Living long brings loss of friends

G. Sam Piatt - PDT Outdoors Columnist

Earth is still traveling at 66,600 miles an hour to make its yearly orbit around

the sun, 93 million miles away. All the while its spinning on its axis at a

speed sufficient to make a complete rotation every 24 hours, bringing us night

and day. And it’s tilting on that axis just enough to bring us spring, summer,

fall and winter.

Those are facts. So it must me that I’m only imaging that the system has speeded

up and the days and years are flying by at a rate I can’t keep track of.

It’s difficult to believe that my 30-year career as a newspaper reporter has

come and gone. And so have some wonderful friends who shared that time with me,

especially my days at the Ashland Daily Independent.

Tony, Ben, Mike, Paul, Rick, George … others whose faces I see but my vanishing

memory can’t just now recall their names, even though they left their impression

on me.

I first met Mike Reliford on a bus bound for Morehead to cover a sports day

event. I was sports editor at the Portsmouth Daily Times and he was sports

editor of The Independent.

During my time at The Independent, where I worked 23 years, I watched Mike climb

to the position of top editor, a position just under the publisher.

And then, so sudden, he was gone, taken out by a heart attack.

The last time I saw him was a short time before his death. We were going in the

front door of the newspaper, he to his office and me to see Adam Vankirk about

the layout of my novel, “That Summer of ’45.”

Mike carried an oxygen pump on his side. I remember I hugged his neck and told

him I loved him.

He was 10 years younger that me.


George Wolfford died Tuesday and his funeral was Friday. He was 13 months

younger that me.

When I began work at The Independent on Labor Day 1975, George Wolfford had

already been on the staff for nearly two decades.

He began work in 1958 and his first story for the newspaper was on the tragic

event of a school bus that left the highway in Floyd County and plunged down a

steep bank into the murky waters of the East Fork of Big Sandy River, killing 26

students and the driver.

In other big stories he did, reported on earlier this past week in The

Independent, he covered the 1970 Marshall plane crash that killed the school’s

football team and the fire at the Beverly Hills Supper Club that killed more

then 60 people.

In 1993 he and Roger Alford covered the shooting at East Carter High School,

where Scott Pennington shot to death a teacher and the custodian and held a

classroom full of students hostage for a time.

And George did it all, as Editor Mark Maynard wrote in his Thursday column,

“…with compassion and passion, with respect, and with skill and precision.”

In those days of the mid-1970s, when George and I worked on the paper’s regional

staff, we wrote our stories on manual typewriters and Editor Jim Todd marked up

our copy with his blue pencil.

George was often absent from the newsroom – out on the road looking for stories

and getting them for the next day, when we were an afternoon paper.

We liked it better when he was present while we were writing our stories. He

saved me many a trip to the big desk dictionary, because the spelling of a word

or a fact I needed was right there for the asking, in his head.

Much like writer Jesse Stuart, George dug out more information than others for

his stories because he wanted to know who the subject’s people were and where

they hailed from.

One day when the old dial phones refused to let us get a call out, he came up

with an adjustable wrench more than a foot long and began trying to take the

mouthpiece apart.

That antic had me grabbing a camera for an unforgettable shot. I still have the

8 x 10 black and white photo. Somewhere.

Over the years I visited George and Wanda several times in their Ashland home.

He took me down in the basement where he did a lot of his historical research

and wrote his history books. It was the first basement I’d seen that was more

cluttered that mine.

But from all that clutter he stored facts in his head, facts to share with

readers and reporters.

George Wolfford and I took an early buyout offered by the paper in July 1998.

Seventeen years ago? Surely the earth must have speeded up in its revolutions to

about 100,000 miles and hour.

Later, at a luncheon gathering of the staff at the Oasis in Ironton, George and

I stood and tried to harmonize on the song:

“So long, it’s been good to know you,

So long, it’s been good to know you.

But a long, long time since I’ve been home,

And I gotta keep traveling along …”

So long for a while, George. It truly has been good to know you.

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]

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