DM’s contrarian draws on a life in journalism, politics

Peter Kaye’s self-published memoir, “Contrarian: Peter Kaye’s Journey From the Depression to Checkers, From Dallas, Watergate and the Great Wall,” hit shelves in late 2008.

He said the experience–deciding to write a book, the process and the response–has been great.

“I recommend it,” he said.

Kaye has lived in Del Mar since 1953, with the exception of a few years working in Washington, D.C. After a long career as a newspaperman and as a broadcaster, the 81-year-old decided to take some time to look back on his life by writing a memoir.

On March 26, he read at the Del Mar Library from his book and spoke to a crowd of more than 30–mostly longtime friends and relatives.

Creative process
The process started with the old adage: “Write what you know.” So Kaye went with the subject he knew best–his own life. In the process, he consulted his old friends for help on various chapters.

“For a while, you almost live those days over again,” he said. “That was a nice bonus.”
But it’s also like “like writing your own obit.”

“Contrarian” covers Kaye’s family history, his latchkey childhood in Laguna Beach, his time in the Navy and fighting in Korea for the National Guard, his years at Pomona College and then the heart of his life story – working in journalism and politics.

In approaching the story, Kaye said, “I tried not to take myself too seriously. I’d look for anecdotes. That was really the whole book, some glue between anecdotes.”

A career in news
“I switched back and forth between journalism and campaigning, which is hard to do.”
Another challenge for Kaye, he said, was his contrarian personality.

“I was always suspicious. That’s a good quality for a journalist, not for campaigning for a politician.”

The highlights of his career, he said, were in covering politics and legislature.

Between 1950 and 1993, he worked on and off for newspapers, for 35 years total. His first job in 1950 was with the Alhambra Post-Advocate, a piece of Ira Copley’s newspaper empire, as “a copyboy, rewrite man and obit writer.”

He climbed the ranks and eventually landed a job at The San Diego Union.

“These were the days of the old tramp newspaperman,” he said. “We had no particular loyalties, no families. It was a fun time.”

In the peak of his career, he covered some of the nation’s top stories, including John F. Kennedy’s assassination for the Union and Watergate for PBS.

“I worked for long hours for low pay, experienced high adventure interspersed with days of absolute boredom,” Kaye wrote. “And I loved it.”

His book covers the major national and state stories of the time and also gives a good history of San Diego’s politics during the ’60s and ’70s as well as the Copley legacy in San Diego.

The state of journalism
“I’m particularly sad to see what’s happened and what’s happening to newspapers,” Kaye said. “I worry not only for the industry, but the country.”

In the book, he writes: “Smug and successful in their postwar years, most publishers never looked beyond their printing presses to realize their true strength as information companies.”

Life in Del Mar
Kaye is active in Del Mar as a member of the Friends of the Library board.

Since he moved to Del Mar, Kaye said the top local stories are the racetrack expansion in the early ’70s, the city’s incorporation vote, UCSD and – until about a year ago – the rise in real estate prices.

He said buying property in Del Mar with his wife, Marti, and building a house here was the one of the best decision he made.

The Kayes married in the early ’50s and have three grown sons.

Kaye said he tried to make the book honest, “and I think if you can do that, you can get away with a whole lot.

“You know what’s funny is how everything worked out,” he said. “I don’t know what the hell the moral of that story is. Better to be lucky than good, I guess,” he said. “And, you know, take a chance.”

“Contrarian” is available at and Earth Song Bookstore in Del Mar.

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