WINNSBORO, Texas (AP) — Thomas F. Pendergast, who ran a small town East Texas newspaper following a nearly 30-year career with The Associated Press, has died. He was 81.
His daughter, Meredith Ann Pendergast Simpson, says he died Aug. 14 at Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler following a diagnosis of lymphoma.
She says that after retiring from AP in 1985, he bought The Winnsboro News in the town located about 100 miles east of Dallas. Pendergast became publisher of the weekly newspaper in the town of about 3,500.
Pendergast was vice president and director of personnel and labor relations when he retired from AP.
John O. Lumpkin, the AP’s former vice president of newspaper membership and a former Dallas chief of bureau, hailed his service to the organization.
“There were many important transitions in those days as AP was faced with legal challenges to its hiring and advancement practices for women and minorities. He oversaw initiatives to address that and the results are still evident today,” Lumpkin said in an email to the AP.
“He was not a human resources professional, and so his heart remained in the news. That’s why it was no surprise for him to ‘retire’ to Texas to buy and publish an award-winning weekly newspaper,” he said.
The Newburg, W.Va., native who graduated with a journalism degree from West Virginia University joined the AP in Chicago in December 1955 and became its correspondent in Centralia, Ill., in 1957. He was promoted to regional membership executive in 1958, based in New Orleans. He became correspondent in St. Louis in 1963 before going on to become chief of bureau in Richmond, Va.; Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
He was assigned as deputy personnel director of the news service in 1973 before taking charge of the department the next year. He was promoted to vice president in 1975 and retired from the AP 10 years later.
Linda Henry, general manager The Winnsboro News, said Pendergast wrote the weekly editorial in the newspaper that focused on local issues and a column called “Trails” that usually focused on politics. Pendergast wasn’t shy about expressing his views, she said.
“Tom was probably the most staunch Republican I’ve ever met in my life except for his wife. He once told me he was raised a Democrat and really that was his party of choice until I’m going to say probably 25 or 30 years ago,” she said.
Simpson said her father, who went into the hospital on July 30, remained devoted to his work.
“The last day he worked was the day he went to the hospital. My husband drove him to work. He wanted to write one more time. That was his life— journalism,” Simpson said.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Karen Wheeler Pendergast, in 2009.