Friday, July 16, 2010

David Dick, who went from network television to rural journalism, dies after long fight with cancer

David Dick, an Emmy-winning television reporter for CBS News who became a journalism educator and author and helped start a weekly newspaper in his home Bluegrass horse country, died this morning at his home in Plum Lick, Ky., after a 17-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 80. (2007 Herald-Leader photo by David Perry: Dick with wife Lalie)

Dick was born in Cincinnati, but after his father died his mother moved the family to her native Bourbon County, Kentucky. After working at WHAS Radio and TV in Louisville, he worked 20 years for CBS, covering the 1972 shooting of George Wallace and the 1978 Jonestown massacre. He credited cinematographer Laurens Pierce's footage of the Wallace shooting for the Emmy. After retiring from the network in 1985 he began teaching journalism at the University of Kentucky, his alma mater, and was director of UK's School of Journalism and Telecommunications from 1987 to 1993.

In 1988 Dick and some influential Bourbon County residents founded The Bourbon Times, a free weekly newspaper that took on Kentucky's oldest continuing paper, the Bourbon County Citizen. Until 1990, Dick was publisher of the paper, which tended to take the preservationist side in battles over development, such as the widening of US 27 and 68 to nearby Lexington. The Citizen was and is pro-development. The Times closed in 2004, and later that year Dick declined to discuss the newspaper war with a UK community-journalism student who wrote a research paper about it. But he remained our friend until the end.

In the last 20 years, David became widely known in Kentucky for his columns, essays and books, most of them drawing on his rural life. He was a favorite at the annual Kentucky Book Fair, reports The State Journal in Frankfort. He often wrote with his wife, Lalie, and wrote A Journal for Lalie, a book about living with cancer. His column appeared in Kentucky Living, the magazine of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. This month's edition has his last column. He wrote his next-to-last book for the group, on the history of rural electrification in Kentucky.

"Although his focus softened in his later years as he wrote about rural life, Dick's 2002 book Follow the Storm detailed his work as CBS's South American bureau chief from 1978 to 1979, when he covered civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala," writes Cheryl Truman of the Lexington Herald-Leader, quoting from the book: "Our specialty was paramilitary: Hit the ground running, find the storm, go to the eye of it, and serve it up for dinner between Andy Griffith and I Love Lucy." (Read more)

"Because David Dick was the quintessential Kentuckian, he never forgot his roots," former WKYT-TV news director Ken Kurtz told the Lexington station. "When the time to leave CBS after 25 years or so, he and his wife Lalie were world travelers. They could have lived anywhere. They choose to come back to Kentucky." (Read or watch story) David's son, Sam Dick, is the station's evening news anchor.

UPDATE, July 24: Keith Runyon, Forum and book editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, writes in a tribute: "What distinguished Dick from others who achieved great things on TV news is that he decided to return to his roots. ...  In retirement, he began writing a series of more than a dozen books that provide readers with some of the best Kentucky stories since the late Joe Creason ... . David Dick, the sage of Plum Lick, cast a long shadow over his beloved state. He will be missed." (Read more)


elrojo said...

did the four lane david and others fought ever get built?

Al Cross said...

Yes, but as a scenic parkway at about twice the cost ($93 million) that it would have been otherwise. Lots of information on such issues in the student research paper, to which this item links.

Anonymous said...

Al, such a nice obit. Thanks for writing it. - Michael Lindenberger