Keith Lawrence worked 50 years as a reporter for the Messenger-Inquirer.
It’s even more impressive when you consider that Keith was fired from the newspaper in 1975.
Here’s the story: When the paper was still a family business, a member of management decided that Keith just didn’t have what it took to be a journalist. Keith was told he should look for another line of work.
But instead of throwing him out, the managers told Keith he could stay until he found a new job. He never did.
We won’t name names, but clearly whoever decided Keith just didn’t have the chops was 100% wrong. Instead of washing up, Keith is a legend of Owensboro and Kentucky journalism.
Last year, Keith was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame. Hall of Fame membership isn’t something they just give you if you cut enough proof of purchase off the cereal boxes. Keith has earned this distinction over his lifetime of building trust and respect, one story and one column at a time.
“His ability to bring out the person’s story is as remarkable as his talent for bringing the reader with him,” wrote one of the people who nominated Keith for the honor. Another called it “the conscience of our community”.
Speaking of honors, in 2012 the Tax Court declared February 12 “Keith Lawrence Day” in honor of Keith’s 40 years of service. It didn’t catch on and became the annual event as I had hoped – giving us a reason to leave out the milk and chilli rolls on Keith Lawrence’s day before, hoping that he will crawl up the chimney and leave presents under the Keith Lawrence Laurent Tree.
But that’s okay: for one day, the community said “thank you” in recognition of all that Keith had contributed to Owensboro and Daviess County. “Thank you” is rare in this business, so being recognized by the community is an accomplishment.
It would be impossible to list all of Keith’s accomplishments, so I won’t attempt.
But it’s fair to say that Keith’s dedication to the craft never wavered. There’s not a story that Keith hasn’t covered, from mundane zoning board meetings to complete natural disasters. From the community center to the state capitol, Keith has done it all.
He even interviewed Elvis after the King was allegedly already dead! OK, I made that part up.
However, Keith has interviewed governors, politicians, religious leaders, senior lawyers, and high rollers and dealers. But Keith’s favorite person to interview was always the person down the street, or around the block, the person with the interesting story to tell.
These are the stories that Keith has done the best, which makes sense because Keith cares about people and he enjoys writing about his community.
So, now we say goodbye, but it’s not a complete farewell. Keith will do another column here and there. But the Messenger-Inquirer will never be quite in the same place.
The newsroom will always feel a little off, like someone is missing.
James Mayse is the city government and police reporter for the Messenger-Inquirer. He has worked with Keith Lawrence for 24 years.