Induction Year: 2003
The Newport Plain Talk
In a newspaper career spanning more than 30 years, Nancy Petrey literally did every job a person can do at a newspaper, from sweeping floors to making certain the papers were delivered on time. She was a champion of community journalism and believed passionately in a free and unfettered press.
A native of Virginia, Mrs. Petrey moved to Cocke County, Tennessee in 1960, when her husband Arthur was named general manager of The Newport Plain Talk. They had two young daughters Elizabeth (Becky) and Jeanne, and Mrs. Petrey immersed herself in rearing her family and becoming an untiring community leader.
As her family grew up, she became more involved in the newspaper, first as part-time proofreader, then in 1970 as lifestyles editor, office manager and the newspaper's all around problem solver. She knew not only the rewards of the newspaper business, but also the challenges and sometimes dangers, like anonymous threats of violence made in the middle of the night, and more often that one might think, face-to-face confrontations with the irate subject of an unpleasant story.
When her husband, Arthur, died in 1981, Mrs. Petrey was named general manager, and later co-publisher, of the Plain Talk, the largest non-daily in the state. But little changed with her. She continued to "do it all" and "do it well," as a colleague observed. The newspaper continued to win awards and honors under her direction for the next 14 years.
She received many honors, including awards from the Tennessee Hospital Association, the Tennessee Education Association and the citizens of Cocke County as a Citizen of the Century. She was asked to join many organizations as a board member, including the Economic Development Commission for Cocke County, the Newport Rescue Squad, the Newport/Cocke County Chamber of Commerce and the University of Tennessee College of Communications.
There was no "cause" that did not get generous news coverage under her guidance--the Red Cross, March of Dimes, American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and many others. There was not a service organization that didn't receive the newspaper's support in its efforts to do good work for the community, among them the Newport Rescue Squad, the Shriners and the Kiwanis.
In her years associated with The Newport Plain Talk, Mrs. Petrey was devoted to the Tennessee Press Association. Her contributions to the organization earned her the respect and admiration of her newspaper colleagues and led to her selection as the first woman to be elected president of the statewide organization. During her tenure in 1989-90, she actively campaigned for adult literacy, sponsoring workshops and lobbying state legislators for increased funding for statewide adult literacy programs.
Mrs. Petrey's philosophy was that a newspaper has an obligation to promote its community but also must be a watchdog of government to make certain public officials did not squander public funds or violate the public trust. Her lively editorial page often provoked public officials, especially those who liked to conduct the public's business behind closed doors.
She defended a free press through her newspaper, and she spent hours on the telephone or in offices of state legislators telling them why they shouldn't vote for legislation that would restrict the public's right to know. Mrs. Petrey was a consummate newspaper person and an energetic community leader whose many contributions to both journalism in Tennessee and life in Newport and Cocke County are exemplars of outstanding professional work.