Former Murfreesboro Mayor Tommy Bragg was humbled and delighted to accept the awards for his late father and grandfather during the Class of 2015 induction ceremony for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame.
The two generations of publishers — former state Rep. John Bragg and his father Minor Elam Bragg — were among nine posthumous inductees to be honored at this year’s ceremony, held Tuesday afternoon at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
So perhaps it was fitting that two more generations of Braggs — Tommy and his adult children, John III and Beth — attended the occasion to recognize their ancestors’ legacy.
Minor Bragg and John Bragg left their marks on journalism through the elder’s creation and stewardship of the Cannon Courier and Rutherford Courier and the younger’s work to develop the state’s open meetings laws as a state lawmaker.
“If my dad taught me about public service, my granddad and my grandma taught me about business, how to make living,” Tommy Bragg said in accepting his grandfather’s award.
“It’s a pleasure to accept this on behalf of ‘Paw Paw.’ I’m greatly honored, (and) I know my family is.”
This was the third class of inductees and first in which all recipients were recognized posthumously. The ceremony came in conjunction with the 67th annual Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference.
WSMV-TV longtime news anchor Demetria Kalodimos emceed the program, and family and friends of the honorees were on hand to accept the awards.
Another inductee with a strong local connection was iconic sports journalist Grantland Rice, who was born in Murfreesboro and worked at regional newspapers, including The Nashville Tennessean, before moving to New York to create a legendary career as a syndicated columnist.
Accepting the award on his behalf was longtime former Tennessean sports writer and columnist Joe Biddle, who noted that Rice was “ahead of his time” and whose first name dons the masthead of an ESPN-affiliated website today, a testament to his lasting influence.
“I’m honored to even be associated with Grantland Rice,” Biddle said. “He put sports writing on the map” during the first half of the 20th century and was often referred to as the “dean of sports writing in America.”
The Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame is an independent partner with MTSU’s College of Mass Communication, which houses the hall in its Center for Innovation in Media inside the Bragg Mass Communication Building on the MTSU campus. Journalism professor Dr. Larry Burriss is current president of the hall.
MTSU Mass Communication Dean Ken Paulson told the crowd that his college is creating a multimedia display that will be located in the College of Mass Communication where visitors can find information about the hall’s inductees since its inception.
“It is so important that our students understand those who have gone before them, those who have made a difference,” Paulson said. “These are the heroes of Tennessee journalism, men and women who have made a real difference in their communities.”
Other members of the 2015 class included:
- Kent Flanagan.
- Jack Knox.
- Roy McDonald.
- Bob Parkins.
- John N. Popham III.
- Drue Smith.
Flanagan was a native Texan and veteran Associated Press executive who practiced journalism on various platforms. Accepting the award on his behalf was his widow, Janet Flanagan. Also attending the ceremony was current Tennessee AP bureau chief Adam Yeomans.
Kalodimos announced that a scholarship fund has been established through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee for the Kent Flanagan Memorial Scholarship. The fund has raised $2,800 thus far, and its goal is at least $10,000 to endow the scholarship for an annual award to a journalism student. Donations can be made online at www.cfmt.org.
In accepting the award, Janet Flanagan said her late husband had two goals in life: to be a good man and to be a good journalist.
“And he succeeded at both,” she said. “He loved journalism … He loved mentoring the people that he worked with. He loved teaching the students at MTSU.”
Flanagan served as journalist-in-residence at MTSU from 2005 to 2009.
Knox, a nationally recognized editorial cartoonist who practiced his wit and biting commentary in three of the state’s four largest cities. Accepting the award on his behalf was one of his sons, Brit Knox.
Brit Knox said his mother, Edith, “jokingly” suggested that her then-21-year-old husband start drawing cartoons during the Great Depression when the family’s coffee business was struggling.
Knox’s wife had stumbled upon a correspondence course on cartooning that he had purchased while in junior high. The family estimates that Knox drew more than 12,000 cartoons during his four-plus decades plus of drawing editorial cartoons.
“He met, knew and corresponded with seven presidents,” Brit Knox told the crowd. “When he was just 23 years old, he and another cartoonist, Joe Parrish, met personally with FDR in the White House. Also, he had cartoons that hung in the White House during the Kennedy Administration.
“Thank you for honoring our father … for his contribution to Tennessee journalism.”
McDonald’s bigger-city publishing career traces back to an advertising sheet he started to promote his grocery business in Chattanooga. Accepting the award on his behalf was his grandson, Roy McDonald Exum.
Exum lauded his grandfather as “the most innovative guy I’ve ever been around” because of the diversity of interests in which he excelled. The younger man noted that McDonald was in numerous halls of fame, ranging from insurance to hospitals to cattle to journalism.
McDonald started a grocery chain flier that eventually evolved into the Chattanooga News-Free Press, a direct competitor to the more established Chattanooga Times, before the two papers merged decades later.
The News-Free Press was able to “beat” the Times, Exum recalled, by tapping into people’s thrill of seeing photos of themselves in print.
“We would take 1,500 pictures a week. We took a picture of anything that moved,” Exum said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. “He (McDonald) was a master innovator. He loved to compete. He loved to do it the right way. My grandfather would deeply, deeply love this.”
Parkins was a small-town dairyman who grew his rural West Tennessee newspaper from scratch through merger. Accepting the award on his behalf were his widow, Dorris Parkins, and one of his sons, Victor Parkins.
Bob Parkins served as owner, publisher and editor of the paper until his death in 2008. His wife now serves as publisher and his son Victor as the paper’s editor.
“He was a true newspaper man at heart,” said Victor Parkins, who fondly recalled how his parents juggled the responsibilities of running a weekly newspaper with the need to milk 300 dairy cows every day.
“He was a true journalist, and he loved to write,” added Dorris Parkins. “We had an old typewriter, and if he wasn’t in the barn, he was working on a story.”
Popham was a native Virginian who landed in Tennessee to cover the South and civil rights for The New York Times and stayed. Accepting the award on his behalf was his son, John Popham IV.
John Popham IV pointed out an Associated Press photo on display alongside the podium showing his father during his service in World War II. John Popham III, a Marine captain and war correspondent, was kneeling in prayer at Catholic services held for native Chamorros at a Marine Civil Affairs Internment Camp on the Japanese island of Saipan.
The younger man said the photo reflected the three aspects of his father’s life, other than family, that were probably most important to him: faith, military service and journalism.
“My father would have been particularly thrilled, honored and humbled to receive this award because he loved journalism,” the younger Popham said. “He believed journalism was a profession, a public trust … and believed that newspapers had a mandatory role in educating the citizenry.”
Smith was a trailblazing woman who started in newspapers before switching to become a respected and colorful broadcast political reporter. Accepting the award on her behalf was her daughter, Drucilla Smith Fuller.
Dressed in hot pink in honor of her late mother’s colorful wardrobe, Fuller expressed thanks that Smith was being inducted into the hall in the same class as McDonald, who gave Smith her first job as a columnist in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“She was a trailblazer for women,” Fuller said, explaining how the respect Smith cultivated as a journalist allowed her to fight for and win access for women to previously male-only private clubs around Nashville. “She certainly had so many firsts.”
Fuller noted that Smith also had a close connection to another Class of 2015 inductee through her work as a radio correspondent at the State Capitol.
“A lot of what she did on Capitol Hill, her informant was often John Bragg, who was a wonderful friend of hers always,” Fuller said.
Hall of Fame inductees can include reporters, writers, editors, publishers, news directors and other managers, as well as those who have excelled in advertising or public relations and journalism, advertising and PR education.
The Hall of Fame’s bylaws note that its inductees represent “those who have made significant and substantial contributions to the journalism profession.” Honorees may be living or deceased, native Tennesseans who spent much of their career in state or out of state, or non-natives who spent a substantial part of their career in Tennessee.
For more information about the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, visit its website at www.tnjournalismhof.org or contact Hooper Penuel, TJHOF secretary, at 615-347-1672.
Below are more detailed biographies of the 2015 honorees in alphabetical order.
John Thomas Bragg
John T. Bragg (1918-2004) came from a newspaper family that owned the Cannon Courier and later started the Rutherford Courier, but distinguished himself in another form of public service as a legislative reformer and expert in government finance during a 30-year career in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Born in Woodbury in 1918, he graduated from what is now MTSU in 1940 with a degree in social studies. He was student body president and editor of the student newspaper, Sidelines. Bragg did graduate work in history at the University of Tennessee and worked briefly as executive director of the Tennessee Press Association in Knoxville. He served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946, returning to Murfreesboro to join his father on the Rutherford Courier and in Courier Printing. The Rutherford Courier was sold in 1958.
Bragg was later elected to the Tennessee House and served from 1964 until his retirement in 1996, with a break in 1969-70. In 1974 Bragg sponsored the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, which is known as the “Sunshine Law” and mandates most official meetings of governing bodies be open to the public. He sold his interest in the printing company in 1981 to his son, Tommy. From then on, Bragg’s professional life focused on state government, where he chaired the powerful Finance, Ways and Means Committee. He helped leverage state funding for the mass communications building at MTSU that bears his name.
Minor Elam Bragg
Minor E. Bragg (1894-1966) was born in Woodbury, Tennessee, to Thomas D. Bragg and Mary Elizabeth Keele. Married to the former Callie Luree Bragg, who was no relation, the couple had two children, including John, who followed him into the publishing business.
In the 1920s, Minor Bragg was the editor and publisher of the Cannon Courier, a publication he sold in 1933 after launching the Rutherford Courier in Murfreesboro and Smyrna two years before. Minor launched the new Courier and a printing company despite existing competition. His son John remembered him as an old-school journalist who thought it important for the public to have more than one source for news and discussion of public affairs.
Minor Bragg attended Middle Tennessee Normal School, which later became MTSU, taught briefly at Bradyville School in the 1920s, and had interests in a funeral home, a radio station and grocery store in Woodbury. The Rutherford Courier was sold in 1958, and its founder died in 1966. Tommy and brother David would resume publishing their grandfather’s first newspaper — the Cannon Courier — between 1980 and 1995, marking a third generation of Braggs in journalism.
Van Kent Flanagan
Kent Flanagan (1945-2015) was a native Texan who spent more than 40 years in journalism, practicing on distinct platforms, including 21 years as the chief-of-bureau for the Associated Press in Tennessee. By his count, it was much “more than” four decades. He told an interviewer in 2012: “I’ve been a journalist since the age of 12. I got drafted in middle school to write sports for the student newspaper and kept going.”
The Ballinger, Texas, native graduated from Angelo State University in 1968 and served four years in the Army, including service in Vietnam. He later worked for the Fort Lauderdale News and Sun-Sentinel in Florida and the San Antonio Express-News before joining the AP as a newsman in Pennsylvania in 1979.
AP sent him to South Carolina and North Dakota before his Nashville posting in 1983. In 2000, he witnessed and covered Tennessee’s first execution in 40 years. He left the AP in 2004 and served four years as journalist-in-residence at Middle Tennessee State University and then more than two years as editor of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette. Flanagan was 2012-13 executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit alliance of media, citizen and professional groups he helped form in 2003. He died in February 2015 after a long illness.
John “Jack” Gill Knox Jr. (1910-1985) was a Nashville-born artist and illustrator best known for the editorial cartoons drawn over more than 40 years for Tennessee newspapers. He was nationally recognized because his cartoons were often reprinted and sought by newsmakers, including presidents from the time of Dwight Eisenhower.
His wit and biting conservative commentary appeared for 26 years in the Nashville Banner. His work previously appeared in The Evening Tennessean in Nashville in 1933-34 and then for 11 years at the The Commercial Appeal in Memphis.
Fascinated by horses from growing up in Texas, he took a year off and worked on a ranch there before joining the Banner in 1946. He was a mainstay there until retiring in 1972, but continued drawing cartoons for the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1975. In between he authored and illustrated his second book: “America’s Tennessee Walking Horse,” published in Nashville by Hoss Country Publishers. A graduate of Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee, he was mostly self-taught and received no formal art training beyond a correspondence course his wife recommended. The Jack Knox Political Cartoon Collection in the Nashville Main Public Library consists of 240 original editorial cartoon drawings featuring his conservative political satire and caricatures in addition to his original art and writings about Middle Tennessee rural life and life on the grand rivers.
Roy McDonald (1901-1990) started out as a grocer looking for what the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture described as “an inexpensive alternative to the dominant Chattanooga Times” to advertise his chain of Home Stores. That led him in 1933 to found the Free Press, first as a small flier, which proved a popular and growing enterprise in southeast Tennessee for decades to come. McDonald added news features and comics to the Sunday weekly three years later and eventually began charging 5 cents.
In August 1936, the Free Press began daily publication and was in direct competition with the morning Times and the afternoon Chattanooga News. McDonald purchased the News in 1939 and launched a new afternoon daily, the Chattanooga News-Free Press, targeting blue-collar workers whose shifts ended at 4 o’clock.
In what could be described as urban community journalism, McDonald filled his publication with folksy hometown news and upbeat business features, steadily building circulation against the better-known and respected Times. They entered a joint operating agreement — described as a “truce” — in 1942 wherein the two papers shared advertising, circulation and production departments, but maintained separate news and editorial staffs. The News-Free Press became increasingly conservative in its editorial policy. McDonald’s increasing use of photographs of events spurred readership. McDonald died in 1990, but his son, Frank McDonald, became chairman and president of the newspaper. In 1993 the newspaper became the Chattanooga Free Press again. In 1998, it was sold to an Arkansas publisher who later acquired the Chattanooga Times and merged the newspapers ultimately under the flag of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It continued to publish separate editorial pages.
Bob Parkins (1929-2008) was a local dairyman when he and his wife, Dorris, founded the Milan Mirror in 1965, launching a career and family legacy of community journalism. Parkins purchased The Milan Exchange in 1977, naming the new enterprise The Milan Mirror-Exchange. The Exchange was 103 years older at the time.
Parkins distinguished his newspaper by winning countless Tennessee Press Association awards and himself through leadership in the industry he loved as president of the Tennessee Press Association. He published and edited the paper until his death in 2008.
For several years he served as a state correspondent for The Nashville Tennessean, filing community features and occasional hard news pieces at a time when city papers tried to cover more territory through the use of stringers. It helped keep Gibson County, in central West Tennessee, connected to the world.
John N. Popham III
John N. Popham III (1910-1999) was dispatched by The New York Times in 1947 to cover the South, an area his editors described as “from the Potomac to central Texas.” It was an assignment in which he would distinguish himself with his coverage of the civil rights movement. The last 20 years of his 45-year career was spent at The Chattanooga Times, where he retired as managing editor in 1977.
A Fredericksburg, Virginia, native and Fordham University graduate, Popham joined the Times in the 1930s. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942, earning a Bronze Star for service in the Pacific during World War II. A year after his return to the Times, he landed the Southern correspondent assignment with two conditions of management: he had to drive, not fly, from place to place, and he had to keep an office at the sister Chattanooga Times.
He became known to friends as “Pops” or “Johnny” and to everyone else for his heavy Tidewater Virginia accent and the trademark hats, fitting the caricature at the time of a newspaperman. Post-retirement and at the age of 72, he earned a law degree from the John Marshall Law School after commuting hundreds of miles a week to Atlanta.
Henry Grantland Rice
Grantland Rice (1880-1954) was an icon among sports journalists but may be remembered as much for a poem as any of the estimated 22,000 columns he wrote. He was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1880 and educated at Vanderbilt University, where he played football and baseball. After graduation in 1901, he worked at the Nashville (Tennessee) Daily News, The Nashville Tennessean and the Atlanta Journal before joining the New York Evening Mail in 1911. In 1914 he became a sportswriter for the New York Tribune, later the Herald Tribune. He served in the Army in World War I.
By one authoritative estimate, Rice wrote more than 67 million words, produced popular short motion pictures of sporting events, and according to newworldencyclopedia.org, became the first play-by-play baseball announcer carried live on radio during the 1922 World Series. It was Rice who in 1924 named that year’s Notre Dame’s football backfield as the “Four Horsemen.” His column would eventually syndicate in more than 100 newspapers.
He published three books of poetry, and it was a poem that became his most quoted work: “For when the one Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks—not that you won or lost—but how you played the game.” His autobiography, “The Tumult and the Shouting,” appeared in 1954 — the year he died of a heart attack in his office. He had just completed a column about Willie Mayes and the 1954 All-Star game.
Drue Smith (died in 2001) was a journalist of many firsts, which made her a pioneer among women in the profession. First a feature writer for the Chattanooga News-Free Press, she later switched to the job of “society editor” at the Chattanooga Times. She would live to see the two newspapers merge under the Chattanooga Times Free Press nameplate in 2001.
Smith switched to radio and hosted shows on WAPO, WDOD and later WDEF, where she was public affairs director. The day in 1954 that WDEF-TV signed on the air, so did she with “Drue’s Party Line.” She came to Nashville to work in communications for Gov. Frank Clement, leaving that job to cover political news for United Press International, WLAC Radio, the Tennessee Radio Network, WVOL Radio and multiple Nashville community newspapers.
The American Women in Radio and TV named her their Broadcaster of the Year at their convention in Las Vegas. The Tennessee House and Senate named her the 133rd — honorary — member of the General Assembly. The Tennessee Broadcasters’ Association made her a life member. She was the first woman to cover politics full time at the Capitol, was the first female chair of the Capitol Hill Press Corps, the first woman inducted into the local Society of Professional Journalists (Sigma Delta Chi) chapter, and became its first female president.
She raised thousands of dollars for college journalism scholarships through selling tickets to the Nashville Gridiron Show. The SPJ/Drue Smith scholarship is still awarded annually by the Community Foundation. Veteran Capitol Hill reporters remember Smith for her trademark, sound-bite-grabbing strategy at the end of all gubernatorial press conferences she covered: “Governor, what is the bottom line?”