Tom Bennett, retired journalist and Scout columnist dies
1944 – 2020
Murphy, N.C. – Tom Bennett, a retired journalist, advocate of speech and press freedoms, historian of daily newspapers in Atlanta, environmental columnist for The Cherokee Scout, and a disabled Army veteran, died of respiratory failure at Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital on Monday, December 28, 2020. He was 76.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Murphy’s Episcopal Church of the Messiah at a covid-safe date to be announced later.
A 23-year Atlanta Journal-Constitution News employee, Bennett also was a volunteer founding board secretary-treasurer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation in 1994 to 2006. The foundation was incorporated by AJC and its lawyers to teach public officials about Georgia open meetings and open records laws.
Bennett led open-government surveys across Georgia and Alabama, and consulted in a third survey in Tennessee. He began the “Georgia FOI Access” newsletter to cover such surveys in 26 U.S. states in 1997-2004.
He and then Georgia Bureau of Investigation Chief Vernon Kennan along with Georgia lawyers and police chiefs co-wrote "Law Enforcement and the Open Records Act: A Law Enforcement Officer's Guide to Open Records in Georgia.”
His journalism workplaces from 1965 to 2006 included sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal; assistant public relations director for the Atlanta Braves; and assistant public relations director for the Atlanta Falcons; managing editor of the National Football League Properties Inc. Creative Services Division in west Los Angeles; editor-in-chief of the Sutton News Group/Coast Media News Group in Newport Beach, California; and writer and editor for Atlanta Journal-Constitution News.
In retirement Bennett’s freelance work in Cherokee County included the 2006-2019 “WATR Column” at the Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition’s web site; the 2008-2020 twice-monthly opinion column “The Far Blue Mountains” in the Cherokee Scout; and 2012-2019 “Speak Your Piece” articles in the “Daily Yonder, Keep it Rural” web site of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky.
His 224-page hardcore book, “The Pro Style: The Complete Guide to Understanding National Football League Strategy,” (Prentice Hall, 1976) was a main selection of the Sports Illustrated Book Club.
He and others wrote the 512-page hardcover book, “The NFL’s Official Encyclopedia of Professional Football” (Macmillan, 1977). He was managing editor of six of the NFL’s Super Bowl game programs.
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he authored more than 400 advanced obits on such notables as Septima Clark, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, Coca-Cola’s Robert and George Woodruff, government’s John Erlichmann and Dean Rusk, and literature’s Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey and Robert Penn Warren.
Thomas Joel Bennett was born January 18, 1944 in Covina, California while his father’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regiment was in training in the California desert for the invasion of Europe.
He graduated from Florida State University in 1965 with a major in government and a minor in English.
While in the Army training to be a medic headed to Viet Nam, Bennett had surgery stateside to remove a fast-growing malignant tumor. More than 50 aggressive radiation treatments followed, resulting in open-heart surgery and insertion of two mechanical valves and numerous hospitalizations for heart, lung and blood issues.
Surviving are his wife of 54 years, Lorraine Martin Bennett of Martins Creek; two brothers, Timothy R. Bennett (Lynette) of Barnwell, South Carolina and Hal D. Bennett Jr. (Carolyn) of Gulf Shores, Alabama; sister-in-law Marilee Powell (Terrence) of Hayesville; nieces Susan Bennett Wolf (Josh) of Brooklyn, New York and Jessica Powell Armstrong (Eric) of Cornelia, Georgia; great-nephew, Hugo Bennett Wolf of Brooklyn, New York; and caregiver, Ressie Hughes.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Martins Creek Community Club, sent in care of Nina Chastain, secretary-treasurer, 582 Chastain Road, Murphy, NC 28906, or the charity of your choice.
Ivie Funeral Home, Murphy, in charge of all arrangements.
An online guest register is available at www.iviefuneralhome.com.