Weidie cast a long, meaningful shadow

Published 7:01 pm Wednesday, August 21, 2019

One of the state’s best known and most influential political journalists of the 1970s and 1980s died last week after a courageous battle with cancer. I will sorely miss him.

Wayne Weidie died Aug. 15 at his home in Venice, Florida. He was 78. He was one of the great friends and professional associates of my life — a man with whom I shared a lot of laughter and front-row seats to some of the most intriguing political dramas in Mississippi’s last half-century.

We were members of a relatively small tribe of Mississippi opinion/editorial writers plying our trade in Mississippi newspapers in the days in which newspapers were in the apex of their strength, influence and circulation. It was before the Internet and social media and before people sought their news on websites and in Tweets.

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Both Wayne and I penned weekly political columns from our perches as publishers of small-town Mississippi weekly newspapers. The columns were syndicated to many of the state’s weekly and daily newspapers.

For a number of years, the state’s largest newspaper in Jackson on Sundays published a “Mississippi Perspective” page that featured the op/ed columns of Ole Miss journalism professor S. Gale Denley of Bruce (also publisher of the Calhoun County Journal); Weidie, who published the Ocean Springs Record and Gautier Independent; esteemed longtime Mississippi journalist Bill Minor; and my column.

The page gave readers an interesting mix of views — Denley and Minor were both proud Democrats while Weidie and I more often than not leaned Republican. But even in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mississippi Republicans were still solidly in the minority — particularly in legislative and local politics. Despite partisan and policy differences, Denley, Weidie and I were the closest of friends.

For several years, Minor, Denley, Weidie and I were frequent guests on a Mississippi Public Broadcasting TV public affairs program called “Mississippi Week” hosted by the late Howard Lett. In that era, it was must-see TV for the state’s politicos.

Weidie, Denley and I would usually meet in Jackson and grab a sandwich before taping the show. Over lunch, we’d often try to decipher what position Minor would take on the issues of the day and then all three take the contrary position just to mess with him. Minor usually held his own on the air but would bark at us when the cameras were off.

Denley, Minor and now Weidie are gone, leaving me as the last of that set of Mohicans. Talented columnist Charlie Mitchell stepped away from weekly columns at the very top of his game. David Hampton is now doing the Lord’s work for real at Wells Church. Up in Rolling Fork, Ray Mosby soldiers on with courage and flair.

Wyatt Emmerich, Tim Kalich and Jack Ryan remain hard chargers. There are others who share their views on a regular basis with their readers. I admire them all and appreciate their contributions to public discourse in Mississippi.

Wayne was successful in political journalism, successful later in life as chief of staff for former 4th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor on Capitol Hill and later as a governmental affairs consultant before his retirement. In his last years, he returned to journalism in a new way — as author of The Weidie Report political blog.

Yes, the old dog learned new tricks — but the writing style was still the same — blunt, piercing, unflinching and zealous. Wayne continued raising hell about national and state politics, sports and our culture until cancer made him too weak to continue.

Weidie gravitated to Republican candidates in Mississippi when they were the outsiders, the insurgents, against the monolithic Democratic Party. He wanted to shake things up and work for change. Wayne never lost his respect and admiration for blue collar Mississippians and his work defended and celebrated them. A baseball man, Wayne called balls and strikes without fear or favor.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.