Thank You and Farewell to Tom Eldred

April 7th, 2010

Delaware lost an important voice, an outstanding journalist and an incredible person recently in Tom Eldred’s passing. 

Journalism is not an easy job, but it is one that Tom loved. He recognized how important his work was to our state and how important an active press is to our democracy. He chose his career in large part because he cared about his community and the people around him and understood how his work could help make each at least a little better.

As a reporter and later an editor, Tom Eldred served Delaware well through the quality of his work and by mentoring the next generation of reporters and community leaders.  The article below, reprinted from the Delaware State News, captures some of what made Tom special. 

Please keep his family and friends in your thoughts and your prayers: “He is survived by his wife, Cynthia Maki Eldred; a daughter, Jaime Rafferty and her husband Randy; grandchildren Sarah, Nicholas and Nathan Rafferty, all of Arthur, Ill.; sons, Caleb Eldred, and Colin Eldred of Smyrna; a stepson, Kevin Maki of Felton; a sister, Patricia Eldred; niece, Megan Roe; nephew, Benjamin Roe and his wife Jessica, all of Colorado; and close friends, David and Laura Benevy of Pennsylvania. Services and burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Delaware Hospice Center of Milford, 100 Patriots Way, Milford, DE 19963.”

Veteran State News journalist Tom Eldred dies

Wrote, edited stories on variety of topics, mentored reporters

By Bruce Pringle

Delaware State News DOVER — Veteran newspaperman Tom Eldred, whose reporting won professional honors and whose wisdom and tenacity inspired his colleagues, died Monday following a months-long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Mr. Eldred wrote and edited stories on nearly every subject covered by the Delaware State News during his 13 years with the paper, beginning in 1997. He produced in-depth articles on government and social issues, but was perhaps just as well known for telling simple yet compelling stories of ordinary Downstate residents.

His “appreciation of the human side of journalism is apparent whether he’s explaining a complicated issue or profiling a local personality,” wrote the judges who in 1999 made him a winner of the Jim Miller Award for news writing. The honor is bestowed by Independent Newspapers Inc. — parent of the Delaware State News — to encourage the bright, readable style of the late Mr. Miller, whose writing was a staple of the Delaware State News for three decades after its founding in the 1950s.

Mr. Eldred “has tackled some big topics over the past few years — from courts to child abuse — and made it all relevant by finding the people issues submerged inside the politics and bureaucracy,” the judges said.

He began his journalism career in the 1960s working for the New York Times. After moving from western Pennsylvania, where he worked for the Franklin News-Herald, he served the Delaware State News as a reporter and senior writer until March 2005, when he became editor of the publication’s opinion section. In February 2006, he took on the title of senior editor and began a newsroom leadership role, working closely with the reporting team on assignments. By mid- 2009, yearning to resume gathering and writing news, he returned to reporting.

Among Mr. Eldred’s first articles last year was one that typified much of his work and revealed his sense of humor. A profile of a Dover-area man and his unusual hobby, it began: “ This baby doesn’t purr like a kitten or hum like a well-oiled sewing machine. Nevertheless, the throaty phutt-phuttum-phutt-um-phutt-phutt-um from the two- cylinder engine of David Gonce’s late-model, electric start, 1946 John Deere “ B” tractor is music to the ears of any antique farm tractor enthusiast.”

Along with the rumbling of vintage vehicles, Mr. Eldred captured the hum of state government. He covered the final weeks of the General Assembly in 2009 and the first weekends of the revival of Delaware’s state-sanctioned football betting program. He spoke enthusiastically of his plans to investigate state hiring and salaries.

But in October he was sidelined by just-discovered cancer that began in his lungs and proved unstoppable. He was a smoker, albeit one with the energy to regularly play tennis until his disease was diagnosed.

Colleagues remembered him fondly Tuesday.

“He was a good mentor and a great friend,” recalled Drew Volturo, a former reporter who, though a nonsmoker, said he frequently accompanied Mr. Eldred on smoke breaks that yielded helpful hints — “gentle nudging” — on interviewing, reporting and life in general.

Mr. Volturo, now employed in the Delaware House of Representatives, and Mr. Eldred sometimes co-authored stories, including one of the most exhaustive ever done on Dover city government: a 2003 investigation of the expense-account spending of then-Mayor James L. Hutchison. It detailed five years of outlays for trips, golf outings, meals and donations.

The article, which left readers to draw their own conclusions about the propriety of the spending, garnered awards from the Associated Press and the Maryland-Delaware- D. C. Press Association. Mr. Volturo recalled that Mr. Eldred wrote most of that piece.

Mr. Eldred won other honors as well — without seeking them, said State News managing editor Andrew West. He seldom, if ever, submitted his own work for a possible award, Mr. West said.

Carlos Holmes, a former Delaware State News reporter and editor, recalled Mr. Eldred as “a true newspaper professional in every sense of the word, who quickly knew when there was a story to sniff out even as there were forces that tried to hide the real news from the media and public.

“He brought the DSN a strong sense of curiosity and an enthusiasm for painstaking news gathering that served as a sterling example for reporters that worked with him and later under him when he become an editor,” Mr. Holmes said.

Delaware State News writer Bruce Pringle can be reached at 741-8233 or bpringle@newszap.com.

 

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