When I was hired on the Memphis Fire Department April 1, 1974 as a Fire Alarm Operator, I was first assigned to one of two corded upright switchboards. One of the first lessons I learned was which newsmen you could talk to and which ones you better not talk to. The newsmen we could all talk to and felt safe talking to were guys like Lloyd Holbeck of the Commercial Appeal. Steve Thomas of WMC FM 79, Ed Craig at WHBQ TV 13, and one of the most revered of all of these was Paul S Barnett of WREC/WREG TV news.
This story is based on Paul’s very interesting life.
Born in Memphis in 1918, attended St Patrick’s and then Catholic High School. Most of his adolescent life he lived at 1489 S Wellington Street. In 1950 he would live on S. Rembert and later at 1733 Union Avenue.
At age 21 he was hired by the Memphis Police department as a Motorcycle Officer and then in December of 1941 he enlisted the US Army. He served in Germany, Italy and landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy France on June 6, 1944 and was battle field promoted to Sergeant. He received 4 battle stars and a bronze star for heroism. In 1945 he returned to the US and became a Motorcycle Officer for the Tennessee Highway Patrol. In 1954 he started working for a small radio station in Russellville Kentucky and then became news director at WJJD Radio Station in Chicago. He was then hired at WPLC TV in Lake Charles Louisiana. In the late 50’s he returned to Memphis and was hired as a newsman at WREC TV and Radio.
During the Sanitation Strike march on March 28, 1968 he was giving full voice reporting to WREG TV and Radio. He delivered a blow by blow description of everything that was happening.
In 1969 I had a chance to meet Paul because he and my dad were good friends as well as members of the Downtown Civitan Club. He was great to me. I had several opportunities to be with him during Civitan activities. I now cherish the time I was given by Paul. During my time on the MFD I had many opportunities to convey news stories to him.
In an article in the Commercial Appeal after his death, his coworker and friend Ray Pohlman said “he could get a story before anyone in town. He would talk to influential people of all kinds. They knew they could talk and that he would go to jail before he revealed his source.” People of all kinds could talk to him freely with out worry. You could tell him anything, things that wasn’t supposed to be released. He was just that credible.
Ray Pohlman also said he was a good-natured man with the best news sources and a keen sense for news. He was a “Real Newsman”. Paul retired from WREG in 1984 and battled lung cancer and other ailments until he died on August 27, 2001.
At Paul’s funeral at Calvary Cemetery, I remember sitting with my long time friend Burney Mintz who had worked at WMC and WHBQ. He said this “Paul Barnett was a Newsman’s Newsman”. He had all the tools, the savvy and the knowledge to go and get what others missed. For many years he lived in the Belvedere Towers apartments at 1733 Union Ave, which sadly no longer exists. Occasionally I would see him at a big fire or a police incident in his neighborhood. I would always go to chat with him. I’m personally glad that I had been blessed enough to know him.