Sacramento Bee garden reporter Dick Tracy dies at age 84

Sacramento Bee garden reporter Dick Tracy dies at age 84

Staff portrait of Sacramento Bee columnist Dick Tracy, “The Garden Detective,” in an undated photo.

Staff members portrait of Sacramento Bee columnist Dick Tracy, “The Yard Detective,” in an undated picture.

Sacramento Bee file

Dick Tracy, a reporter and editor who anchored The Sacramento Bee’s garden section for more than 30 years, died late last month. He was 84.

Tracy died peacefully Feb. 28 at his home in Grass Valley following complications from multiple illnesses, family said.

Tracy joined The Bee in 1969, shortly after he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, and after a part-time stint with what is now the Reno Gazette-Journal.

He went on to become a master gardener – a distinction he earned by completing an intensive University of California horticulture program.

Playing on a name he shared with a comic-strip protagonist, Tracy’s question-and-answer column for The Bee was titled “Garden Detective.”

Tracy mixed essential advice on maintaining healthy plants and repelling pests with a unique brand of humor.

“On my first day of work everything I knew about gardening could be summed up in one sentence,” Tracy wrote in his March 1999 farewell column for The Bee. “Since that time, I’ve probably written enough about the subject to fill an encyclopedia.”

Staff portrait of Sacramento Bee columnist Dick Tracy, “The Garden Detective,” in 1982.
Staff portrait of Sacramento Bee columnist Dick Tracy, “The Backyard Detective,” in 1982. Leo Neibaur Sacramento Bee file

Tracy also helped author a book, “Gardens of the Wine Country,” published by Molly Chappellet in 1998, that cataloged and chronicled Tracy and Chappellet’s tours of private vineyards and gardens in Napa Valley.

Tracy was born in 1938 in New York, then moved with his family to Reno the following decade. He served three years in the Army after graduating from Reno High School.

Tracy had three sons with his first wife, Judy. He married Felicia Tracy (née Ballou), a widowed mother to an adult son and daughter, in 1989.

Tracy retired from The Bee in 1999, moving with Felicia to a 100-acre horse ranch in Grass Valley. He continued his writing as a freelance columnist for the Union newspaper in Nevada County, and was also a member of its editorial board.

In a tribute he penned in 2019 after the passing of Carolyn Singer, the Union’s own gardening columnist and master gardener, he restated his long-held opinion that gardeners “are the world’s finest people.”

And in his final column, published last November, he professed his lifelong love for newspapers and journalists.

“Every day I appreciate the skills and dedication of so many who do their best to keep ‘newspapering’ alive,” Tracy wrote for the Union. “I’d list some of my favorite contributors, but fear leaving someone out.”

Tracy is survived by wife Felicia; sons Sean, Ryan and Morgan Tracy; stepchildren Katie Calhoun and Sanford Ballou IV; stepbrother Robert Hintze; seven grandchildren and other relatives.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Tracy’s name to University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism, via the UNR Foundation.

Associated tales from Sacramento Bee

Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking information reporting team, covering public security and other regional tales. A Sacramento native and lifelong cash resident, he interned at The Bee when attending Sacramento Condition, the place he gained a diploma in journalism.