Raymond H. Boone Sr., the colorful, principled and feisty founder, editor and publisher of the weekly Richmond (Va.) Free Press, died Tuesday [June 3] at his Richmond home after battling pancreatic cancer, his wife, Jean Boone, told Journal-isms. He was 76.
Boone was on the job until nearly the end, said his daughter, Regina Boone, a photographer at the Detroit Free Press. "He knew everything that was going on. He was talking about what the headlines should be" for last week's edition, she said. When Journal-isms reached Boone by telephone in February, he was editing the publication from his hospital bed.
Jean Boone, who co-founded the Free Press and is the paper's advertising director, said, "For the moment, at least, I will assume the leadership role."
Boone had a rich history with the black press and taught journalism at Howard University for nearly nine years before founding the Free Press in 1992.
According to his bio, "The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., honored him for his 'outstanding teaching in journalism.' Black Enterprise magazine once hailed his brand of journalism as a model for the survival of black newspapers in America.
"Prior to joining the Howard faculty, Boone was editor and vice president of the Baltimore-based Afro-American Newspaper Group. Time magazine has credited him with bringing 'sophistication and verve' to the black press. He also was a reporter for the Norfolk Journal and Guide. He also has daily newspaper experience, having worked as a reporter for the Quincy (Mass.) Patriot-Ledger and the Suffolk (Va.) News-Herald.
"While serving as a Pulitzer Prize juror on two separate occasions, he spearheaded a successful effort that resulted in the placement of African-Americans and women on the Pulitzer Board at Columbia University. . . ." The bio also declared, "The Free Press, under Boone's leadership, is the most honored newspaper in the Richmond region."
The Virginia native took seriously his way of speaking truth to power.
Last year, Boone announced that he had stopped using the term "Redskins" in his paper because it is "racist." He challenged as discriminatory the spending practices of the Washington Redskins NFL team, and later called for the ouster of the NAACP's national chairman, Roslyn M. Brock, when he said she supported her employer, the Bon Secours Health System, which partially owns the Richmond-based Washington Redskins Training Camp.
When Glenn Proctor was named the first African American editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 2005, Boone was skeptical, saying that "at best, Proctor is a token there. Media General [the owner] is in charge, not Proctor. They just want to put him out front for image purposes."
Boone was proud when, in 2011, Free Press photographer Sandra Sellars became the first woman and first black newspaper journalist to photograph the Virginia Supreme Court's investiture.
Sellars covered the ceremony for Virginia Supreme Court Justice Cleo E. Powell as the first black female justice in the court's 232-year history.
"Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser's approval of Sellars represents a major victory for the decade-long Free Press campaign to change the court's guidelines that previously barred photographers from the Free Press and other Black-owned newspapers, as well as those from non-dailies," Jeremy M. Lazarus wrote then in the Free Press. "Earlier, the chief justice, in response to another Free Press campaign, expunged sexist references from the court's website."
That same year, Boone allowed Occupy Richmond protesters to camp in his yard next door to the mayor's house. He was slapped with a zoning-violation notice, but Boone ignored it, saying, "It's vague, it's contradictory, it's counterproductive."
The Free Press has not yet published a Web edition, instead posting a facsimile of its print edition. But Boone said he purchased all the wire services available to him to give readers the most complete coverage, and insisted on high ethics.
When his colleagues in the National Newspaper Publishers Association took a government-sponsored trip in January to Morocco, Boone broke with those who denounced this columnist for reporting on the ethical issues involved.
Boone told Journal-isms that the Free Press pays for tickets to local NAACP events. Even when former President Bill Clinton held a meeting in Toronto to discuss relief after the disastrous 2010 Haitian earthquake, the Free Press insisted on paying its own way.
"What is happening is pervasive," Boone said. "Using sponsorships and opportunities" to control people.
Funeral services will be held on Tuesday, June 10, at 12:30 p.m. at New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in North Chesterfield, Va.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe released this statement:
"Raymond Boone was a singular figure in the history of journalism and politics in Virginia. His was a life devoted to justice, equality and a well-informed public discourse, and I know that commitment will live on thanks to his leadership at the Richmond Free Press. Dorothy and I are keeping Raymond's wife Jean and all of their family and friends in our prayers today as we mourn the passing of a true Virginia legend."
Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones wrote:
"The passing of Ray Boone really marks the end of a personality who was an integral part of our city. His stalwart support for the black community, for economic justice and fairness paved the way for change in so many ways. As Founder/Editor/Publisher of the Richmond Free Press, week after week, he offered many a window into the world of black Richmond. He provided visibility for people who might otherwise be invisible to some. He voiced concerns and desires in ways that might not otherwise have gotten expressed.
"When I think of Ray, the word that comes to mind for me is 'crusader.' It's clear to me that Ray Boone was a giant of a personality that won't soon be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this time of loss."
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.