By Kevin O’Connor, VTDigger.org
Ask Norman Runnion for his life story and he’d point to a newspaper.
“I’m a newspaperman, my father was a newspaperman — I love that word, I grew up on that word,” he said in 1989. “It would never have occurred to me to be anything else.”
Except an Episcopal priest, which he tried for a decade at midlife. But Runnion eventually returned to writing, which he did until shortly before his death Friday at Randolph’s Gifford Medical Center at age 85.
Runnion was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929. He received a degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 1951. He joined United Press International, reporting and editing in New York starting in 1953, in London in 1955, in Paris in 1957 and in Washington, D.C., in 1960.
“Came in on the tail end of the ’60 elections, spent the next three years covering Kennedy, the civil rights movement, covered Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, got assigned to cover the space program, covered Alan Shepard’s flight, covered John Glenn’s flight,” he recalled.
“I was really incredibly lucky,” he said. “Everywhere I went was one after another of the biggest news stories of the world. Those were the most monumental news stories of my generation. What the hell more do you want?”
In 1966, Runnion decided he needed a break. Moving to Vermont, he joined the Reformer in 1969 and became its managing editor in 1971.
Runnion, deemed by one competitor “chief curmudgeon of the Vermont press corps,” surprised readers in 1990 by leaving the paper to attend Virginia Theological Seminary, work as a seminarian assistant at the all-black St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Washington, and serve as rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Fairlee.
Runnion would retire from the church in 2001 and return to journalism by writing for the weekly Herald of Randolph, near his Brookfield home.
Runnion will be remembered July 8 at a public service in Randolph to be led by Vermont Episcopal Bishop Thomas Ely, with specifics to come from that town’s Day Funeral Home.