Legendary Gazette Reporter John Woodruff Dies at 65

 Last week I had the privilege of submitting a piece for John’s municipal league publication. Until we talked the third or fourth time during the process, I didn’t even know he was ill. The persistent cough a week and a half ago caused me to inquire about his health.

We couldn’t talk long — the longer he talked, the more angry his coughing became.

Thank goodness I told him how honored — and nervous — I was as I proofed my own work prior to submitting to John. I kept thinking, “He’s John WOODRUFF!”

I grew up reading the byline in the Arkansas Gazette. Back when she was the Grand Old Lady — the oldest newspaper this side of the Mississippi.

Several years ago, Mr. Woodruff participated in an oral history project about the Gazette. Here’s a link to Woodruff’s transcript. He begins the interview by gently correcting the interviewer as to the correct date of the interview. I can’t help but think the guy was nervous. 🙂

On about page 3 Woodruff talks about writing the shortest story in the newspaper’s history — it was just a graph long. He said Mayor Casey Laman had tried to put a muzzle on some of the reporter’s best sources — city employees. Woodruff, in the oral history, remembers, “It said something to the effect that ‘Mayor William F. Casey Laman ordered city employees not to talk to reporters’ and with a comma there ‘a city employee told a reporter.'”

Mr. Woodruff was always a gentleman, but certainly no pushover.

My friend Kathy Watson and I shared a dais with Mr. Woodruff a couple of years ago at an Arkansas Municipal League conference in Hot Springs. Again, what an honor.

Arkansas has lost a legendary journalist. Long since had he given up covering a beat for a news organization. Instead, he spent the last years of his life learning about — and sharing — stories about cities and towns in a state he loved dearly.

Woodruff — a Fort Smith native — was right proud of our Marshals Service Museum victory. He’d been reading quite a bit of Fort Smith history — Law West of Fort Smith was one. And he was fascinated by Art Burton’s Black Gun, Silver Star. I don’t think he’d read the book — but a review in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, he told me a couple of weeks ago, made him put the book on his reading list.

John is proof that journalists are always journalists — and that most times we can use our skills for good. Even when the news biz is more about biz than news.

Condolences to John’s family and friends.

Link to ArkansasBusiness.com – Former Gazette Reporter John Woodruff Dies at 65

2 thoughts on “Legendary Gazette Reporter John Woodruff Dies at 65

  1. I had the honor of attending the national Society of Professional Journalists conference in Chicago with John Woodruff and Meredith Oakley when I was a college journalism student. I remember the feeling of awe I had about being in the presence of the real person who matched the byline I saw so regularly in the newspaper. And also so impressed that while the Gazette and Democrat were such bitter enemies at the time, John and Meredith seemed to put that aside for their common interest in the profession. So nice to me, too — even though I was a nobody to both of them. Nice memories of John on that trip.

  2. What an awesome memory, my friend the librarian.

    Isn’t it amazing the positive impression we have on people when WE’RE positive and professional, yet personal?

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