Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bob Downing, a bigger friend of the forest than Smoky the Bear, retired from the BJ after 44 years at Ol’ Blue Walls on 44 East Exchange Street.
Bob with Englehart's
Rolodex, which he's
donating to Akron
Library archives.

His forte, of course, is as an outdoors writer. He’s given my native state of West Virginia a lot of favorable publicity for its whitewater rafting and trees-adorned mountains. Bob was a raft guide on the Gauley and New rivers. The New is a challenging whitewater experience after spring rains.

Bob’s daughter, Caitlin, in a 1981 drawing contest, summed up Bob well: “My Dad’s a good reporter.”

Bob also is involved with youth soccer, at St. Sebastian’s.

When I asked Bob to provide me details on his BJ career he did such an amazing job that I couldn’t improve on it. So I’ll just let you read what Bob wrote so well. It’s one of his best articles.

Bob’s email to me:


On June 30, I am retiring from the Beacon Journal with 44 years of service.

I was hired in March 1972 by Pat Englehart as a State Desk part-timer while attending Kent State University. Wrote obits in the mornings, covered meetings at night and got to hang out on Friday and Saturday nights in downtown Kent until the post-May 4 disturbances broke out. Then I called Pat.

Was hired full-time in June 1972 and was assigned to cover Portage County. Had Kent State, Kent and western half of the county. Portage had its own 6-star edition so we had a full page to fill weekdays. Reported to Bob Page and Englehart. Worked with Ray Redmond and later Terry Oblander. Was backup Kent State May 4 reporter to John Dunphy.

Then became an education reporter, worked afternoon-evening rewrite shift, covered federal court in Cleveland. Moved to Features Department where I wrote features and also edited/put together Weekend section.

Moved back to Metro Desk.  Worked evening rewrite, covered Medina-Wayne and then Stark counties.

Was named environment reporter in January 1990 and covered that beat for 26 years. Have won awards.

Added parks, some sciences, some transportation and, more recently, shale drilling. That included writing the paper’s Utica Shale Blog since late 2011.  It is one of the paper’s best-read blogs with nearly 248,000 pageviews per year.

ABJ hired best people and challenged you to do best work. Quality journalism resulted and that continues to be a signature of ABJ. We were one of the best papers in Ohio for a long, long time. And we were proud of that.

Worked with very talented co-workers. Consider the number of books that have been written by ABJ staffers and former staffers. Many were colorful and eccentric. Some were bigger than life, too. Considered myself to be talented, versatile and hard-working.

Attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for two years before transferring to Kent State in the fall after the 1970 shootings. Was a managing editor and editor of the Daily Kent Stater. It was an interesting time to be a journalist at Kent State.

Spent one summer (vacation and leave) rafting in the West early in my ABJ career. Also worked weekends as a raft guide in West Virginia on the New and Gauley rivers. Coached youth sports, mostly soccer. Ran St. Sebastian Soccer Club and CYO soccer for a number of years. Was a soccer referee for high school and amateur games.

My wife Pat is a semi-retired teacher/speech therapist. Son Andy is editor of Columbus Alive (owned by Columbus Dispatch) and also writes about Columbus music scene; daughter Maureen is an OB-GYN at a hospital outside Chicago and is completing residency; daughter Katie is an energy lawyer in Houston. Have one grandchild with a second on the way.

ABJ has asked me to continue my outdoorsy Sunday travel column. That started in 1998 and I have written nearly 700 columns. So my name won’t totally disappear from ABJ.

Also intend to do some freelance energy writing.

Well, Bob, I hope you have as much fun in retirement as I have in my 20 years since leaving Ol’ Blue Walls. The BJ is a great place to work and it leaves memories that last for the rest of your life. JSK was the most amazing owner I ever worked for, and I was at Nelson Poynter’s St. Petersburg Times and West Virginia’s best newspaper, the Charleston Daily Mail.
Kudos, Bob. Happy hiking and biking trails to you!

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