Jerry Witcher Obit


OKLAHOMA CITY (April 4, 2006) -- Jerry L. Witcher, a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and long-time United Press International editor and manager, died March 4, 2006, at Mercy Health Center. He was 73.

He had been in ill health in recent years and his daughter, Linda Witcher Mapes, said he succumbed to the complications of several illnesses.

Witcher worked more than 31 years for UPI and trained several generations of journalists while serving as Oklahoma City Bureau Manager and Oklahoma State Editor. He also was a long-time member of the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club.

"The needs of UPI's Oklahoma clients always were Witcher's number one priority," said Jim Wieck, who was Southwest Division Editor for UPI in the 1980s. "And for years Oklahoma was one of UPI's strongest states with very active editors and broadcasters associations.

"Witcher also was an absolute master at developing young college interns and graduates into top-notch reporters and writers," said Wieck. "Anytime he recommended an Oklahoma staffer for transfer or promotion, you were guaranteed high quality professionalism seasoned with a good dose of common sense.

"I've lost a very close friend, both professionally and personally," said Wieck.

"Jerry Witcher knew a magic secret about managing people," said J.B. Blosser Bittner, Deputy National Editor for CNHI News Service. "With patience, a soft voice, a high professional bar and a dry wit, he helped those of us new to the world of journalism find our way and make our place.

"So many times in the nearly 30 years since I worked my first UPI shift, I've asked myself in times of journalistic challenge, 'How would Witcher handle this?'" said Ms. Bittner.

"He was a really, really good writer and a super wire service guy," said Jim Campbell, who joined UPI about the same time as Witcher and preceded him as Oklahoma City bureau manager. "And he had such a great sense of humor. He's just been a good friend.

"He was calm and had patience with people and helped the young staffers," said Campbell. "He was just a great editor. He was the real pro the wire service pro.

"The people in Gridiron will be shocked at this," Campbell added. "He was active in Gridiron for so long."

"Jerry was respected as a solid newsman and a skilled writer in the old Southwest Division of UPI, but it was his lively sense of humor that made him unique," said Phil Magers, who retired from UPI last year after serving as Dallas Bureau Manager and Texas Editor. "He was always able to come up with a quip or a story to lighten your mood on a hectic news day."

Magers also said he always will be indebted to Witcher and Campbell for their help in covering the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, the worst terrorist attack in U.S. History at the time. The attack came at a time following deep cut-backs at the wire service.

"The Oklahoma City bureau no longer existed, and we could only spare one reporter from our limited Dallas staff to cover the first days, but Jim and Jerry followed up for days with superb coverage of the body recovery and related stories for UPI," Magers said.

"Jerry Witcher was a first-rate journalist, a mentor and a friend," said Rocky Scott, a former UPI staffer who worked with Witcher in the Oklahoma City UPI bureau 1982-88. "Whatever success I've had in this business is because of him, but Jerry made a much more important contribution to me and my family.

"He worked with me to devise a schedule that allowed me to have lengthy paternity leaves when my son and daughter were born," said Scott. "I told him one day I would sit them down and explain how important he was in their life. I did that and they understand. Jerry was the rare professional whose human side was always available."

Witcher, a graduate of Southwestern State College at Weatherford, Okla., joined UPI in April 1959 from the Altus, Okla., Times-Democrat, where he had been a general news reporter and sports editor. In September 1978, he was named Oklahoma State Editor and Oklahoma City Bureau Manager replacing Campbell.

Witcher's writing often won praise. In 1980, UPI's then Editor-in-Chief H.L. Stevenson said Witcher's reminiscence of the dust bowl days in Oklahoma was "as fine a piece of writing as I've ever seen on the UPI wires in a long while."

He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1988.

Witcher was born Nov. 4, 1932, in a three-room farm house near Vinson, Okla., the youngest of three sons of George and Robbie Witcher. He was preceded in death by his wife Marilyn, his son David, and his parents.

In addition to his daughter, survivers include a grandson, Jason R. Witcher, and brothers Joe of Houston, and Gail of Weatherford, Okla.

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