Editor’s Update: This column is superseded by the news of John Futch’s death, but it stands as a eulogy for a fine journalist and a fine man.
John Futch has always been there for anyone in need.
When he was a first lieutenant during the Vietnam War, commanding 182 men. When he was a newsroom veteran putting out a daily newspaper under sometimes daunting conditions. When he mentored young journalists who went on to become among the best in the business.
If you had a problem, you could always count on John Carnes Futch to be one of the first to help you out.
And now Futch is in need himself after suffering a severe head injury and possible stroke 8,000 miles away in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, his second home since retiring from the news business. His former colleagues and friends are rallying to his aid.
If Futch knew what was going on, he probably would be the first to ask, “What’s all the fuss about?”
He is an unassuming, modest man who always gave credit to the journalists working with him and taking almost none for himself.
In a memo to me about a missed deadline one night, he wrote: “We blew the 10:20, and it can only be blamed on my stupidity, not the troops.”
In his 24 years at the Press-Telegram, he was a solid leader in a variety of jobs—capped by being named managing editor in 2005.
When I was managing editor, I hired Futch, in 1983, as our editor in charge of the community news section, “Neighbors.” He had spent the early years of his career at the Athens Daily News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after graduating from the University of Georgia. It’s hard to imagine a bigger fan of the Georgia Bulldogs football team than Futch.
After joining the P-T, Futch was quickly promoted from the Neighbors section to the news desk, where he took on the demanding job of executive news editor in charge of getting the paper out at night. He held that desk together through earthquakes, elections, civil unrest and thousands of other stories.
He was especially proud of the Press-Telegram’s coverage of the Rodney King demonstrations in the early 1990s, which resulted in devastating fires and looting in Long Beach. After one particularly tumultuous night, Futch held up a copy of the front page of the Press-Telegram with a photo of burning buildings and the headline, “Long Beach Aflame.”
In 1993, he made an unusual request.
“The first thing we learned in Vietnam was, ‘Never volunteer,’ but that’s not my nature, so here goes,” he told me.
He proposed that he be put in charge of installing and implementing the Press-Telegram’s new online publishing system in the newsroom while still keeping an eye on the news desk because he didn’t want to get away from “the day-to-day joys of newspapering.” His proposal was quickly approved, and he did a great job with his usual aplomb.
On a personal note, he also found time somehow — to help set up my home computers, connecting me with the internet.
In 1995, Futch left Long Beach to join the Boca Raton News, in Florida, as managing editor. Shortly after, he became executive editor.
He left that paper when it was sold in 1997 and returned to Long Beach.
Futch ultimately resumed his executive news editor duties and, in 2005, was named managing editor. When the managing editor position was eliminated as part of a restructuring, Futch left the P-T but returned not long after as executive city editor — the newsroom’s No. 2 position.
Then came a story that would have a profound impact on his life.
Davik Teng, a nine-year-old Cambodian girl came to Los Angeles for surgery to repair a heart defect. The Press-Telegram chronicled Davik’s journey here, her surgery and her return to Cambodia—and Futch was deeply involved in the coverage.
Futch, who retired in 2010, developed a close friendship with Peter Chhun, the founder of Hearts Without Boundaries, the nonprofit that brought Davik to the United States. Futch even went to Cambodia in 2016 to spend time with Chhun.
When Chhun died in July, Futch memorialized him on Facebook.
“Hearts Without Boundaries” he wrote, “lost its biggest heart yesterday.”
When word of Futch’s injury spread, former colleagues spoke of his leadership at the Press-Telegram.
“John was one of the best editors I ever worked with at the Press-Telegram,” said former reporter Karen Robes Meeks, now a freelance writer. “He was patient, kind and hard-working and inspired you to work just as hard as he did because you didn’t want to let him down.”
Valerie Martinez, another former reporter who founded her own communications company, said Futch was a great mentor when she started out as a young reporter.
“He imparted crucial wisdom to me,” she said. “In short, his advice was: Pick your timing, know your strengths, shoot straight and always write a thank you note. That’s Futch.”
Kathy Berry, former public relations director at the Press-Telegram with her own firm now, called Futch “an incredible journalist” who cared deeply about Long Beach and the Press-Telegram.
“He had integrity, was caring and was dedicated to his profession,” Berry said. “He also formed lasting friendships with many people.”
Futch’s adopted son, Michael Delorio, has started a GoFundMe account to help pay the medical bills. The campaign had received donations from more than 100 people and raised $14,715, as of 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19. You can donate to the GoFundMe here: gofund.me/86a6a66c.
Others, meanwhile, have contacted various U.S. officials and the embassy in Cambodia to ensure Futch gets the best care possible.
It’s very encouraging to see the outpouring of support for Futch, someone who has helped so many people during his life.
He used to hate it when I would say that he had ink in his veins. He thought it was an overused expression, but it fits Futch perfectly.
As I was going through his file last week, I came across an autobiography we asked him to write when he was applying for the job at the Press-Telegram so many years ago.
He said he was “hooked on newspapering” when he was 12 years old, when the Berrien Press in Georgia printed two photos he had taken on his Brownie Star Flash camera at Miss Van Zant’s School of Dance recital.
“I immediately became an insufferable newspaper addict,” he wrote. “And still I love newspapers. I still enjoy the trip down to the press room, and I still get a chill when the press turns. I hope I never lose that.”
Rich Archbold is a columnist for the Long Beach (California) Press-Telegram, where this column first appeared.
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