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Former Louisville newspaper editor David Hawpe dies

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — David Hawpe, who rose through the ranks of the Courier Journal to become editor of the Louisville newspaper, which won multiple Pulitzer Prizes on his watch, has died. He was 78.

His death Sunday night was confirmed on Facebook by his sister-in-law, Hilda Miller. Hawpe had been hospitalized with multiple health problems, the Courier Journal reported.

Hawpe was an unabashed liberal who championed school reform, working people and the Appalachian region of his home state during his decadeslong career.

“Kentucky lost one of its strongest voices in the passing of journalist David Hawpe,” Gov. Andy Beshear said on social media. “David dedicated his work to bettering the lives of all Kentuckians. He will be greatly missed.”

Hawpe began his career reporting for The Associated Press in Kentucky. In 1969, he started working for the Courier Journal in its Hazard bureau in eastern Kentucky.

He wrote his first front-page story in late 1969, the newspaper reported, about a disabled “tall, gaunt 30-year-old father of 5 who went as far as the second grade” and said was denied county assistance to help “lift his family out of its destitute existence on Bear Run in Owsley County” because “he doesn’t vote the way he was told to.”

The next year, Hawpe covered the Hyden mine disaster in Leslie County that killed 38 men. Watching family members file into a gymnasium to identify the dead, Hawpe said he vowed to do anything possible to “reduce the chances of that happening again. I’ve tried all this time to be true to the promise I made to myself.”

“David committed his career and his great intellect to Kentucky,” said Ed Staats, former longtime bureau chief for The Associated Press in Louisville. “The state and its residents are better for it.”

Staats said Hawpe “particularly loved the people of eastern Kentucky.”

Hawpe was later a copy editor, an editorial writer, the city editor of the Louisville Times and the Courier Journal’s managing editor, editor and editorial director.

Under Hawpe’s leadership, the Courier Journal successfully fought to rein in the excesses and environmental degradations of the mining industry. The paper’s reporting also helped reform Kentucky’s nursing home industry and its often shoddy death investigations as well as strengthen the policing of bad doctors by the Kentucky Medical Licensure Board.

The newspaper also pushed for tougher rules on bus safety and stricter drunk driving laws after the 1988 church bus crash in Carroll County that killed 27 people, including 24 children. The newspaper’s coverage earned it a Pulitzer Prize.

While Hawpe kept The Courier Journal’s focus on Kentucky and Indiana, he sent reporter Joel Brinkley and photographer Jay Mather to Cambodia, where they won another Pulitzer for international reporting about the aftermath of the genocide there, the newspaper reported.

After his retirement in 2009, Hawpe served for six years on the board of trustees of the University of Kentucky, his alma mater. The school’s president, Eli Capilouto, saluted Hawpe’s commitment to his home state.

“David Hawpe loved Kentucky — every coal town and community, every hill and holler, and all the contours and contradictions of its history,” Capilouto said in a statement. “He believed deeply that journalism and education — particularly his alma mater, the University of Kentucky — were essential to advancing the future of his beloved commonwealth.”

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