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Mark Martin's Notepad

Remembering Rick Simmons
November 12, 2013

Mark Martin (This story was a tribute I wrote earlier this summer about my dear friend Rick Simmons, who died last week at the age of 57.)


While working, there's always a period each day when I begin thinking about how it all got started. I can honestly say not a single day passes where those thoughts at some point don't occupy my mind. Many times, they do so for long stretches.

My career in the media business was officially launched in December of 1979 as a stringer for The Jackson Herald.

While I ultimately got into broadcasting full-time, first for radio, and later television, contributing to the county's print publications has never stopped since that first Christmas break of my college years. Today, my enthusiasm remains at a high level when it comes to writing a story or column about someone from Jackson County. This is home. And as the old saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”

As the years have raced by, I've written countless stories for print. I've stared at a television camera under bright lights for hours and hours. I've worked hundreds of live game broadcasts for radio and TV. Each assignment always leaves me feeling the same – blessed and lucky.

Various assignments have given me the chance to travel to some of the country's greatest sports venues and meet some interesting people. I've made a boatload of friendships from players to coaches to administrators to die-hard fans along the way.

It didn't just happen. I needed an abundance of assists. The list of those people who have been there to help is a long one. I've never forgotten any of them. Any time there comes a chance to thank one of them, I do. It's important to me that they know.

Which is the reason for this column.

No matter who how many people provides an individual with opportunities on their career path, there is always someone who was first. That someone for me was Rick Simmons, the former editor/publisher of The Jackson Herald.

I can still hear the words from my mother as if she just said them. “Rick Simmons wants you to call him. He might have some work for you while you're home.”

That aforementioned first semester of college had just come to an end as a communications major. There was no doubt that I had made the right choice when choosing a field of study.

By taking on the stringer position for the Herald, Rick became my first true boss in the media business. He wasn't just a boss, but a mentor. He also became a great friend.

Without Rick, all of the other jobs that have been added to the resume and bio over a period of 35 years simply wouldn't have happened. Besides wanting to be an athlete, my passion also burned to cover sports for a living through writing and broadcasting. Rick set the stage during those early years of college.

As another great friend and mentor, the late Dave Diles, once said, “You got the ink in your veins.” Indeed I did. All because of Rick.

Every time we talk, I express my gratitude. In fact, I probably don't thank him enough. Though sports was the area I was seeking, Rick taught me the ropes in virtually every other facet of the writing business.

I still marvel just thinking about Rick at a City Council meeting. The guy was an absolute note-taking machine. He blazed through a legal pad faster than a no-turn riding mower attacks grass.

He was a gifted writer and had great command of the English language. Rick had but one slight weakness when it came to being in the newspaper industry...he couldn't type.

Can't type? No problem. Watching him return from one of those council meetings, a ball game, election, fire, etc., to do a story was perhaps like witnessing Picasso go to work on a blank canvass. Rick would once more attack a helpless legal pad with fury. He could crank out a hand-written (he printed) story that filled up multiple pages quicker than it would take someone else to do the simplest of tasks on a computer.

Rick would then rip those pages off of the pad and hand them to a typesetter who would then take it the next step. Soon all of those words from numerous yellow pads helped fill up the many pages of the Herald.

As talented as he was at writing newspaper copy, taking photos, selling ads and everything else that comes with helping to run a family-owned weekly newspaper, Rick's career dream was being a fire investigator.

In 1978, that dream was set aside. Rick's father, Keith, who had been the backbone of the paper for years, died in March of 1978 while vacationing at Myrtle Beach. Rick knew the right thing to do was to help his mother, Dot, keep the paper running strong in Keith's memory.

While a lot of people remember Rick as a newspaper man, sometimes they forget what an excellent golfer he was...and that's a shame. Many have often said that Rick was as good as anyone from Jackson County on the links. He was a standout performer both at Ripley High, where he graduated in 1974, and at Glenville State College. He loved the game and enjoyed sharing that passion through his weekly golf columns during the summer months.

After leaving the paper in the 90s, Rick would return to Glenville to do a number of jobs. One was to coach golf – first at Gilmer County High School and later GSC. In 1994, Rick was named the West Virginia Conference Golf Coach of the Year.

Sadly, life hasn't been kind to Rick the last several years. An illness has led to many ailments, including the loss of his eyesight. Yet, he remains upbeat.

We chatted on the phone a few days ago. That loud voice is still very much in tact. The boisterous laugh still exists. Which makes me smile, because together the two of us shared many laughs. As I write this the thought of Rick's laugh makes me do the same.

These days, he lives in a quiet section of Ravenswood. Many people come by to help out, including former Red Devil head football coach Dick Sturm. It's comforting to know that Rick has a good man like Dick keeping an eye on him. Not to mention someone he can spend time with talking sports.

My times with Rick seem like yesterday. Those were days I treasure while learning a craft from an unsung talent.

When I take a pen and start writing on a legal pad, I see Rick flying words on to the lines at record speed. I hear him making this noise “che, che, che,” while doing so.

He was a great newspaperman for the county. He helped record tons of history. Besides those contributions, he was heavily involved with the fire department, emergency services, auxiliary police and for many years was the director of Ripley's famed Fourth of July celebration.

Rick had a big heart and was always looking to help others if he could. He helped me in so many ways. Rick told my mom, whom he affectionately called “Maude,” that he had a vision for me.

It is my hope that this wonderful long-time friend some how, some way, through the grace of God, regains his.



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