Jeff Newell will not be the last of his kind, but he will be the best
The afternoon was cold, and Jeff Newell was trembling.
“We get to go flying!” he enthused, rubbing his hands together, his voice rising and falling in a little boy’s sing-song. The freezing wind mattered little. More important was the aging World War II bomber “All American,” a B-24 Liberator of the type that had brought ruin to Hitler’s Third Reich.
The last of its kind, “All American” is maintained by the Collings Foundation a warbirds preservation group in Massachusetts. Mr. Newell was one of three Daily News journalists invited to fly the short hop between Panama City and Crestview.
Later he would write about this flight, and through his story the American wartime experience – and many other things that cannot be put to words – would be passed along to a new generation of Daily News readers.
Which was Mr. Newell’s talent as a journalist: bringing to life the arcane, from matters of history to the complexities of city government to court cases dense as hundred-year-old fruitcake.
In our Fourth Estate world of deadlines and fact-checking, Mr. Newell was a reporter’s reporter – relentless digger who knew what questions to ask and where the answers were hidden. He performed this duty at newspapers across Northwest Florida, from Pensacola to Panama City.
He was honest and fair and dedicated to the relating of facts, a simple ethic that endeared him to readers and sources alike. If you read it in a Jeff Newell story, you knew it was true.
His job never darkened his enthusiasm for life, be it flying on an airplane, playing trumpet in the community band or hamming it up with shortwave radio operators around the world.
This same enthusiasm carried Mr. Newell through the emotional and physical roller coaster of cancer. During the years he waged war with that disease, he displayed a dignity, patience and strength that inspired everyone around him.
Jeff Newell died on July 15, 2001.
Of the World War II veterans who came to see the B-24 “All American” on that 1998 visit to Panama City and Crestview, he wrote”
“They show up for just one more glimpse, searching in the polished aluminum for a reflection of the best days of their lives.”
Mr. Newell was very much like that old airplane: a rugged, reliable classic who got the job done.
Search the pages of this newspaper and we hope you will see a reflection of his character – his hard work, his honesty, his dedication to the craft of journalism. He will not be the last of his kind, but he will always be the best.
In the days when stories were filed by telegraph, it was the practice of reporters to end each transmission with a “30,” indicating the story had come to an end.
It is with fondess, and sadness, that we call an end to Jeff Newell’s time with us. He will be missed.
– 30 –
This editorial was published in the Northwest Florida Daily News in July 2001 and is used with permission.