Rudy was our good friend and close adviser. He came up with the idea for the Institute after retiring from the Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times and continuing reporting in Appalachia, where he saw the need for an organization to help rural journalists cover the big issues facing their communities, especially those driven by faraway players such as coal companies and federal politicians.
“Although he was always a big city reporter, Rudy never forgot his rural roots in northern Alabama” said Al Smith, the Kentucky journalist who co-founded the Institute with Rudy. “He was passionately concerned about environmental and economic problems in Appalachia. While writing stories about the region, he concluded that one major improvement might be to help local news folks do a better job covering the serious issues.”
Rudy co-edited the Encyclopedia of Appalachia with Jean Haskell and wrote two books: Spanning the Century: The Life of W. Averell Harriman, 1891-1986 and Hallowed Ground: Preserving America's Heritage, "about the Piedmont region of northern Virginia, where some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place," the Times' Elaine Woo writes. He successfully organized "opposition to a plan by the
Rudy told our friend Howard Berkes of National Public Radio in a 2006 interview about the encyclopedia that the word "hillbilly" first appeared "in the New York Sun about 1900 and the definition of it was a white person from Alabama without visible means of support, ambition or much of anything else. And I suppose that was one of the reasons that I got involved in this project. It seems that I'm the absolute hillbilly by that definition." That quote was in The Washington Post's obituary of Rudy, by Adam Bernstein.
Rudy Paulk Abramson is survived by his wife, Joyce; daughters Kristin and Karin; and three grandchildren. Cremation was chosen. A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the Freedom Forum's new Newseum at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington. The family asks that memorial gifts be made to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, 122 Grehan Bldg., University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042, or the New Opportunity School at Berea College.
Rudy was a native of Florence, Ala., and a graduate of the University of Mississippi. He was a political reporter at The Tennessean in Nashville before joining the Times in 1965. He covered the space program, the White House, the Pentagon, arms control and the environment, among other topics. He was White House correspondent when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974.
"After leaving the Times in 1996, Abramson became one of the most prolific and powerful voices for and about rural communities," says the Daily Yonder, the online rural news site that he helped start. He was nearly finished with a biography of Harry Caudill, an Eastern
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