Sad news

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Before I came to Carroll County, I worked as managing editor of the Pine Bluff Commercial in Southeast Arkansas. There, I had the opportunity to work with some outstanding people, just as I have been blessed to do in Berryville.

One of those good people passed away last week. Larry Fugate, longtime editor of the Jonesboro Sun who finished his career as editor of the Commercial before going into semi-retirement a few years ago, died Thursday of lung cancer. He was 69.

Even though Larry was no longer working full time at the Commercial when I returned there (for the third time) in November 2009, he was a regular free-lancer for us and a frequent visitor to our office.

A story that appeared over the weekend in the statewide newspaper described Larry as "salty" and "gruff" and those were certainly apt descriptions. But although Larry could be a tough editor and an equally tough reporter, I knew him to be very fair and extremely kind.

Larry was editor of the Sun at the time of the Jonesboro Westside school shooting in 1999, and the Sun was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its coverage.

He was a stalwart defender of our state's Freedom of Information Act, one of the most important tools that we journalists can use to fulfill our mission of informing the public about its government.

More than all that, though, Larry was a good man. Like a lot of old journalists, he had a million stories and he loved to hold forth about the good old days. Although he was roughly 25 years older than me, however, he always treated me with respect and I appreciated that very much.

When I left Pine Bluff in June, I had no idea that Larry had cancer. He was diagnosed shortly afterward, and my understanding is that he had undergone a chemo treatment the day that he died.

Sadly, Larry's death is just the latest to strike the Commercial over the past few years. Our publisher in Pine Bluff lost both his parents, then his older brother was killed in a car accident. My father passed away in July 2012. A longtime employee lost her husband last spring. A reporter's younger sister died not long after that. Our longtime circulation director lost his job because of corporate cutbacks and then his wife died soon afterward after a long battle with breast cancer. An associate editor who retired in early 2014 died a few months later. Perhaps the loss that hit me the hardest on a personal level, aside from my father, was the death of one of our reporters shortly before I came to Carroll County.

Rick Joslin, who had been my very first editor back when I was a high school kid dreaming about being a major league baseball beat writer, had come to work for us a few years before.

Actually, Rick probably had as much to do with my career path as anyone I've ever known. Rick had studied under Dean Duncan at the University of Central Arkansas, and he introduced me to Mr. Duncan while I was still in high school. That led me to UCA, and the rest is history.

Rick was a great reporter, and he had been around a long time. Sometimes he and I didn't see eye to eye when it came to how certain stories should be covered, and our conversations weren't always pleasant. But I respected Rick and I believe that he respected me.

Rick had been off work for a while because of an infection in his foot. In my last phone conversation with him, I told him I had accepted a job in Berryville and would be leaving in a few weeks. I fully expected to see him back at work before my last day in Pine Bluff. Instead, I got a phone call at home early one morning. It was Larry Fugate, telling me that Rick had died in his sleep.

Last week, it was another former co-worker who broke the news to me about Larry.

I wish that I could sit down one more time with both Rick and Larry and shake my head at their stories about the good old days. I imagine they are swapping tall tales in heaven right now.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Larry and his family, and to former co-workers in Pine Bluff.

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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers.