John Seigenthaler: You couldn't choose a better journalism hero

“Mr. Seigenthaler is on the phone, “ I was told. It had to be important. Why else would John be calling me in the middle of the day?

After greetings the conversation went something like this:

“John, what can I do for you?”

“Well, Gregory, you know that cologne you wear? Dolores [his beautiful wife] loves it and she wants me to start using it. I was wondering if you could tell me how I can get some.”

Seigenthaler in 1994. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
Seigenthaler in 1994. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

He got it, and every time we met afterward, we sniffed each other and laughed, leaving bystanders wondering if we had misplaced our marbles.

Now, John Seigenthaler is gone. And everyone he ever touched, up close or far away, deeply mourns his passing but will never forget what he did in a life that was truly well-lived.

“Choose your heroes and go and do likewise.”

That was the simple, but eloquent, advice given once to a group of journalists by a wise man, the late Gene Patterson, who like John was a powerful voice for the voiceless in the South.

None of us could have chosen a better hero than John to observe and study and attempt to follow his footsteps. The only problem, we knew none of us could come close to duplicating what John accomplished, as a reporter, editor, battler for civil rights, unrelenting protector of the First Amendment, inspiring leader and caring friend.

He was a man of courage and compassion, a man who fit in backstage at the Grand Ole Opry or up front at Carnegie Hall, a man who could captivate an audience with his lyrical prose and always left it with some gems of wisdom to take home, as well as some laughs to remember.

A man to mimic, if only we could be that good.

So long, old friend.

Related: Former Poynter President Karen Dunlap writes that Seigenthaler was "a man who stood for news media freedom, who worked on things that mattered and helped a community bridge its differences." | The Tennessean's Seigenthaler package

  • Gregory Favre

    Started in daily newspaper business 57 years ago. Former editor and managing editor at a number of papers, former president of ASNE, retired VP/News for McClatchy.


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