Tom Barnett: A consummate newsman

By Patricia Ann Speelman pspeelman@civitasmedia.com

April 23, 2014

PIQUA — Longtime newspaperman Tom Barnett, 85, of Piqua, has died.

A former editor of the Piqua Daily Call, the New Carlisle Sun and the Tipp City Herald and, more recently, a reporter for the Sidney Daily News, he succumbed to congestive heart failure Tuesday. He had been hospitalized for two weeks.

A consummate newsman, Barnett retired from the Sidney Daily News in January 2013, ending a 68-year career, one of the longest full-time careers in Ohio journalism history. It spanned parts of eight decades and followed newspapering from typesetting into the computer age. The Sidney City Council proclaimed Jan. 31, 2013, “Tom Barnett Day” and city officials, including the mayor, were on hand to wish him well.

Barnett began his run in 1945 while he was a student at Piqua Central High School. World War II had not yet ended, and Barnett had been hired by the Piqua Daily Call as a sports stringer, a part-time writer.

“I always knew how to write a story,” Barnett said at the time of his retirement. It was natural that he would gravitate to journalism.

In 1946, after high school graduation, he joined the Call’s sports staff full time. Over the next 30 years, he served as sportswriter, sports editor, assistant news editor, news editor and managing editor of the daily paper.

His daughters remembered his writing stories on a typewriter on the kitchen table, using just four fingers to type.

Those four fingers effected some important changes in the communities served by the newspapers Barnett led. When he took over the New Carlisle Sun in 1978, he said in 2013, Jack Bowling, the publisher, gave him a challenge to meet immediately.

“The city was a mess,” Barnett said. “”The schools were unable to pass levy issues and the city was being run by a bunch of firemen who were all on the city council. Jack Bowling told me my mission as editor was to get the schools back to health and get a decent city council elected.”

Working with the school administrator and the city manager, he used the bully pulpit of his editorial columns to influence and educate the paper’s readers. And their efforts were successful. A school levy passed and a new city council was elected following Barnett’s journalistic push.

“He is a true journalist,” said Marshall Gorby, of New Carlisle, a director of photography for the Dayton Daily News at the time of Barnett’s retirement and a protege of Barnett. They worked together at the Sun and later at the Tipp City Herald, when Barnett took the reins there in 1986.

“I was lucky to work with someone with his experience. He’s one of a kind. He made the New Carlisle Sun and the Tipp City Herald great papers,” Gorby said.

Sol Smith is another journalist who benefitted from Barnett’s wisdom. Smith retired in 2007 as manager of marketing publications for Cox Ohio Publishing after 25 years in Dayton. In the 1980s, he was editor of the Englewood Independent, a sister paper to the Sun, both published by the Bowling-Moorman chain.

“(Barnett) was a mentor to all the Bowling-Moormen editors,” Smith said in 2013. “We all learned a lot from Tom — mainly not to take everything too seriously.”

Barnett joined the staff of the Sidney Daily News as a reporter in 2001, covering city and county beats and writing feature stories, which he said were his favorites.

“Tom was an integral part of the Sidney Daily News for many years and we have missed him since he retired,” said Melanie Speicher, news editor of the Sidney Daily News. “We learned from his years of experience and his work ethic.

“The staff of the newspaper mourns his loss and will always remember him and his sticky notes, which had phone numbers of hundreds of contacts. He knew exactly where each one was, and we knew better than to move any of them!”

Barnett also led classes of Piqua Central and Piqua Catholic high schools journalism students and was a guest speaker several times at the University of Dayton.

He grew up in Piqua, the only child of B.K. and Madonna Barnett. He married his high school sweetheart, Regina, in 1950. She died in 2008.

In retirement, he enjoyed following the Cincinnati Reds and watching “The Big Bang Theory” reruns on television. He looked after his three cats, Miss Priss, Pippi and Shad, who were at once, to hear him tell it, both the joy and bane of his existence. An avid fisherman, he had got back into the hobby of collecting antique fishing lures and was organizing his very large collection before he was hospitalized. But, ever the newsman, what he liked most to do was log onto his laptop every morning and look at all the major news websites to read the top stories of the day.

“We’d talk about those stories at dinner,” said his daughter, Toni Thompson, of Piqua. Even in the hospital, “he still had his will,” she said.

Barnett is also survived by another daughter, Michelle Barnett-Underwood, of Piqua, eight grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and “another great-grandchild on the way,” Thompson said. His son, Michael, died in infancy. His son, Thomas Dale, died in 2008.

Funeral services for Barnett will be conducted Monday at 11 a.m. at the Melcher-Sowers Funeral Home in Piqua. Friends may call there Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. A full obituary will appear in Friday’s Sidney Daily News.