Fans mourn death of local TV legend Bob Newman

Generations of fans are mourning the death of local TV legend Bob Newman.

Newman was known for playing Gertrude on the beloved children’s show J.P. Patches which aired on KIRO 7 for decades. He also played a host of other characters including the second meanest man in the world, Boris S. Wart.

He passed away last Sunday in Shoreline after a long illness. He was 88 years old.

“It still hasn’t struck me that he’s gone,” Jeff Swanson said.

Jeff Swanson, like so many who grew up in the area, religiously tuned into the longest running local children’s show in American history. The Patches Pal became a friend to Newman and helped take care of him as his health failed.

Newman was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the 1990s. It slowed him down a bit, but he always remained upbeat and never lost his quick wit.

“Sometimes I would have this camera and I’d say hey do you want to say hi to my friend Bill who grows rutabagas and with a split second head start, he’d be on. And he’d spit something out. It was just amazing. You’d think he’d have a script in front of him,” recalled Swanson.

The show went off the air in 1981. But the pair left their mark on the generations of Patches Pals, including Bryan Johnston, who once worked with the duo at KIRO 7.

“I was so excited. Oh my gosh and I’m working at KIRO and I get to see and talk with Gertrude every day at lunchtime. Chris Wedes, J.P. Patches, every day at lunchtime,” Johnston said.

Johnston even wrote two books - one on J.P. Patches and one on Newman.

“When we did book signings for ‘The Second Meanet Man in the World’ book, the one thing he would say to people was all the time was we just had fun. We just had fun,” Johnston added.

That fun spilled over from the screen into homes and left a lasting impression.

“He never talked down to kids. He always talked as if they were peers. And he showed us with Boris. S Wart - even bullies weren’t anyone necessarily to be afraid of,” Swanson said.

Chris Wedes, who played J.P. Patches, passed away in 2012. He and Newman are immortalized in Fremont where fans have been leaving flowers and paying their respects to the life sized bronze statue of Gertrude and J.P. Patches.

“He always looked at it like it was a job but to us it was more than that. It was our childhood,” Swanson said.

Newman’s family plans to hold a public remembrance for him next year once the pandemic has passed.