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.