Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

February 21, 2012

MARK MAYNARD: A footprint that will stay with us

ASHLAND — I’m not sure how this is going to go because there’s so much that needs to be said.

This newspaper and this community have lost a jewel with the death of Mike Reliford, the editor of The Independent.

To me, personally, he was many things: mentor, co-worker, boss, friend, confidant — and family.

No, we weren’t related in the legal sense of the word, unless you consider the ink that coarses through our veins. But we were family — and we both knew it. We told each other as much.

I loved him, he loved me.

It was that simple.

Mere words will never do justice to the Mike Reliford we all loved

and cherished here at the newspaper. His failing health had left him a shell of the person he once was on the outside, but on the inside, beneath that gruff exterior, was a good man. A fair man. A kind man. A loving man.

He was compassionate and caring, a wonderful husband — sweet Susan was the love of his life — and father, a grandfather and a friend like this newspaper has never had before and will never have again.

He loved The Independent and what it stood for in the community. He poured his life into this place, doing whatever he could to make it better. He was proud of the newspaper and the people who worked for him.

Mike was also one of the most opinionated people you’d ever meet. He couldn’t say hello without an opinion to go with it. It was no surprise when I learned he was on the debate team in high school. He had to be an all-star debater.

He could write a column where you had the totally opposite view when you started reading and, by the end of it, your mind would be changed to his way of thinking.

His influential writing has been on the pages of this newspapers since he started here in the sports department in 1965.

Mike became the sports editor in 1971 and four years later hired me as a sports clerk even though my typewriting skills were, well, limited. But he saw something in me and kept me around to learn this trade. Mike is my mentor, the man who taught me how to write. He worked with me, showed me, told me and nurtured those skills.

I was his project and he was always proud, like a proud papa, when a story turned out like he thought it might. There is no way I’d be the writer I am today without his guidance and tutelage.

I’ll miss him editing my columns even today, making minor changes that just made it sound a little better, made the point come across a little more clear. That’s what he was so good at. He was a true wordsmith.

Mike changed the culture of this newspaper when he became the sports editor. He took the Ashland Tomcats off the front page, where they regularly resided during football seasons on Saturday afternoons, and made the sports section a more regional approach.

The teams that were doing the best would get the coverage and the top billing. If that was Ashland, then fine. If it wasn’t Ashland, that was fine, too. He made no apologies about it even though it ruffled Tomcat fur at the time.

He spoke his mind and went against the grain many times. He probably saved Herb Conley’s coaching career in 1970 when he wrote a column about Conley prior to the Tomcats taking on Ironton in the last game of the season. The lunch counter crowd was ready to run Conley out of town. Mike’s biting words make them take pause. Then the Tomcats defeated Ironton and Conley’s teams went on to great success the next six years.

Mike Reliford was always fair minded when it came to coverage in sports and later in news, where he became the managing editor and eventually the editor. He was the perfect choice because nobody had the passion for this place that he did. Mike knew the importance of getting both sides of the story and Page 1 was always sacred ground.

He never wanted columns on Page 1 because columns held opinions and the front page wasn’t the place where anybody’s opinion should dominate.

But I’m breaking that rule today because nobody who ever knew Mike Reliford would disagree with me that he was the face of this newspaper for nearly 50 years.

If you ever came across him, you will never forget him. His stories, many about himself, are legendary and will be told for years to come.

I had the sheer pleasure of not only working with him the past 37 years but following in his footsteps.

I became a sportswriter, then the sports editor (we both served 19 years in that position) and then the managing editor.

He taught me lesson upon lesson not only about writing but how to handle people, maybe the most important thing we do here with our daily dealings with the public. Nobody was better with the public than Mike Reliford. He had a way about him.

We were close as workers, closer as friends and understanding as family members. When one of us hurt, we both hurt.

Today my heart is aching.

Mike’s big heart gave out on him early Monday morning, his poor health finally taking its toll. But the heartbeat that Mike put into this newspaper still beats proud and strong.

I know it always will.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at

mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2648.

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