WILMINGTON — From reporter and sports editor to advertising rep to publisher, Clarence Graham was the News Journal for 40-plus years as a newspaperman and as a community leader.
Graham died Monday night at age 89.
A lifelong Clinton County resident, he was raised on a farm in Chester Township and graduated from Kingman High School.
His career at the News Journal spanned 42 years, beginning in 1956.
“Clarence Graham was a community leader in every sense of the word,” former Wilmington mayor and current councilman Nick Eveland told the News Journal. “Although very soft-spoken in person, as editor his voice was heard loudly throughout the county and no one was more powerful at influencing public opinion.
“He was one of the first people I talked to when I considered running for mayor, knowing if Clarence thought I wasn’t right for the job there was no use going any further,” Eveland continued. “Clarence was a friend, confidant, and trusted advisor who always had his finger on the pulse of the community. His influence and contributions made a profound impact on Wilmington’s success.”
“I would not be where I am today without Clarence’s guidance when I was just a kid,” said Cincinnati Reds Vice President of Media Relations Rob Butcher, who worked at the News Journal while attending Wilmington High School and then again as the paper’s full-time sports editor from 1985-87. “As much as anyone, he is responsible for my professional journey.”
Butcher, a 1981 graduate of WHS, said covering the four local high schools and Wilmington College set off a chain reaction that began with his desire to become a high school athletic director. While working toward a master’s degree at Ohio State, Butcher took an internship with the Columbus Clippers, the Class AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees, that led to full-time media relations position first in the Bronx and then in Cincinnati.
The 2021 season will be Butcher’s 25th with the Reds.
“Clarence had a remarkable ability to attract and nurture talent in his newsroom,” said Sam Stratman, who was a reporter at the News Journal prior to a distinguished career in Washington, D.C., including with the House International Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. “News Journal alumni include distinguished authors, journalists and others who achieved notable success in academia, corporate life, professional sports, politics and government.
“He took great satisfaction in the accomplishments achieved by all of us whose lives he made better,” Stratman continued. “Clarence was a demanding editor who was incredibly loyal. I survived my share of career-ending scrapes because of his patience and decency. I owe him much, and rarely a day goes by without thinking of what he meant to me personally. May his memory always be a blessing to his family and everyone whose lives he touched so profoundly.”
Steve Blackledge came to Wilmington in 1982 and worked as sports editor for three years. He recently retired from the Columbus Dispatch after 34 years.
“Fresh out of college, Clarence hired me as sports editor of the News Journal and his mentorship was invaluable in my development as a journalist,” said Blackledge, who recently retired from the Columbus Dispatch. “Not only did he teach me the ins and outs of producing a newspaper every day, he set an example in how to establish relationships and treat people. Clarence was a giant in the Wilmington community and touched thousands of lives.”
Blackledge, who covered the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals during training camp at Wilmington College during his tenure as sports editor, said one day in particular stands out.
”One of the all-time highlights of my career was when Clarence invited me to join him and late great Bengals coach Paul Brown for lunch at the P&G restaurant next door to the old newspaper office,” Blackledge recalled. “Apologetically, Clarence told Paul that I was a devoted Browns fan. Paul looked at me with a glint in his eye and replied, “You do know who they’re named after, right?”
Bengals Owner and President Mike Brown said Tuesday, “Clarence was a good friend of my father’s. I remember him from our training camps at Wilmington College. Clarence worked for the News Journal in Wilmington, and everyone enjoyed his presence at camp. He was a man who wrote fairly about the Bengals, but more importantly, his heart was behind everything in Wilmington, and he was very much respected by its residents, as well as our team employees. The Bengals extend their sincere condolences to his family.”
“Clarence was a giant in the local newspaper industry,” added former Brown Publishing Co. CEO Mark Policinski, currently CEO of the OKI Regional Council of Governments. “He had many attributes we all aspire to have. Chief among these was an absolute, untiring devotion to putting the truth in the Wilmington News Journal. By doing so, he served his community of neighbors as well as any one person could.
“He was a good friend who will be missed.”
Arrangements are pending with Littleton Funeral Home.