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John G. "Jack" WARNER

1937 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
John G. "Jack" WARNER Obituary
WARNER, John G. "Jack" John G. "Jack" Warner, a wire service journalist who trained legions of reporters and whose own elegant prose graced the pages of American newspapers for a half-century, died Tuesday, June 5, at his home in Dacula, Ga. He was 80. As a legendary Atlanta-based desk editor for United Press International, Warner wrote mid-20th Century American history one news story at a time, chronicling the civil rights movement, the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the space program, countless hurricanes, floods and fires and a myriad of other major news events. A true Renaissance man Warner mastered nearly everything he tried, "except golf, at which I was horrible," he said. His potter's wheel was like an artist's easel, and he was similarly comfortable at a lathe as a master woodworker. He played flamenco guitar, became a certified police officer at an age most people would have considered retirement, and became practiced at cowboy action shooting, a competitive target sport in which participants dress in Wild West gear. He returned to his boyhood love of baseball at age 55 and pitched in an Atlanta senior league to players young enough to be his sons. He also allowed his keyboard to briefly stray into fiction, writing a single novel, "Shikar." In a tale seemingly ripped from the headlines he wrote in real life, a man-eating tiger escapes from a derailed circus train in the north Georgia mountains. The book became a made-for-TV movie starring Gary Busey. But Warner's greatest legacy may be the scores of young journalists he trained under fire, directing their coverage of news stories and then transforming their often muddled copy in mere minutes into works of news art. UPI staffers learned to fear and dread the phone call from the gruff voice: "This is Warner in Atlanta." Many of his catch phrases were comical. "Don't you think this lede could use a verb?" or even mildly complementary, "This story's got everything except what we need." Those who followed his orders were rewarded within hours by seeing their byline in multiple newspapers over stories he had rewritten into instant classics. "Jack was the only person who scared the bejesus out of me that I can truly say I adored," said Nancy Albritton, who worked with Warner for decades. Off the phone and in person, the gruff persona became a charming, witty and faithful friend. "I am loyal to my friends," Warner wrote in response to a column written about him in the Richmond Times-Dispatch by a former colleague, Bill Lohmann. "I try to help those who want my help, and I do not gladly suffer fools." Several "unipressers" mentored by Warner have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes, and others have covered kings, dictators and presidents. "Operating in anonymity behind the scenes, he was the quintessential old school editor, hard-driving and demanding," said Ron Cohen, UPI's long time managing editor. "The only thing Warner lacked was the green eyeshade," which he would have considered clich?. John Ginn Warner was born Oct. 20, 1937 in Kirksville, Mo., "a town I couldn't find for you on a map without a cross-reference," he wrote. His first newspaper job was writing sports for the Daily Tribune in El Reno, Okla., while in high school. Graduating in 1955, he never attended college. He met his wife of 61 years, Donna Reitz Warner, on her first day as an intern for the Courier Times in Tyler, Texas, where he was an 18-year-old sports editor. He joined United Press, not yet UPI, in 1956 in Dallas, and he and Donna were married the following year. At 21 in New Orleans, Warner became the youngest bureau chief in the history of the company. There he covered the exploits of the Long family, Earl and Huey, among the most colorful politicians of any era. In 1961 on President John Kennedy's inauguration day, Warner transferred to Washington. Two years later, he moved to Atlanta where he would remain the rest of his journalism career. After 30 years at UPI where he departed with the title of National Editor, Warner spent another 14 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As a reporter, he delighted readers with his coverage of the Atlanta Zoo and its famous gorilla, Willie B. He even chronicled gorilla romance, detailing the introduction of the long solitary Willie B. to his eventual mate: "She chased him a few laps around the room, pummeled him vigorously and generally put the nation's most eligible anthropoid to rout. Before the first date was much more than an hour old, the mighty Willie B. was so exhausted from the henpecking that he had to lie down." Sharing slices of life with readers, he once hopped a freight train with the celebrated "king of the hobos," surrendering after one night rolling down the rails on an open flatbed car in a chilling rain. "Once again, my appetite for adventure had outpaced my capacity for it," he wrote. He also tried tandem skydiving and detailed how police officers train. He and Donna originally retired to what Warner called "the high lonesome" in Silver City, N.M., only to return to the Atlanta area for his final years. Warner is survived by his wife and four children; sons Wade and Kurt and daughters Jackie Warner Levy and Andrea Warner Urrutial and grandchildren Lauren and Allyson Boc and Julian and Alex Warner Levy. He is also survived by a sister, Roxy White. His family was at his side when he died following a long illness.
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on June 12, 2018
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