letts died at Donald on 3 August 1987 and was buried in the local cemetery.  Predeceased by his wife (1985), he was survived by three of their four sons, one of whom took over the newspaper.

Select Bibliography

  • G. McFarlane, 100 Not Out, 2002
  • Sunday Press (Melbourne), 4 March 1984, p 3
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 April 1985, p 3
  • Victorian Bullseye, February 1988, p 25
  • Letts papers (Donald District Archives)
  • private information

Citation details

Lilian Kirk, 'Letts, Godfrey William (1898–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/letts-godfrey-william-14174/text25186, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 28 October 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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