John Futch, a former sports editor for the Athens Daily News in the 1970s, died Thursday in Cambodia, where he moved a few years ago. He was 75.
Futch, who had 45-year career in journalism, spent much of those years with the Long Beach Post-Telegram in California, but he also worked with the Boca Raton newspaper in Florida and the Atlanta Constitution.
Futch was getting out of a vehicle in Cambodia earlier this month when he fell and hit his head. He then died in a hospital following complications that included a stroke and pneumonia, according to the Post-Telegram.
Futch, a 1967 journalism graduate of the University of Georgia, also served as a lieutenant with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, where he received a Bronze Star.
With a college degree and experience as a combat military leader, Futch began his journalism career with the Athens Daily News .
“Johnny was the sports editor and Plott Brice was the city editor,” recalled Phil Williams, who worked as a Daily News copy editor from September 1972 to December 1973.
“There was no foolishness with Johnny,” said Williams, who later became publications writer at UGA and a Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame inductee for his body of published works. “Johnny was completely serious about the job, not about himself … but in doing the job right.»
«It was obvious (Vietnam) had changed him. It made him more serious,” Williams said. “Johnny was a mentor to anybody who got near him. He loved to teach and he had a lot to teach, both about living and the newspaper business.”
Steve Oney, a longtime newspaperman with the Atlanta Constitution and an accomplished author, was well aware of Futch’s contributions to journalism.
“He linked the old Athens Daily News of Lewis Grizzard to modern journalism. He’s one of the few who [spoke] authoritatively about the old days of small-town journalism and the new days of digital journalism. He bridged a big divide,” Oney said.
“From everything I heard, he left writers better than he found them. He had a firm idea about how a story should work, but he had a fantastic bedside manner that brought people along,” he said.
Futch, who grew up on a farm in Berrien County, was comparable to noted Northeast Georgia newspaperman Billy Dilworth, sharing a rural background, but their impact in journalism took different routes, according to Oney.
“He is like Dilworth in his roots, but he went to a much more sophisticated place,” Oney said. “He loved Billy Dilworth, called him Mr. Dils.”
Hank Johnson, former executive editor for the Athens Daily News/Banner-Herald, recalled that Futch did a great job with a small staff.
“He was a big tennis fan and good friends with (former UGA tennis coach) Dan McGill. Dan would let him play on the university team courts,” Johnson said.
Johnson, like Williams, recently renewed a friendship with Futch on Facebook.
“I hadn’t seen him in many decades,” Williams said, “but we got back together on Facebook and got to be friends again. That was a real grace for me to know Johnny again.”
Williams recalled a “partially funny, partially scary” moment in the old Daily News newsroom.
A reporter once brought a piece of copy to Futch for him to read prior to publication.
“Johnny read the copy, looked up at him and kind of glared at him, pulled out a lighter, lit the copy on fire and dropped in the metal trash can,” Williams said. “He said, ‘Do it again.’ (the reporter) went back to his desk and got his notes out.”
The reporter rewrote the story and handed it back to Futch, who gave a nod of approval.
“That really impressed me,” Williams said with a laugh. “It made me understand why good writing and reporting is important.»
In an effort to assist with medical expenses, Futch’s adopted son, Michael Delorio, has started a GoFundMe to help cover the expenses. So far it has raised more than $25,000 from about 200 contributors.
To view the fund, visit https://gf.me/v/c/4tbf/john-futchs-medical-expense-fund