ASHLAND — Reader’s Digest used to have a feature called “Unforgettable Characters.”
I’m not sure if they still have this but for me the description fits my friend and colleague Mike Reliford. I can say, without hesitation, Mike was the most unforgettable character I have ever met and I would venture to say the many people he has met and written about during the past 47 years would say the same.
Mike was an old school newspaper man. There was not much polish to him but he was as good as they get. He had that look and demeanor that came across as some rough and gruff guy. Truth be known, that was all an act but I am sure there are many young reporters who stood in front of his desk over the years that may not have believed that.
He had a way of getting you to see things his way even if you didn’t want to. Countless times over the years I have seen him deal with someone who was not happy with something written in the paper. More often than not by the end of the conversation Mike had the person laughing and had diffused the situation. I have never met anyone that could make you laugh like he did. He could take any situation and make it funny.
It didn’t matter which side of an issue I took, Mike always took the other. He loved the debate and quite frankly he was very good at it. If I saw something as black, he would see it as white. If I said it was a beautiful day he would say it was cloudy. Quite a few times Mike and I would debate (some would say argue) and he would almost convince me to see things his way. I would never concede nor would he. There was an unwritten rule between us that neither would ever give in. I’ll miss that game.
The side of Mike most people never saw was he was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. His wife, Susan, his son, Todd, his son, Matt, and wife Pam, and his three grandchildren, Tyler, Caden and Collin, were the light of his life. He beamed with pride when he talked about them. I could never leave his office without hearing a story about one of them.
Several years ago Mike got a call his son, Todd, was being taken by ambulance to the hospital. Mike jumped in the car and followed the ambulance. Sadly, Todd passed away during that trip. A piece of Mike died that day along with Todd. He was never quite the same after that.
Today is a sad day for the Independent family. A part of us has left and we will never be the same. Fortunately Mike showed us how to be a better newspaper and his legacy will continue for many years.
As we travel down life’s highways we meet many people who impact our lives. Some impact it in a good way, others not as good. If you are as fortunate as I am in your life’s journey you will come across a person like Mike Reliford.
Rest in peace, my friend, and thanks for letting me take a little of the journey with you.
EDDIE BLAKELEY is publisher of The Independent. Reach him at (606) 326-2601.