A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Judy Clabes: With hearts full of gratitude, we thank you for kindnesses on loss of Gene Clabes

My family and our colleagues at KyForward and the NKyTribune extend our heartfelt gratitude to all of you who have expressed your condolences during our darkest time, as we grieve the loss of Gene Clabes.

Our husband, father, grandfather, brother, colleague, journalist, horseman, friend – a man of multiple and diverse interests and associations – passed away after an extended illness just after Thanksgiving. We have “survived” the Christmas holiday without him and, given no other choice, we are moving into a daily routine without him, too.

All of this has been made easier by the outpouring of kind words, beautiful cards, sweet sentiments and shared stories of sweet (and funny) memories.

I’m certain I speak for all who have suffered the loss of a loved one – every one of those thoughtful gestures lifted us up from our grief and helped us turn our thoughts to gratitude for having Gene in our lives and to thankfulness for the purposeful life he shared with us.

In our darkest hours, you provided the sunshine that helped us through to a better place.

We had the “party” – a celebration of his life – just as he would have wanted. All who gathered with us at Newcomer in Northern Kentucky shared experiences and stories and memories of Gene’s life (stories his grandchildren wouldn’t have heard otherwise). We shared his favorite bourbons, good food, great fellowship – and came away with more sweet memories to hold close and dear.

I have to say a special thanks to the kind people at Newcomer who couldn’t have been more comforting as they handled the details of his cremation and of the celebration, making the process as easy for the family as it could possibly be. My personal gratitude goes to Rev. Richard Fowler who offered an uplifting message in a private service for the family. His comforting words we will carry in our hearts forever.
Gene’s daughter-in-law Chris Clabes deserves a special thanks for her incredible work in putting together the expansive displays of his life – from childhood photos to clippings of his writing (he started as a sports writer for his hometown Henderson Gleaner and won his first national award at age 19 for his writing about harness racing) to awards and recognitions to family photos and memorabilia.

We found even with this gathering-up process a great solace in the richness of his life – and plenty of smiles and laughter along the way. For example, there was the proclamation from the City of Evansville when Gene was leaving as government reporter for The Evansville Press. It declared the end of the era of “leaks” in city hall as a tribute to Gene’s reporting there. They presented him with the “leaky bucket” as a going-away gift. What an amazing tribute to his reporting and to a time when journalists and public servants appreciated their respective roles, could be collegial in spite of them, and – in the end – could laugh together about them. Respect is an amazing character trait.

There were so many stories shared about Gene’s generosity with young journalists, as a teacher and mentor, as a friend and colleague always there with a hand up, as a delightful travel companion, about acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and selflessness. And, yes, about the ever-present sense of humor that attracted me to him in the first place those many years ago at the Dairy Queen in Henderson.

Friends and family from far and wide, fraternity brothers, UK friends and fellow Kernel staffers, journalism colleagues from Washington and Baltimore, horse trackers and more shared in the warm and uplifting fellowship in ways that would have delighted Gene Clabes in life as it did the rest of us.

In the end, for me, is one word – a kind of final legacy I can hold dear and close: Gratitude. Of all the gifts Gene Clabes gave me over a 54-year marriage and a wonderful life, this one may be the greatest of all.

See recent stories about Gene Clabes: Dies at 74 and Celebration of Life.

Memorial contributions can be made here or by check to Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, 644 Braddock Court, Edgewood, KY 41017.

Judy Clabes is founder of the nonprofit Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism, along with Gene Clabes. KyCPSJ is publisher of KyForward and the NKyTribune.

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