Mississippi Voices: State's toughest, best editorial writer lives in Rolling Fork

October 21, 2013 10:45:09 AM

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Mississippi's journalism annuls are filled with stories of courage and strength under pressure. Most of those stories emanate from the civil rights era -- when truth in reporting wasn't valued in some quarters and thugs believed they could dictate the news with their fists, a burning cross or a shotgun. 

 

There was Oliver Emmerich in McComb, Hazel Brannon Smith in Lexington, Hodding Carter in Greenville, Ira Harkey in Pascagoula, and so many others who served their readers and their state so well. Most of them, at one point or another in the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, faced threats, intimidation and the very real prospects of violence and bodily harm. 

 

Perhaps none faced those dangers in a more isolated venue than did Smith, who became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1964. Smith's national recognition only emboldened her enemies to starve her out financially and they eventually succeeded. 

 

In modern Mississippi journalism, the ranks of independent small town newspapers are dwindling as new technologies and changing reader habits have combined to make the newspaper business difficult. Chain ownership, both Mississippi companies and out-of-state enterprises, continue to grow. 

 

But nobody told stubborn, feisty editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot about any of the problems confronting independent community newspapers. It wouldn't have done any good if they had. 

 

Harold Ray Mosby Jr. is, for my money, the last of his tribe in Mississippi journalism. Ray is the quintessential independent newspaper publisher in a town that is almost too small to adequately support a newspaper. Rolling Fork's population is about 2,100 and the lovely little town is located on Hwy. 61. 

 

Ray is a simply marvelous editorial writer. For a small, wiry man who smokes a pipe and mostly keeps his own counsel, Ray writes like Pier 6 brawler. His columns don't just criticize; they strip the bark from his adversaries. Asking no quarter from the politicians he challenges, Ray Mosby gives none. Whether it's Gov. Phil Bryant or Rolling Fork Mayor Eldridge "Butch" Walker, Ray calls it like he sees it. 

 

Twice, in 1999 and again in 2009, Mosby has been honored by his peers in the Mississippi Press Association as the state's best editorial writer. No one at the state's largest daily newspapers disputed that fact, either. 

 

What most people outside Rolling Fork haven't known is how hard Ray's life has been away from work. Producing an award-winning, respected community newspaper in a town the size of Rolling Fork as more-or-less a one-man show is hard enough. 

 

But for the last decade, Ray was increasingly challenged by the declining health of his parents and his wife. 

 

Ray's had a nightmare of a year. First, his father Harold Ray Mosby Sr. passed away in February. Then a couple of weeks ago, his mother Stanley Eleanor Williamson Mosby died after a long and debilitating illness. Mrs. Mosby was an old school English teacher and her influence on Ray's writing talents are undeniable. 

 

On Saturday, Aug. 31, Ray's wife Phyllis Trelling Mosby -- the love of his life and a talented lady who had worked alongside him at the Pilot and earlier at the Clarksdale Press-Register -- passed away after a long struggle with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. 

 

Like Job, Ray Mosby has endured more suffering in the last year than one man ought to endure. For that matter, the last decade has been a struggle. But his troubles never stopped him from giving Rolling Fork and Sharkey County a truly great Mississippi newspaper each week. 

 

The second time Ray won the Emmerich Award as the state's best editorial writer, the applause lasted for two solid minutes with every hard-bitten journalist in Mississippi on their feet. Why? Because they knew how truly hard it was for the best editorial writer in Mississippi to be Ray Mosby -- son, father, husband and tough old pipe-smoking Delta journalist. 

 

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. His email address is sidsalter@sidsalter.com.