Tom Gish, Legendary Kentucky Publisher, Dies

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Tom Gish, who shined the spotlight on corruption and environmental degradation in his corner of southeastern Kentucky as an award-winning publisher of The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg for a half-century, died Friday. He was 82.

His son, Ben Gish, said he died at Pikeville Medical Center.

Tom Gish and his wife, Pat, overcame floods, threats, arson and attempted suppression to deliver news in the weekly publication with the slogan: ?It Screams!?

?He was the inspiration for several generations of journalists, mainly because of his moral authority about how he ran his paper,? said longtime journalist Bill Bishop, who worked at the newspaper from 1975 to 1977.

The Gishes took on previously untouched issues, from strip mining to police corruption.

They endured advertising boycotts, faced violent threats and had their newspaper offices firebombed in 1974. Showing their grit, the Gishes churned out another issue a week after the incident, with the masthead stating ?It Still Screams!?

Dee Davis, head of the Whitesburg-based advocacy group Center for Rural Strategies, said Gish ?took the side of the little guy? and ?wasn?t afraid to take on the well-heeled.?

?I think his life was a testament to what journalism in a small town could do,? Davis said. ?It was an advocate?s voice for improving education and health care, and it was a vigilant eye against corruption and malfeasance.?

The Gishes bought the Whitesburg newspaper in 1956. Their son, Ben, is the paper?s editor.

The Gishes were re-nowned for their tell-it-like-it-is journalism. They were recipients of the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for Courage in Journalism and a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Professional Journalists, among many others.

An award named for the Gishes is presented each year to rural journalists who exhibit courage, tenacity and integrity in reporting the news.

?I don?t think you can find any better example of courage in rural journalism than Tom and Pat Gish,? said Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky?s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which presents the award.

The Gishes had already distinguished themselves in journalism before buying the Whitesburg paper. Tom Gish was a former Frankfort bureau chief for United Press International. His wife formerly reported for the Lexington Leader, which later merged with the Lexington Herald to become the Lexington Herald-Leader.

During the difficult early years, Tom Gish recalled public officials passing resolutions banning The Mountain Eagle staff from attending their meetings.

?It?s hard to run a weekly paper and be aggressive and know that every time you go to the grocery store, you?re going to bump into someone who may not think you?re the greatest guy at that time,? Bishop said.

?But they were just fearless and knew their job and did it.?

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