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Billy Reed: Lifting a cup in memory and salute to people along life’s path, like Rick Bailey, David Hawpe


I was sitting at home the other night, trying to figure out how to use a new iPhone I had to buy, when I got a jarring e-mail from Art Jester, a former colleague at The Herald-Leader. Now living in Danville, Art loves the written word about as much as anybody I’ve ever known. Books, magazines, newspapers, the internet — Art loves good writing wherever he finds it.

Bless his heart, he also sends me a steady diet of stories he thinks I might have missed and would enjoy. He’s a literary guy, but he also loves sports and the people who write about them with insight, logic, and style.

Rick Bailey had died.


Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award three times. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades and is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon.

That was Art’s message for me that night, and it filled me with sadness.

I began working with Rick in 1962, when he was nearing the end of his first year as a UK journalism major. He was from Paintsville, as was Larry VanHoose, The Leader’s assistant sports editor. Both Larry and Rick enjoyed talking about Mike “The Missle” Minix, a Paintsville football star who had become a sort of folk hero in that part of the state.

VanHoose and his buddy David Butler both were also athletes from Paintsville, but they played golf for UK, not football. I’m not sure if Larry had anything to do with Rick’s hiring, but it meant we had two guys from Johnson County on our seven-or-eight person staff. Not a bad percentage for that, or any, time.

If I’m not mistaken, Rick was pretty much driven by his hardshell Baptist mother, who worried that VanHoose and I might be a bad influence on her son, who hadn’t seen much of the world outside Paintsville. I must admit her fears were not without merit. I’m pretty sure Larry and I introduced Rick to Mr. Budweiser, not to mention a certain strip club in Lexington.

It wasn’t as though I was a man of the world. I was only a year or so older than Rick, but I already had joined a fraternity at Transylvania, and everybody knew how rowdy we got after a few beers at some dark and sweaty place such as Danceland, where the house band was Charlie Bishop and the Houserockers (featuring Jimmie Lee Ballard), or Comers, where Carlos Toadvine, also known as “Little Enis,” strutted and stormed around the stage, his slick black pompadour glistening under the hot lights above.

Besides being incredibly naive, Rick also had a temper, as did Tom White, another of our staff guys. He was putty in the hands of VanHoose, who sometimes tried to see how quickly he could needle Rick into getting red-faced and angry. But Rick learned to live with it. I guess it was part of his coming of age.

From then until I graduated from Transy in the summer of 1966, many good times were had in The Herald-Leader building on Short Street, just behind the courthouse. The sports staffs off both papers hired a lot of bright young guys who both worked hard and played hard. Besides Rick and I (VanHoose was older with a beautiful wife and a son, for heaven’s sake), the list includes people like Russ Shain, Mike Ruehling, Lee Mueller, David “Butch” Thompson, Johnny McGill, Van Rose, and Bill Miller.

And then came David Hawpe, who stirred the drink better than anyone.

By the time he graduated from the UK School of Journalism in 1965, David already had established a reputation for himself because off his caustic pieces in The Kernel, UK’s student newspaper, about the brutal way football coach Charlie Bradshaw treated his players in practices and off-season conditioning workouts.

So many players quit the team in Bradshaw’s first season that they were tagged as the “Thin Thirty” because that’s all the players who stayed and took Bradshaw’s abuse. It was so bad that Sports Illustrated sent in a team of writers and photographers to do a major story about it. Naturally, Hawpe was one of their main sources of information.

Hawpe’s kind of writing and reporting were hardly shared by Billy Thompson, then the assistant sports editor of The Herald and an unabashed UK fan. So when Hawpe got a job with the Associated Press upon his graduation from UK in 1965, Thompson ordered his staff to give Hawpe the cold shoulder, withhold stories from him until the last possible minute, and generally do what they could to make his professional career got off to a miserable start.

It worked for, oh, maybe a week. That’s how long it took Hawpe to win over everybody, including Thompson. He could just be so funny that it was impossible not to like him. Soon enough, he was running a gin rummy tournament in the AP’s office on the third floor off The Herald-Leader building. We all were serious about becoming competent journalists, but we did it by turning Hawpe’s office into our own little fraternity house.

David died a few months ago.

He had a Hall-of-Fame career in which he rose to be The Courier-Journal’s editor. Like my friend Art Jester, David loved words and writing. He liked the sound of certain words as they rolled off the tongue. He loved writers whose prose approached poetry.

To be perfectly honest, Rick Bailey never was the kind of wordsmith Hawpe loved. He was more like those citywide reporters who covered the police beat and did features about education, the State Fair, and stuff like that. But make no mistake, those people are every bit as important to a newspaper as the flashy stars who can make their words tap-dance.

Over the years, I saw a lot more of Hawpe than I did Bailey. Heck, David was even my boss for a few years when became The C-J’s managing editor in the 1980s. But every time I would run into either one, the memories and laughs began immediately. None of us had any money back then. We needed to work to help pay our tuition, buy clothes, and feed ourselves.

Now Rick has gone to join David in that great newsroom in the sky. I am a better person for having known them at such a young age, and the same goes for the other members of our little lodge.

Rest In Peace, my friends and colleagues. Tell the angels about the time Rick got so mad at Larry VanHoose that he stopped just short of throwing a paste pot at him. Or the time we had to take Hawpe to the hospital after he lost a big gin-rummy game and ran into a wall running from our jeers.

Now I’m going to put -30- on this and maybe lift a coffee cup to days and people I’ll never forget.


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One Comment

  1. Barry Bronson says:

    Great memories. Thanks Billy. I joined The Herald after J School at Mizzou (and Transy ‘70). Rick Bailey was a great guy. Sure, he was hardly a firebrand in the Newspaper Guild (I was president and treasurer for awhile). I was running buddies with DG Fitzmaurice even as I transitioned from the metro beat to entertainment columnist.

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