Journalist John Seigenthaler dies at age 86 - WSMV News 4

Journalist John Seigenthaler dies at age 86

(Photo credit: The Tennessean) (Photo credit: The Tennessean)
(Photo credit: The Tennessean) (Photo credit: The Tennessean)
(Photo credit: WSMV) (Photo credit: WSMV)

Nashville's most influential journalist, John Seigenthaler, has died at the age of 86.

The Seigenthaler family issued the following statement:

"My father passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family.

"We thank his many friends across the country for their love and support.

"Like them, we will miss him dearly.

"He was proud of his hometown, Nashville, and grateful for the opportunity to share his energy and passion with this community.

"We celebrate his life - his devotion to social justice, his advocacy of human rights, and his enduring loyalty to friends and family."

Seigenthaler, a Nashville native, always had a way with words.

He made news while still in high school in 1944 for a prize-winning speech called True Americanism.

And in true American fashion, he'd set his sights high and start climbing.

He went from being a police reporter at The Tennessean to editor, publisher, chairman and then chairman emeritus. He was a First Amendment scholar and champion of free expression.

Seigenthaler and his paper took on the powerful, fought for the poor and did it boldly, making a fair number of enemies along the way.

As an aide to Robert Kennedy in the 1960s, he took a lead pipe to the head while trying to protect a Freedom Rider in Alabama.

And in 1995, the feds unraveled a plot to kidnap Seigenthaler, who had actually retired from the paper by then.

He spoke eloquently about so many news making events through the years, a sort of collective voice of the city.

The Channel 4 tape archive is packed with the man talking about others, but not very often about himself.

Just a few months ago, Seigenthaler got a chance to listen to praise and thank yous for all that he's done, especially the day in 1954 when he talked a suicidal man out of jumping into the Cumberland below.

In April 2014, the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge became the Seigenthaler Bridge, a great symbol of a man who always tried to bring two sides together, often when the waters were rough and choppy.

Seigenthaler hosted A Word on Words for 40 more than years on Nashville Public Television where he interviewed authors from around the country.

Seigenthaler is survived by his wife, Dolores; his son, John; his daughter-in-law, Kerry; and his grandson, Jack.

Timeline of Seigenthaler's life:

  • 1949 - Begins work at The Tennessean
  • 1960 - Becomes administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy
  • 1961 - Seigenthaler is hurt in Montgomery riot
  • 1962 - Appointed as editor of The Tennessean
  • 1968 - Worked on RFK presidential campaign
  • 1968 - Served as RFK pallbearer
  • 1973 - Becomes publisher of The Tennessean
  • 1982 - Becomes editorial director of USA Today
  • 1986 - MTSU establishes The John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies
  • 1991 - Seigenthaler founds First Amendment Center
  • 2012 - Receives Joe Kraft Humanitarian Award
  • 2014 - Nashville bridge named in his honor

Funeral arrangements

A visitation will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the First Amendment Center on the Vanderbilt University campus at 1207 18th Ave. S.

The funeral service will be 10 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of the Incarnation at 2015 West End Ave.

In lieu of flowers, his family is asking for donations to Room In the Inn or the First Amendment Center.

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