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Ole Miss Journalist Loses Cancer Battle

Photo of Keith Kimmons

Keith was the quiet type. In our college days together, he would be the one to measure his words, speaking only when he had something meaningful to say. When Keith spoke up, we would lean forward to listen. Something insightful and important was about to be uttered.

A soft-spoken man, he was always a gentleman, always polite, always thoughtful, always hard-working. I was a year or two ahead of him in Ole Miss’ broadcast journalism curriculum. I’ll forever remember the day when he came to me to tell me his choice of majors: “I’m gonna do broadcast journalism,” he said in his unassuming way. And when Keith said he was going “to do” broadcast journalism, he really meant it, and he threw his entire efforts into it, learning all aspects of the craft, particularly on the invaluable production side.

Over the years, Keith became quite good at broadcast production. He became so good that after he left a job at a Mississippi TV station, he decided to return to Ole Miss, where he would use his talents to teach other students about the business.

Keith was meticulous in everything he did. There were no shortcuts. He was not flashy as a student, but his clothes were tastefully coordinated and always fashionable without any effort on his part to draw attention to himself. He just wasn’t that kind of guy. He was the guy who was more interested in others and the achievements of his fellow students than in anything he had ever done.

I didn’t see Keith much in the past several years. But when we did see each other, we knew we had the bond of journalism that took root back in the early to mid-1980s. I was thrilled and surprised to look into the audience and see Keith present when I was the recipient of the Silver Em Award on the 50th anniversary of the award. Typical Keith, we didn’t talk much that night. He knew it was my night and he would never do anything to take away the focus.

Keith Kimmons died the other day after a long battle with cancer. I had previously learned of an earlier battle with the disease and thought he had licked it. The news of his death over the weekend was of a very personal nature to me. I remember him as an 18-year-old freshman, the close little brother to his  sister Cheryl, who was already an Ole Miss student. In recent years, I had the opportunity to see him as a father of young children. Those children should know that they had a father who was an outstanding man. They should know that he loved them, his family – and journalism.

He wanted his students to be prepared for the competitive world they would face after college. He wanted them to share his passion for his craft. More than anything, he wanted them to be as meticulous as he was, spending more time getting it right, while at the same time understanding the reality of tight media deadlines. I have to believe that returning to Ole Miss to teach at the very university where he was a student had to be a personal highlight. He would eventually move to another journalism job at a university in Illinois. Knowing Keith, while he was a resident of another state, his heart never left Mississippi or Ole Miss.

Sometimes the people with the biggest names, the Ole Miss alums we see on national TV, get all the attention. But thank God there are people like Keith, working in the trenches, training new students, living a life that serves as an example of good. Time, distance and circumstance have a way of separating us after our college days. But the contradiction in those words is that they also form bonds that are never broken. I am better for having known Keith Kimmons. And so are so many other people. The very fact that I’m writing about his death hurts deeply. It is piercing and painful. But it is necessary that those who read about his death without knowing the depth of the man come to some understanding that there was greatness there. And I feel blessed by God that I had the opportunity to witness it.

–– Ronnie Agnew, a former executive editor of The Clarion-Ledger, is the executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Email him at Ronnie.Agnew@mpbonline.org

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