Hanes Byerly, legendary publisher of The Tidewater News, dies

Published 6:17 pm Saturday, June 24, 2017

Updated to reflect print article published Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hanes Byerly, a renowned figure in Western Tidewater as publisher of The Tidewater News, died on Saturday, June 24, 2017, at age 81.

The newspaper, which began on Oct. 20, 1905, was bought by Hanes’ father, Kenneth R. Byerly, in 1957, and three years later, the son would begin his nearly 50-year career, publishing 4,772 issues by the time he had retired in June 2006. That was when Byerly Publications sold the newspaper to Tidewater Publications LLC, which is affiliated with Boone Newspapers Inc. Byerly stayed on as publisher emeritus.

“Hanes and I became acquainted in 1962 when I became publisher of The Suffolk News-Herald,” said Jim Boone, chairman of Boone Newspapers, the company that manages The Tidewater News and The Suffolk News-Herald now. “It was a rocky start as competitors, but we soon gained mutual respect one for the other and became lifelong friends. Hanes was a builder as an editor and innovative as a publisher and businessman — a benchmark for others in our business.

“His affliction with Parkinson’s disease some years ago has floored many people, but he endured that for a number of years and found ways to continue his highly productive business and community life. But when time indicated it best, he put his newspaper into other hands, chose Todd Carpenter and me and later became a valued friend and advisor to our associates, Steve Stewart and Tony Clark.

“Tidewater Virginia and our newspaper profession have lost a champion, and that loss is softened only by recalling Hanes’ professional and community leadership skills and the good friend he was to many.” Boone concluded.

Steve Stewart, who was named the new publisher in 2006, had this to say about his predecessor:

“Hanes was a good friend, neighbor and mentor. I will always be appreciative of his support and counsel in the months and years after I succeeded him as publisher of The Tidewater News. He maintained an office at the newspaper after the sale, and was a faithful daily visitor until his health began to fail. He laid a foundation of success at the TN that we continue to build on more than a decade later.”

“For nearly a half-century, Hanes Byerly was The Tidewater News,” said Tony Clark, the newspaper’s current publisher.

He added, “it would be nearly impossible to overstate either his prominence in the industry or his importance to this community. His excellence as a newspaper man was obvious. Less so was the work he did behind the scenes on behalf of the community he faithfully served for almost 50 years. We will miss him terribly.”

City councilman Benny Burgess — Byerly’s close friend and business advisor of many years — said, “Hanes Byerly was one of the smartest, most ethical businessmen that I have known.

“He was disciplined, organized and detail-oriented with a sharp eye to the bottom line. He was a fierce, but friendly competitor with a great sense of humor. It was these characteristics that helped him to build one of the strongest small-town newspapers in the state of Virginia.

“Hanes loved sports and politics. He would question you endlessly about your views on politics and needle you for details to make you back up your opinions. He always knew where the Chicago Cubs stood in the standings and lived long enough to see his beloved Cubs win the World Series. He often traveled to Chicago for a game at Wrigley field or to sit in Soldier Field to watch the Chicago Bears. But the sport he loved to play was basketball, having been a star at Fergus High in Lewistown, Montana, and having played at the University of Miami.”

In fact, it was that game which helped bond Byerly and Warren Beale to become friends in the late 1960s, very early 1970s as their paths crossed. For example, there would be pick-up games of basketball, or they would see each other at different places.

“And we became friends,” said Beale. “When I think of Hanes, he was a very good businessperson. He was sort of ahead of his time just by consolidating and buying a lot of other papers, and moving from downtown to the current location, and built that nice building and did all the printing for the various small papers from Virginia Beach to Lawrenceville.”

Another business interest is when the publisher also became involved in Apollo Plastics.

“He let that business progress and stay in Franklin for many years,” added Beale.

Byerly is also remembered by his friend for his competitive spirit, challenging people to push-ups and racing.

“It was just interesting sitting with him, talking politics and sports. He was very informed. He was just a fun person to be around … full of life.”

Another person who can attest to Byerly’s professionalism and joie de vivre is Nancy Parrish who, at 9 or 10 years old, started delivering The Tidewater News in all of the Hunterdale area along with her sister.

“As far as I know, we were the first female paper carriers — at least in Franklin — and Hanes allowed us this opportunity with no hesitation.

“Hanes had recently come on board with the paper and I thought we had the best-looking boss in Franklin … he was so tall and handsome … and nice, too.

“We worked hard to prove to him that we were just as capable as any boy in town and, we proved our dedication to this job by selling more subscriptions to The Tidewater News one particular year and being awarded a red bicycle, which definitely aided in the delivery process. I rode this bicycle until it was way too small for me … but, being on wheels was much quicker — and easier — than delivering the paper on foot.”

A few years later, Parrish and her family moved into Franklin and had to stop delivering, but by then had became babysitters.

“In fact, Hanes was one of our favorite folks for whom we babysat. He had just one child — a precious daughter named Belinda — and she was such a joy to babysit. I have three sisters and we all remember fondly the days of babysitting for the Byerlys. Not only did we babysit while he engaged in social activities, but we also babysat while Hanes was involved in a wide variety of civic activities.”

Parrish recalled that as he took the paper from its location from Main Street then to Fourth Street and finally on Armory Drive, each time to a larger space, it showed that Hanes was “definitely growing the economic base and the circulation of The Tidewater News.”

She continued, “During the years that my late mother, Dorothy Cobb Kitchen, had her catering business in Franklin, we also enjoyed catering many affairs in the Byerly home. Hanes was well known and he was well loved. I am certainly happy that I was able to get to know him. Franklin has lost another good citizen … may he rest in peace.”

Loretta Lomax, who came to work for Byerly in 1989, acknowledged that she initially felt intimidated by him, one reason being his height. But soon, she discovered the qualities that made him so professional.

“My heart goes out to his daughter, Belinda, and the rest of his family. Losing someone that I’ve known for almost 30 years is heartbreaking. Mr. Byerly was astute, solicitous … he was very conscientious about this community and getting the news to the readers in an accurate, fair and timely manner,” she said. “Working for him was truly a learning experience.”

An example of his concern was for his employees.

“There was never a time that I went to him and he turned me away. Mr. Byerly was always there for me.”

Lomax also remembered Byerly doing the layout for the front page himself, which he enjoyed.

“During the layout he would engage with the employees and crack jokes. He had the most contagious smile.

“When he would smile at you, you knew that everything was all right.

“All in all, he was a gentle giant and good man to work for,” she said. “I loved Mr. Byerly. He will deeply be missed.”