Archive for Friday, April 4, 2014

Bill Mayer, former Journal-World editor, dies at 88

April 4, 2014


Bill Mayer, longtime member of the Journal-World news staff, died Thursday. He was 88.

Mayer, born Billy Francis Mayer on April 11, 1925, in Kansas City, Kan., worked at the newspaper for 60 years, leaving a legacy of printed columns and stories and a legendary history of anecdotes and jokes among his friends and colleagues.

Bill Mayer

Bill Mayer

"The Journal-World, Lawrence, Kansas University, the state of Kansas and the newspaper business all were fortunate when in 1950 Bill Mayer moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to become a Journal-World reporter," said Dolph Simons Jr., editor of the Journal-World and chairman of The World Company.

"He was a hard and prolific worker and a loyal associate. He demanded truth and accuracy and he was fearless in standing up for what he thought was right. In today’s environment, the entire information business needs more people like Bill Mayer."

Simons added: "When I was an intern and as a fresh-out-of-college student, no one could have had a more helpful coach, tutor, adviser and friend than Bill Mayer. The public, his readers, have no idea or appreciation of his deep loyalty and how proud he was of Lawrence and Kansas University as well as his belief in the role and importance of a daily newspaper."

Both Mayer and his wife, Beverly, were 1943 graduates of Wyandotte High School. Mayer served in the Army Air Corps in World War II as a 20-year-old navigator on B-24 bombers, flying missions over the European Theater of Operations.

After his Army service, he attended Kansas University, graduating in the spring of 1949 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. While attending KU, Mayer worked on the University Daily Kansan, and worked part time for the Kansas City Star and Topeka Daily Capital. Mayer worked one year as managing editor of the DePere, Wis., Journal-Democrat, then came back to Lawrence in June 1950 as reporter for the Journal-World. Eventually, he was saluted on his 55th anniversary with the company and then again on his 60th, in 2010.

He was sports editor, managing editor, and executive editor at the Journal-World. He was serving as managing editor during the late 1960s and early 1970s when violence broke out on the KU campus.

“We had a great staff in the newsroom then,” said Ralph Gage, who followed Mayer as managing editor, “but Bill was the leader. Times were tense, but you could always count on Bill to break the tension with a joke — and to bring you back to reality with a wisecrack or a nickname. Man, we had a lot of fun.”

The newspaper won the National Headliners Club Award for its coverage of the stormy events that swept across Lawrence. Over his many years in the newspaper business, Mayer won a number of personal awards from the Kansas Press Association and Associated Press for his reporting and column writing.

Mayer loved to tell jokes and to share stories. He particularly enjoyed recounting tales of Phog Allen. Jack Mitchell was another KU coach who provided fodder for Mayer’s anecdotes. On a more serious side, the only Bible to be found on the newsroom reference shelves was one inscribed to Billy Mayer from his mother.

Mayer went to part-time status in September 1987 but he continued to write the sports column that he had begun in the fall of 1950. He continued it until his formal retirement April 5, 2010. He also wrote a majority of the newspaper’s editorials after becoming managing editor in 1956 until his semi-retirement. He continued to contribute editorials and work on the Old Home Town column until his retirement. Even after that, he contributed columns, calling on his recollections of KU sports figures.

Bob Nordyke, former J-W managing editor and a colleague of Mayer’s for more than 20 years, said Mayer thrived on the camaraderie of the newsroom.

“He instilled in all of us a sense that we were doing important work, but rejected self-importance,” Nordyke said. “He made us laugh (sometimes groan); he was the guy who brought doughnuts to the newsroom every Saturday morning; and he always had the quiet word of encouragement for a good story or a good turn of phrase.”

“Bill was definitely old-school about the profession he loved,” Nordyke said, “and I don’t think he ever tired of seeing the presses roll.”

“A line from the note he sent me when I retired said much about Bill,” Nordyke said. The line reads: “I’m so proud we’re known as damned good newspapermen, ‘not just journalists.’”

Mayer served in many professional positions, including the chairmanship of the Kansas Associated Press Wire Editors and various committees of the Associated Press Managing Editors. He was a member of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, United Fund Board of Directors, and the Church Council of Plymouth Congregational Church.

Mayer was an avid sports fan, said daughter Val Pernice. “This man would watch TV, read the paper, listen to the radio, all at the same time. And write about it.”

Regarding music, which Mayer also loved, Pernice said she’d always remember her father saying this: “A marching band that has a lot of decoration — flags, twirlers, dancers — hides the fact that they suck ... your good bands are just good. They don’t need any decoration.”

“He was the type of person that didn’t hold back; that’s why he was good at his editorials. He said what he felt,” Pernice said.

Mayer is survived by his wife, Beverly, of the home; two children, daughter Val Pernice and husband Phil, Winter Springs, Fla., and son Lyn Mayer, Indianapolis; and five grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Friday, April 11 (his birthday), at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vermont St. A reception will follow the service.


David Olson 3 years, 11 months ago

I can't remember his formal title but Bill was the editorial page editor when I worked in the newsroom from 1977-81. He did a little bit of everything in those days as the sage of the newsroom, and one of my fondest memories of Bill was at the newsroom end of the phone when I was dictating stories on deadline from Topeka. The joke went that all you had to do was say the dateline, and you could hear him typing for several minutes, already re-writing your lead even before you dictated it. Bill didn't seem to mind the sometimes not-so-subtle digs directed his way from some of us younger sorts, and he was always positive and supportive. I am saddened by his passing but the memory of those times in the J-W newsroom still make me smile, and he was a big part of that. Well done, Bill.

David Olson

Kris Nelson 3 years, 11 months ago

I used to correspond with Mr. Mayer when I lived in Lawrence and KU was going through the final days of Roy Williams tenure and about to begin the Bill Self era. I wish I had saved those letters we wrote each other. His take on the situation and the future of KU hoops was so right on the money it is frightening. May he rest in peace.

Bill Woodard 3 years, 11 months ago

I had the good fortune and great honor of working in the newsroom with Mr. Mayer beginning when I was a 17-year-old budding writer in summer 1979, fresh out of Lawrence High and headed to KU journalism school. I was at the paper for six years, and grew quite fond of Bill. He was a straight shooter, a walking history book, a patient mentor, and just an all-around helluva good guy. Lawrence was and remains a better place because Bill Mayer worked for so many years at its newspaper of record. To Bev and the family, my deepest condolences. To Bill, my unceasing gratitude and affection.

Robert Rauktis 3 years, 11 months ago

Loved his language, particularly "basketteers" (sp?). Always a fun read. Like finding the Rosetta Stone.

Hope they have good sports reception wherever he is.

Bob Forer 3 years, 11 months ago

Some of Bill's columns were priceless. I remember one in paticular, probably a quarter of a century ago, where he expended over a thousand words explaining why KU football teams performed so poorly and what needed to be done to improve their W-L record.

The bottom line: the team needed better players.

An absolute gem!!

Ah, those were the days.

Lawrence Morgan 3 years, 11 months ago

I did not agree with many of his editorial points of view, but he accomplished a great deal during his time at the Journal-World.

To the extent that it is possible to know which editorials he wrote over the years, I suggest a special section be created in which his work could be placed in the Journal-World, on the web page in one of the subheadings - perhaps entitled Journal-World and Lawrence History.

This could include a memoriam for his work and sections for other writers, as well. There has been some fantastic work done for the Journal-World over the years, and these need to be available for the public to review at any time.

Bob Forer 3 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Mayer didn't need to sign his editorials. Those of us who were familiar with his beliefs and style knew specifically which of the unsigned editorials were his.

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