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Billy Reed, 78, a legend among journalists, has died in Louisville after a long illness

Billy Reed, 78, an icon among sportswriters everywhere, has died at Norton Suburban Hospital in Louisville after a long illness. His daughters Susan and Amy were by his side.

Battling liver disease, Reed had been in and out of the hospital after a fall at his alma mater, Transylvania University, last summer, and several subsequent falls. Complaining of lack of balance, he spent some time in rehabilitation facilities undergoing therapy — and characteristically complaining all the way. He has not been able to write his sports column for the NKyTribune since before the first of the year. In a fall last October, he broke four ribs.

He joked with friends that he had to use a cane — but enjoyed that his friends called it “a chick magnet.”

Billy was 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 was named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. He served a term as president of the National Turf Writers Association.

He wrote about a multitude of sports events for over six-plus decades and was perhaps one of the most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby. His book “Last of a BReed” is available on Amazon. In all, he wrote six books.

He was a native of Mount Sterling and started his 60-plus years as a sports writer at the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1959. He went to the sports staff of the Courier-Journal in 1966, worked for Sports Illustrated in 1968, returning to the Courier-Journal as special projects reporter in 1972. He became a general columnist there in 1974 and sports editor in 1977. He rejoined both the Herald-Leader and Sports Illustrated in later years.

He knew his way around the race track and was considered an authority on the sport.

Reed joined the NKyTribune team as a weekly sports columnist in 2015, at our birth, and was a consistent and popular columnist who often ruffled feathers with his political viewpoints — and his unabashed aversion to the money in college sports.

“We join in mourning — yet celebrating — our friend and colleague, Billy Reed,” said NKyTribune editor Judy Clabes. “We appreciated the wealth of his experience and knowledge, his great good humor and friendship, and his true caring about journalism. He can honestly be called ‘one-of-a-kind.’ Our hearts go out to his loving family — and those terrific grandchildren he talked so much about.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell also paid tribute to Billy: “I was saddened to learn of the passing of legendary sportswriter Billy Reed, a man who delivered some of the best sports coverage in the Commonwealth. I knew Billy well since our time playing little league baseball together and always enjoyed reading his takes on Kentucky’s sports teams. From covering more than 50 Derbys, to shadowing Muhammad Ali, to attending NCAA championships, he enjoyed every opportunity Kentucky athletics had to offer. He had an outstanding career and Kentucky sports fans will miss him dearly.”

He is survived by his two daughters, a son-in-law, and four grandchildren.

His family has said that a celebration of his life will be held sometime in the future, perhaps close to the Derby, and that will be announced.

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  1. Bob Bickers says:

    It was my privilege to know Billy as a fellow student (1963-65) and sportswriter on the Transylvania College CRIMSON RAMBLER weekly newspaper. I was 3 years younger but I watched him closely, reading everything he wrote. I am proud of his later successes as this article indicates.

  2. David Cobb says:

    A legend in his own time and respected by his peers! A loss for our state!

  3. Ed Heck says:

    He taught me more about good writing in a month than all of teachers and professors.

  4. John Karem says:

    A great talent, a great friend. God bless his family.

  5. Judy Clabes says:

    We have updated this story to include Sen. McConnel’s warm tribute and to correct two errors: Billy was 78 at death, not 79 — his birthday is in July and he would have been 79 then. Also, he died at Norton Suburban Hospital. Our errors for which we apologize — grief can get in our way too.

  6. Jim VanHook says:

    We were Lexington neighbors, school mates, and good buddies in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I’ll never forget the memorable times we had hanging out together. I am deeply saddened by Billy’s passing, but thankful my life was enriched through his friendship. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

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