Thursday, January 09, 2014

Weekly newspaper tells amazing tale of two hugely successful expatriates who died in the same week

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Some of the best stories to be told in rural news media are those of successful expatriates, those who found success elsewhere but built it on the values, experiences and knowledge they gained growing up in small towns. All too often, their inspiring stories are condensed or even ignored in standard obituaries. But when two remarkable expats from a poor Appalachian foothills county of 10,000 people die in the same week, that's a news peg not to be missed, even if it takes a "citizen journalist" to do it.

William Russell Miller
This week's Clinton County News, in my hometown of Albany, Ky., has a 1,500-word tribute written by my brother, attorney David Cross, to William Russell Miller, who was the first African American vice president of a major rubber company, and John G. Woodrum, who became one of the best-known casino and hotel operators in Las Vegas and first ran electricity to the iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign, across from his business at the end of the Strip.

John G. Woodrum (Las Vegas Sun photo)
They didn't forget their hometown. Woodrum sponsored three reunions of his high-school class; Miller tried to start a small Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant in Albany, and after his retirement from the company, established a small factory in the town. "That didn’t work out either, but he tried," my brother writes. "The man who wasn’t allowed to go to high school here [because of segregation] still tried to help his home town, and its people."

He concludes, "Both J.G. Woodrum and Russell Miller used their rural raising in Kentucky as an advantage, not as an escape. They learned how to deal with people, and to appreciate people, big and small, but with a love for the little people. . . . Their success stories, as well as the stories of those who have chosen to return home, should help motivate our young people to see what they too can achieve when they put their mind to it.

"J.G. Woodrum and Russell Miller both came from similar origins: large, poor families that lived at the end of their roads in rural Clinton County. Ironically, both of those roads now bear their family names of Miller Road and Woodrum Road, but those roads were not dead-ends for them. It was the beginning of their separate journeys. They both used it to help them achieve success, and to help others along the way. These are two stories of The American Dream, fulfilled and achieved, by two country boys from Clinton County who never forgot where they came from." (Read more)

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