A Decent Man

Decent. That seems like faint praise, but good, decent, upright, honorable - words like that, describing people who are like that, say more than effusive puffery.
Len Gross was a decent man, a good man, and seeing his name under "in memory of" on the last page of the School of Journalism newsletter this afternoon took me right back to those West Virginia newsrooms and the inevitable calls, unwanted on both ends, to find out what happened when a mine accident took a life.
Len - later the Rev. Leonard Gross - graduated from the journalism program at West Virginia University in 1949 and went to work at various newspapers and TV stations around the state. In 1962, he went "over the fence" as we say and joined the public relations staff at Consolidation Coal Co., one of the predominant corporations mining in the northern coalfields. It was inevitable that I would be calling Len after I graduated from WVU in 1978 and went to work in local newspapers.
The relationship between reporter and PR man is testy, often enough. Both have a job to do. But Len, through his natural graciousness, did his best to make it a reliable working relationship rather than a battle.
When an accident or fatality happened, he took the calls. He didn't duck, run, or disappear - as happened with some others. He had his facts together. He released the information that he was allowed to release, all of it, and when the questions went to areas he did not know or could not make a comment on, he would say so, and try to find out more.
I respected Len. When it came time to do articles on the coal industry that highlighted some positive development, he was the first person I'd call. He was equally helpful, good news or bad.
Neither one of us ever asked for a favor, or a step over the line.
When he became an Episcopal priest in 1974, it was entirely in character. That was the kind of man he'd been all along.
He passed away earlier this year at a nursing home in Morgantown, WV.


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