Paul B. Hayes, founding editor of The Adair Progress newspaper, dead at 59

Adair Progress newspaper Editor Paul B. Hayes (center, wearing shorts and suspenders) talks with an unidentified man at John Adair Middle School on Saturday, June 27, 1998 in Columbia, Ky. Hayes, founding editor of The Adair Progress, died the day after his 59th birthday on Dec. 5, 2012.  (Apex MediaWire Photo by Billy Suratt)

Adair Progress newspaper Editor Paul B. Hayes (center, in shorts and suspenders) talks with an unidentified man at John Adair Middle School on Saturday, June 27, 1998 in Columbia, Ky. Hayes, founding editor of The Adair Progress, died Dec. 5, 2012, the day after his 59th birthday. (Photo © 1998 Billy Suratt) | Order Reprint

It’s been said that good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster. That’s not always the case.

I’ve just learned Paul B. Hayes, longtime editor of The Adair Progress weekly newspaper in Columbia, Ky., died Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. He turned 59 the day before his death.

I never realized Paul was the founding editor of the Progress, but I know he’s been the paper’s editor as long as I can remember.  The two were so inextricably linked it’s hard to even imagine The Adair Progress without Paul at the helm. He was a colleague, a client, a mentor and a friend.

A portly, bearded man with a fondness for wearing suspenders, Paul Hayes was as much an Adair County institution as he was a fixture in the South-Central Kentucky journalism community for the past three decades.

In an ever-shifting media landscape that’s continually evolved — or devolved, depending on perspective — since I began my own journalistic career in the mid-1990s, Paul was one of the very few industry constants on which I could rely.

Amid the game of journalistic musical chairs in which newspaper ownership and staffing may vary from any given week to the next, it’s people like Paul Hayes who provide the institutional memory newspapers need to meet the demands of their readers and, by extension, survive. He can be succeeded as Adair Progress editor, but he can never be replaced.

Paul may not have been a great writer — like many other small-town editors, his copy often suffered from not having somebody else available to proof it — or the world’s greatest photographer, but he was an outstanding reporter and a terrific editor. A consummate newspaperman, he kept his finger on the pulse of the community and had a nose for features like few others I’ve known. Little went on in Adair County without Paul knowing about it.

Paul also had a gift for gab; I think he enjoyed telling his own stories almost as much as listening to those of his subjects. While that can be a problem in some cases, communication is a two-way street — you’ve got to give a little to get a little. In the 15+ years I’ve known him, I never had an interaction with Paul in which both of us didn’t come away at least entertained if not also enlightened in some manner. I doubt I’m alone in that regard.

Trials And Tribulations

Something happened in 2005, however, which I admit colored my view of him, as well as sending shockwaves through the entire community: Paul was arrested for first-offense DUI and felony drug possession. I’ll always remember June 23, 2005 because I nearly fell out of my chair when news of his arrest the night before came in over the fax machine. I couldn’t believe it, and I wasn’t alone.

Paul’s transgression was a very serious one and the source of much consternation, not to mention gossip mongering, in his hometown of under 4,500. I never knew details of the case or its eventual outcome, but I do remember the incident leading to his temporary removal as Adair Progress editor. I assume the charges were probably reduced or diverted and he got the help he ostensibly needed because he was later reinstated; he never mentioned it, and I never asked.

As disappointing as that incident was, Paul was able to bounce back from it and, as far as I know, remain clean. A lesser man might not have; for that, he deserves much credit.

The Last Time We Spoke

Paul called me and left a message last year while I was on the road in South Carolina covering the GOP presidential primary, but I think the last time we actually spoke was Sept. 17, 2011. We ran into each other in Green County covering a “welcome home” ceremony the city of Greensburg was throwing for U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Dakota Meyer. Meyer had recently been awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military honor, for his actions during the 2009 Battle of Ganjgal in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

“Greensburg keeps trying to claim him,” Paul told me, explaining that while Meyer’s family farm has a Greensburg address, the property is physically located in Adair County. Meyer transferred to Green County High School for his last year or two of high school in order to play sports, if I recall Paul’s explanation correctly, which helped me fill in a few gaps in the evolving narrative of our new national hero. I’ve encountered similar — and always confusing — geographic situations elsewhere in Kentucky, but this was the first time one had been linked to a prominent figure.

I guess the last time I saw Paul was at another ceremony honoring Meyer, this one in Columbia on Oct. 2, 2011. We didn’t get a chance to talk that day and little did I realize it would be the last time I’d ever see him.

Paul suffered from a litany of health problems much of his life. “Being a diabetic with high blood pressure and other ailments, I take quite a bit of medicine on a daily basis,” he wrote in the final installment of his weekly Page Two column, “Paul’s Ponderings,” published the day after he died. A change in one of his medications, he explained, and the addition of a new one had caused his kidneys to shut down, necessitating hospitalization in Louisville the week before his death.

“Because of the care from the doctors, and the prayers that were said for me, I’m back home and back to work on a part-time basis,” he wrote in that final column. “I still feel like I’ve been run over by a big truck, but I’m slowly getting better. I feel like God has given me another chance, and now it’s up to me to take advantage of it.”

Sadly, God appears to have had other plans. Perhaps He was starting a newspaper and needed someone who could still remember how to use a waxer.

I'm a Mid-South photojournalist, Kentucky writer and digital media consultant (or eNinja™). Circle me on Google Plus at, follow me on Twitter at @surattb and Instagram me at @BillySuratt. Got a news tip or suggestion about some journalism that needs committed? Email (discretion is always guaranteed).

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