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David Hawpe, 78, died Sunday — loved Kentucky, fought to right wrongs, was a great journalist and friend

By Judy Clabes
NKyTribune editor

David Hawpe, 78, distinguished journalist, editor and quintessential Kentuckian, died Sunday night in Louisville. He had been hospitalized with multiple health problems.

I first met David in the newsroom of The Kentucky Kernel, back in the days when the Kernel was a daily campus newspaper where all serious journalism students gathered to figure it all out. As a truly “fresh” student from far-away Henderson, I can say I had never met anyone like him. A couple years my senior, he was brash, full of himself, a true intellect, a real storyteller, a talented writer (boy, did he know words), ambitious — and intimidating. He never changed.

David Hawpe

We became fast friends, and along with our fellow Kernel colleagues during that magic time — William Grant, Walter Grant, Terry Hunt (from Bellevue, who became chief White House correspondent for AP through five presidencies), and Gene Clabes — became a kind of cabal who cheered each other on through the years — and were dedicated to truth, justice and the American way.

David loved Kentucky, deeply and profoundly. He wanted it to be better — he wanted public schools to serve students, he wanted its rich natural resources to be protected, he wanted his Appalachia to thrive, he wanted kids to be safe at home, he wanted Kentuckians to be more aware of the rest of the world, he wanted journalism that made people think — so they could make things better.

He never forgot his roots — or his friends. He rose through the ranks of the Courier Journal to become its editor and led it to four Pulitzer Prizes. He started with the CJ in its Hazard Bureau in Eastern Kentucky, an appropriate beginning.

Most recently, he served as a volunteer legislative aide to state Sen Morgan McGarvey — proud to be the “oldest legislative intern” in Frankfort. He liked nothing more than being in the thick of it.

“Kentucky lost one of its strongest voices in the passing of journalist David Hawpe,” Gov. Andy Beshear said on social media. “David dedicated his work to bettering the lives of all Kentuckians. He will be greatly missed.”

After his retirement in 2009, Hawpe served for six years on the board of trustees of the University of Kentucky, his alma mater. He was excessively proud of this accomplishment.

“David Hawpe loved Kentucky — every coal town and community, every hill and holler, and all the contours and contradictions of its history,” University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement. “He believed deeply that journalism and education — particularly his alma mater, the University of Kentucky — were essential to advancing the future of his beloved Commonwealth.”

Kentucky has lost a real treasure in David Hawpe. We can only be grateful to have had him as long as we did, doing the work he did. Could we hope for another like him?

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One Comment

  1. Steve Flairty says:

    I contacted David Hawpe in 2006 regarding my interest in writing a “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes” book (which later became a series). In his Sunday C-J column, he mentioned the project and that I was looking for hero nominations. With that coverage, my email account soon was flooded with story possibilities. I’ll never forget the gesture–done not as a favor to me, as we’d never met, but because of- -like you say, Judy–love of his state of Kentucky.

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