Timothy M. Kelly: “An Editor Honored for His Commitment to Diversity and Public Service Journalism”

From an obit on kentucky.com by Bill Estep headlined “Timothy M. Kelly, who led Pulitzer-winning work at Herald-Leader, other newspapers, dies at 73”:

Timothy M. Kelly, who oversaw Pulitzer Prize-winning work at several newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader, and was honored for his commitment to diversity and public-service journalism, died Monday….

Kelly was hired at the Herald-Leader in 1989 as managing editor after working at newspapers across the country.

The Herald-Leader had improved significantly during the 1980s under the leadership of editor John Carroll, winning its first Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for an investigation of payoffs in the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program.

Kelly continued the focus on tough accountability journalism in news and commentary after succeeding Carroll as editor in 1991.

The newspaper won a second Pulitzer Prize the next year, for a series of editorials that led to significant reforms in how Kentucky police and courts handled domestic-violence cases, and then another Pulitzer in 2000 for editorial cartooning while Kelly was publisher.

Kelly became publisher of the newspaper in 1996 and held that job until he retired in June 2011 after a 46-year career in journalism.

“The Herald-Leader, that was his pride and joy,” Kelly’s son, Kevin, said. “He never lost his love for the paper and the people who worked there.”

Kelly served in leadership positions with about two dozen local and state boards and committees, including the organization now known as Commerce Lexington, the YMCA of Central Kentucky, the Kentucky Blood Center and the Lexington Area Sports Authority, as well as the national boards of the YMCA and AARP.

Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, said that Kelly dedicated his life to serving others through journalism, philanthropy and volunteerism.

“His work on the national stage was inseparable from his work in his community. The nation and Lexington are measurably better off because of his work, passion, and vision,” Jenkins said….

He won a number of honors for his service work, including awards as volunteer of the year for the YMCA and the Lewis Owens Award for Community Service from the Kentucky Press Association.

“Tim did everything he could to help Lexington move forward,” said businessman Jim Host, a close friend.

When he announced his retirement, Kelly, who loved fishing, said people would have to look on a lake to find him, but not long after he agreed to Gray’s request to head an effort to deal with a gaping unfunded liability in the city’s pension fund for police and firefighters that threatened funding for other city services.

Working long hours at times, members of the task force negotiated changes in which both sides gave some ground, with more city funding for the pension plan but also increased payments from employees and limits on cost-of-living adjustments….

Kelly started his newspaper career at age 17, as a part-time sportswriter at the Ashland Daily Independent before moving to jobs as a sportswriter or copy editor for newspapers in Huntington, W.Va., Miami and Louisville.

Kelly worked his way through Ashland Community College, Marshall University and the University of Miami while working at newspapers, graduating with honors from Miami in 1970.

After being promoted to executive sports editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer at age 25….Kelly later moved to news and held editing positions at The Dallas Times Herald, The Denver Post, the Daily News in Los Angeles and the Orange County Register in Southern California.

The Denver and Orange County papers won Pulitzer Prizes while Kelly was there….

Amanda Bennett, whom Kelly hired as editor of the Herald-Leader in 2001, said Kelly was a “delight” to work with as publisher, leaving editors and reporters alone to do what was needed.

“He was completely committed to the journalism,” Bennett said.

Bennett said Kelly backed the paper going to court while she was editor in two cases to get access to Lexington council meetings and to records on an alleged abusive priest.

“He cared about transparency. He cared about journalism,” she said.

Kelly received the excellence award for community service in 1995 from Knight-Ridder, the company that owned the Herald-Leader at the time, for public-service journalism projects on his watch that included investigations of questionable spending in county governments and on scant oversight of agencies such as water districts that had received little attention.

He received another company excellence award for identifying and developing future leaders, and received the Ida B. Wells Award in 1999 for diversity achievements.

The award recognized that the Herald-Leader under Kelly had been “outstanding” in recruiting and retaining “a high-quality multiracial and gender-inclusive staff,” according to a release from the journalism school at the University of Kansas, a sponsor of the award with the National Conference of Editorial Writers and the National Association of Black Journalists….

Rufus Friday said that after he succeeded Kelly as publisher in 2011, it felt like Joe B. Hall following legendary UK Coach Adolph Rupp.

Kelly was a great mentor and friend, always available with wise counsel when Friday called.

Friday said Kelly lobbied for him to get the job, and was thrilled to see a Black man get the opportunity to run the paper.

“He had a tremendously big heart for fairness and racial equality,” Friday said.

Current Herald-Leader Editor Peter Baniak was elevated to that job by Kelly in 2009. He said he would make it a point to visit Kelly at the end of each day to talk about the biggest news of the day.

“Tim was never happier than talking about the news,” Baniak said. “Even after he retired, he would email or call or text with news tips, sometimes multiple times a day, or thoughts on the latest news in Lexington or Kentucky. It was his passion, as was seeking ways to help the city and state prosper and improve.

“He was an incredible journalist with amazing instincts for news. He was a great mentor, a great friend, and I will miss him dearly.”

Kelly, who was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2000, also was purposeful about putting women in leadership positions, hiring several women as top editor at the paper during the 1990s and 2000s and others as section editors.

A lot of people give lip service to the idea of making opportunities for women, but Kelly was serious about it, said Bennett, who was editor of the paper from September 2001 until mid-2003.

“He walked the walk,” she said.

Kelly’s family said he had a consistent goal to advance diversity and the careers of employees.

He named the first female editors, managing editor and editorial page editor at the Herald-Leader, and minority employees became part of the paper’s executive committee as vice-presidents for advertising and circulation and editorial page editor….

Friends said Kelly was opinionated, direct and could be stubborn, but also a great listener and a man who was unfailingly loyal to family and friends.

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