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Longtime Kentucky editor, ‘Humble Reporter’ Bill Mardis, dies at 89; worked until his death Feb. 2

Few people have been identified with a rural daily newspaper as Bill Mardis, editor emeritus of the Commonwealth Journal in Somerset who died this week at 89, not long after writing his last stories for the paper.

Mardis was working at Somerset’s WTLO when CJ Publisher George “Jop” Joplin III invited Mardis to join him in 1964 as The Somerset Commonwealth and The Somerset Journal, competing weeklies, began the transition to a single daily, Carla Slavey reports for the paper.

Bill Mardis was a master of the language but cherished dictionaries. (Photo from Rural Blog)

“Along with being the newspaper’s editor, Mardis was known regionally as the ‘Humble Reporter,’ named after the column that shared homespun insights and was written in countrified spelling,” Slavey reports. His annual staple was the prediction of how many snows deep enough to track a rabbit would fall in the winter, equal to the number of August-morning fogs he recorded at a local farmer’s field.

“Mardis stepped down as editor in 1998 and returned in 2002, later being named editor emeritus. He continued to work three days a week up until January of this year,” Slavey reports. “In September 2013, a mural was unveiled on the Maple Street side of the Commonwealth Journal offices depicting Joplin and Mardis.” Joplin, a former National Newspaper Association president, died in 1990.
Friends and former coworkers wrote for the Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. paper that all of Pulaski County has lost a friend, and that Mardis won’t be forgotten.

Retired editor Ken Shmidheiser told Slavey that Mardis “loved his job, he loved Pulaski County, and he loved its people.” Mardis “was not shy” about telling people about his poverty-stricken childhood, and that experience inspired his ‘Humble Reporter’ column, but “Bill was much more than the ‘Humble Reporter,'” Shmidheiser said. “He was a chronicler of Pulaski County life and its people. During his prime he covered fender benders and interviewed presidential candidates. And his legacy includes scores of state and national awards for outstanding journalism.”

Editor Jeff Neal, who calls Mardis his hero, writes that “Humble Reporter” fit him better than the title of editor: “‘Humble” described Bill’s personality. It described his very essence — not only as a reporter, but as a human being.”

But despite his humility, “Bill Mardis was much more than the heart and soul of this publication — his essence is woven into the very fabric of Pulaski County. Bill wasn’t just a part of the Commonwealth Journal — he WAS the Commonwealth Journal,” Neal writes. “It goes without saying Bill touched us all here at the CJ. His passion for community journalism was unparalleled — and, for me, it was contagious. I listened to him — even when he chewed me out — and I learned from him.”

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This article originally appeared in The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. The IRJCI is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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