Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nashville Banner Editor Eddie Jones, 1924-2009

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2009 at 6:30 AM

click to enlarge hs_eddiej.jpg

Former Nashville Banner editor Eddie Jones died on Sunday. He was 85. Besides the Banner, Jones had a hand in nearly every facet of civic life. He spent 20 years at the Chamber of Commerce, worked as press secretary for the late Governor Frank Clement and was a leading force behind the construction of the Nashville Convention Center. As you might expect of a guy who spent much of his life in newsrooms and all of it cultivating friendships, the eulogizing of Jones has been thorough. City Paper linked to a 2007 story detailing his shepherding of the 1967 liquor-by-the-drink campaign (which finally allowed bars to legally sell martinis and shots of Jameson, an act worthy of Sainthood). And the Tennessean tracked down a money anecdote, revealing that Jones's sense of humor was alive and well till the end.

Last Wednesday, (Jones) called longtime friend and former Banner chief photographer Jack Gunter to let him know that he was making plans to reopen the paper. Then he pointed out the date on the calendar -- April Fool's Day.
To add whatever we could to Jones's portrait, Pith asked some that knew him well for their best Eddie stories... Nicki Wood, former Banner writer: I worked for the Banner starting in Dec 1989 on the copy desk, where I was hired to fill in for an editor who was being treated for mental illness. I worked with Marty Buck Molpus, Tammy Rankin Binford, Dana Kopp Franklin, CB FLetcher (the greatest copy editor of all time), Bill "The Left Hander" Roberts. Our shift started at 5:30 a.m. and we put out four editions a day: midstate, home, city and final. Maybe "city" was the second edition -- sorry. Been 20 years. You could smoke in the newsroom at the time, which Eddie did. He also used a typewriter. He was the last person I knew to still use a typewriter. By the time of first edition deadline, about 8 a.m., the place was full of cigarette smoke. The old newsroom was like a movie set of a newsroom. Eddie's accent was an old Southern accent. It was so delicious. I remember one time we had -- and by we I mean the copy desk after CB Fletcher had left for the day -- an Eddie Jones imitation competition with the City Desk. I was positive I would win, because I'm pretty good at imitations. I was working that Foghorn-Leghorn thing, and I thought I sounded just like Eddie. I remember Bill Roberts looking at us from around the side of our huge old computers and laughing, adjusting the toothpick he kept in his mouth. But the contest was clinched by Jim Molpus because he captured that slight whistle that Eddie's speech had, and he stood in Eddie's distinctive slump and even waved an imaginary cigarette around like Eddie. Pat Embry, former Banner sportswriter and executive editor: Eddie very much enjoyed conversation, loved holding court, and his Banner office next to mine was a favored between-deadlines spot. Craig Leipold, then the owner of newly introduced Nashville Predators, was gracious enough to accept an invitation to the staff's annual holiday luncheon potluck (what turned out to be our last before the paper folded a couple of months later). Leipold filled a plate of food and joined Mr. Russell -- the Banner's legendary sports editor, Fred Russell, who to this day I can refer to as nothing but Mr. Russell many years after his passing -- in Eddie's office. With very little begging from Eddie and me, who had practically memorized the stories by now, Mr. Russell proceeded to regale us one last time with his infamous practical jokes, and personal tales about his buddies Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, Red Grange and Bear Bryant. We laughed until we cried, as always, and Leipold almost choked on his baked ham, he was laughing and enjoying himself so much. It wasn't hard to grasp the significance of the meeting, even then: Mr. Russell, a first-hand observer of sports' so-called glory days during the 1920s and 1930s; Leipold, owner of the city's first big league sports franchise; and Eddie, the East Nashville kid who had realized long before many others did his hometown's big league potential.

Bruce Dobie, former Scene editor and Banner political reporter

In 1983 (I think) I got a call from the Nashville Banner's city editor, Bill Hance.

"Eddie Jones wants to tell you some stuff. He says he's never met you, so go see him right now."

We had been writing what I thought were some halfway decent stories about the downtown convention center (the one we have now), which had stalled on takeoff and was a hole in the ground on Lower Broadway. But all was not right. Even when I would write a tough story that could stand on its own, the story would come out of the editing process like a screaming Mimi. Most of the blows would rain down on former Mayor Richard Fulton, whose mention would arrive on schedule in the second paragraph or so.

"I used to work at the Banner years ago," Eddie said that afternoon when I met him for the first time in the Chamber's downtown offices. He was in a suit and tie, buttoned up. There were those big, clunky, black glasses. And the thing I remember most: a silver cigarette case on a nearby table. He would pop it open, take big drags.

"I've been reading your stories," Eddie said. "But you know this is not about the convention center."

It was one of those moments when the sky cracks a little, and suddenly you understand, or hope you might.

"Well what's up?" I asked.

"Irby just doesn't like Fulton," Eddie said, Irby being my publisher Irby Simpkins, and Fulton being former Mayor Richard Fulton. "Irby's taking it out on him any way he can. But I'm not sure what caused it. Got any clues?"

It was clear Eddie knew so much, but it was also clear he was working through it too. I had to confess I had no clue what was up, and it made me uncomfortable to appear so ignorant. But Eddie didn't really seem to care. He wasn't acting like the typical Chamber head--he hadn't pulled out the easel and the charts. He was instead way deep into the politics, stage-managing a group of civic players into accomplishing something. Easing the Fulton-Simpkins rupture, in which I was throwing mud balls, certainly would help him. When the conversation ended, he thanked me, and I thanked him, and that started a series of conversations I had with Eddie for the next two and a half decades.

Let me be clear: there were a lot of reporters who counted on Eddie for tips. I wasn't the only person on his leak-list. But my God, you just couldn't help but love the man. For years at the Nashville Scene, I would pick up the phone (always in the morning) and hear him drawl out: "This is your Downtown Bureau," and then he'd tell me everything going on in his cluster of friends. And I say cluster, because it was small, yet incredibly strong, a relic of a simpler, more closed Southern city that was dominated by a tight clique of businessmen, the Sam Flemings and Bill Weavers and Pat Wilsons and Nelson Andrews and Andy Benedicts. Eddie crossed worlds, dipping into the media and political circles (for crying out loud, he even knew some Democrats) that these businessmen did not often cross, but as he told me once of his West Nashville business friends, "I really loved these guys."

Eddie was their consigliere. As he told me later, what was perhaps the most intriguing professional endeavor of his life here had no title, though it should have read: "Executive Director, Watauga." Watauga was the secret group of two dozen or so Nashville businessmen whose stated aim was to help the city, which sort of required that it run it as well. When I asked Eddie to help me report a story on Watauga, he let me have all the Watauga documents he had. After all, he was responsible for the files.

When it was clear that the Banner's days were numbered, Eddie asked if I had any spare offices down at the Scene that he could move into. He really liked the journalism the Scene did; he said he didn't want to get paid but said he'd like an office to go to and that he wanted to go out as a reporter. Frankly, I was really happy for the Scene to have someone like Eddie even ask. We dropped the conversation over time, and next thing I knew he ended up at Hank Dye's PR shop, and I was happy for that.

I'm sure Eddie had a few enemies, but I can't name them. The man could tell a joke. When he would say the letter "s," it always came out as a whistle. I'm sure Eddie had an agenda, but I never really saw it, because he was just so plain honorable about everything. You could say sausage and tobacco (he loved both) are bad for you, but we can now dispute that on the record. His britches were always hitched up just south of his chin about six inches. A helluva lot of people woke up to learn Eddie Jones had died today, and just got sadder than they thought they'd ever be.

Tim Ghianni, former columnist, reporter and editor at the Banner and Vanderbilt's current journalist-in-residence Eddie Jones was my friend, a fellow whose counsel I sought during my years at the Nashville Banner and in the years since. He was a true local journalist, whose roots in Nashville were reflected in the stories and the headlines in the still-lamented afternoon daily newspaper. He was the kind of editor who would roll up his always-pressed shirtsleeves to be a part of what was going on in the newsroom. He was the kind of editor who stood behind his staff rather than stab them in the back. It's not that he thought his staff was incapable of error, but when he knew they were right, he'd fight right beside them. And if they were wrong, he'd help them patch things up. When I was state editor at the Banner, a part of my responsibility was political coverage. Sometimes, not every day, but frequently, we pissed off the politicians. If they came to Eddie, complaining, he wouldn't back down. Rather in his inimitable and diplomatic fashion, he would defuse the problem. Handshakes all around were his hoped-for result. It should be noted that some of those stories, of course, emanated from Eddie, who knew everything and everyone who made decisions affecting the city and the state that he loved. He also encouraged me to write a slice-of-life column that appeared once a week in the Banner. "Real Life" was often gritty and it detailed the lives and concerns of the working man and woman in Nashville. No, the people I wrote about generally weren't part of any marketing department's demographic of the people we should write about in order to sell more papers. I didn't have to explain to him that these people mattered, that they shared the same hopes, fears and dreams as everyone else. That column -- whether it was about a homeless man, a victim of street violence or even about the mother of a vice president -- was to show that we were all more alike than different. It fit Eddie's philosophy of life as much as it fit my own. There are great memories in any newsman's life. With Eddie, perhaps it was the trip to Washington, D.C., we took to meet with the delegation and to orchestrate coverage of Capitol Hill. The stories he told me over drinks and steak detailed a life spent covering things like Hank Williams' funeral and various political shenanigans. If pressed, he would talk about his years at East High and his job as a World War II fighter pilot. Yes, to him, it was a job he was doing when he was helping to defeat the fascists. He was no more heroic than any other veteran, he would say. "Us World War II's are pretty tough," he conceded with a smile. But he was equally interested in my own life as a journalist, as a writer and as a human being. I was standing outside 1100 Broadway, enjoying a pre-budget-meeting smoke at about 5:30 one morning in February 1998. "What brings you in so early, boss?" I asked, as he crossed Broadway and stopped to finish up his own smoke before going inside. He turned his thumbs toward the asphalt. "The Banner's going down," he said. There was melancholy in his voice as he talked about the imminent death of the newspaper that he'd been a part of, on and off, through his adult life. The Banner has been gone now for more than a decade. It is impossible to think about that newspaper without thinking about Eddie Jones. This weekend we lost the man who perhaps loved that newspaper more than anyone else. Eddie was one of the good guys.

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