EDITORIAL: Farewell to a valued contributor and colleague

Published 2:20 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

The staff of The Tribune was saddened this week to hear of the death of Benita Heath, who passed away on Jan 20 at the age of 71, following a short illness

Benita worked for many years as a reporter and a member of this paper’s editorial board, amassing multiple awards for her writing before retiring in 2016.

Since leaving The Tribune, she worked as a freelance writer and was a regular contributor to Tri-State Living Magazine, published by The Tribune. In fact, only weeks before her passing, she had called our offices, pitching two story ideas that she was enthusiastic to get to work on.

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At The Tribune, Benita focused primarily each week on covering the Lawrence County Commission and had an encyclopedic knowledge of local, state and regional officeholders.

Benita got her undergraduate degree in journalism at Otterbein University in Westerville, a school she remained loyal to and took great pride in.

In addition to The Tribune, she worked over her career as a news clerk and writer for the Ashland Daily Independent and a reporter for the Delaware Gazette, as well a freelance writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader and other outlets.

She regularly attended services at First Christian Church in Ashland, Kentucky and was deeply spiritual and made strong contacts with clergy throughout the Tri-State. She was also a member of the Ashland Book Club, where she often recommended reading to other members.

Benita was known for being a gifted and colorful writer, who could take any subject and make it into an interesting feature.

This could take the form of interviews with famous names such as Bob Newhart or Polly Judd, or in-depth pieces on the everyday people who make the Tri-State interesting.

“She had a creative mind and had a zest for life,” Jenny Noonan, Benita’s neighbor and longtime friend, said of her. “She was a talented, gifted person, very sophisticated. She had such a creative mind and was well educated.”

Former Tribune managing editor Michelle Goodman recalled her time working with Benita.

“When I first started as a cub reporter at The Tribune, it was obvious, from day one, that Benita was a dedicated and tenacious journalist,” she said. “She loved her work and it showed in her writing. She had a way of describing things so vividly and beautifully in her feature stories, it was like you could see so clearly every blade of grass or face in a crowd. I tried to emulate her writing and, even though I fell short, I learned so much from her and value the opportunity I was given to work along side her for six years.”

Noonan recalled Benita’s generosity toward others and said she also always took note of her friends’ interests and passing them news that she thought they would enjoy.

“She would tell us about things at the Speed Museum in Louisville,” Noonan said. “She was always tuned into what was going on in the world.“

Since her passing, many artisans and business owners in our area have lauded Benita for her advocacy and helping them to spread the word about their work. For many, it was the kind of publicity that was key to establishing themselves and finding success.

An issue that was near to her heart was animal welfare. Benita had many pets and belonged to many organizations dedicated to animals. She was always quick to take up the cause and write a story if she knew an animal was abused or was in need.

In thinking of Benita, one recalls the words of writer E.B. White.

A former print reporter himself, White ended his acclaimed children’s story, “Charlotte’s Web” by memorializing its titular heroic spider.

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer,” White said in concluding the tale. “Charlotte was both.”

For those she advocated for in our area and beyond throughout her career, the same feelings are likely held for Benita.