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Avis Tucker championed journalism, charitable organizations

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | 10:21 a.m. CST; updated 3:48 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 21, 2010

WARRENSBURG — Avis Tucker, former Daily Star-Journal publisher, philanthropist and pioneer for women in the newspaper business, died Dec. 17, 2010. Mrs. Tucker, of Kansas City, was 95.

Johnson County Sheriff Chuck Heiss, who knew Tucker for more than 20 years, called her "an icon."

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"How do you describe Avis? Just a great human being, a wonderful individual and a true lady. What a loss to this community. She is probably the biggest single friend this community ever had," Heiss said Monday. "When you looked at her style of journalism — and working closely with city and county governments and charitable organizations — you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who has done as much as Avis did for this community."

Tucker and her husband, William Tucker, bought The Daily Star-Journal in 1947, and the paper stayed in the family for 60 years, until 2007. At that time, Mrs. Tucker sold the business to another newspaper family, the Bradleys, of the News-Press Gazette Co., St. Joseph.

Mrs. Tucker took over as the newspaper's sole publisher after her husband died of a heart attack in 1966 and began making history.

"I decided I was going to run this paper. I was going to try," Mrs. Tucker once said. "I told everyone that I had more nerve than ability, which was the truth."

She also is quoted as saying, "I have felt an obligation to publish a paper which serves the community and takes sides on issues that I think are best for the community and the most people."

Further anecdotes collected by Missouri newspaper historian William H. Taft include that Mrs. Tucker earned recognition during her 41 years at the helm as "a pioneer for women in business."

She served not only as one of the state's rare female publishers but in other leadership roles. She became the first female president of Missouri Associated Dailies in 1973; received the Missouri School of Journalism's Honor Medal in 1976; in 1982 served as the Missouri Press Association's first female president; in 1982 also received the National Newspaper Association's McKinney Award, given to a woman who "exhibited distinguished service to the community press"; became the first woman inducted into the Missouri Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1992; and on May 6 became chairwoman emeritus of the Missouri Press Association's Foundation Board, which she helped found and fund.

She was very low-key about her giving to that organization, but she played a significant role in starting the foundation, which is now in its 26th year, Missouri Press Association Executive Director Doug Crews said.

The organization and he share her loss, Crews said.

"She was a true friend of mine and a great lady," he said. "She truly was the first lady in so many organizations."

Keith Sproat, who retired Oct. 18 as The Star-Journal's pressman after 48 years in the business, recalled the difficulty Mrs. Tucker faced when thrust unexpectedly into the publisher's chair.

"She was a very precise person, very business-minded, and she figured everything out," and she used those traits to learn how to operate a newspaper, Sproat said.

Crews said, "She was just thrown into the publisher's chair and she told me she could have sold the newspaper, but instead she grabbed hold of that position and became one of Missouri's leading publishers of that last century. She broke the ice as a woman publisher in our state."

But before succeeding as a pioneer, Mrs. Tucker had to take care of business.

Sproat said William Tucker oversaw moving into the new offices on East Market Street, and then began the change to a newer "hot lead" printing process.

"We were in that transition point whenever he passed away," Sproat said, and Mrs. Tucker rose to the task of completing the work. "She just went right in to it. She was one of those people who were bound and determined to get a project done."

Making the most of her new role, Mrs. Tucker called other publishers around the state for advice about how to run the newspaper, Crews said.

"Those publishers took her under their wing," he said. "They had real respect for her. She wanted to give Warrensburg and Johnson County a fine newspaper and that's what she did."

Born in 1915 to farmers Ralph and Nellie Green of Concordia, Kan., her family moved to Pleasant Hill when she turned 18 months old. She graduated from Southwest High School in Kansas City and, in 1937, from MU. She married William Tucker on June 8, 1941, in Memphis, Tenn.

In addition to newspaper work, some of Mrs. Tucker's other accomplishments include serving as the first female president of the University of Missouri Board of Curators in 1972, on the first Missouri Gaming Commission in 1993 and as president and a permanent trustee of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

"Because of her high standards, she was asked to serve on those types of boards and commissions," Crews said.

Further accomplishments include being named director emeritus of Utilicorp United Inc., receiving the Chancellor's Medal from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, being named "Outstanding Boss of the Year" by the Warrensburg Jaycees and being one of the University of Missouri's 100 distinguished women graduates.

Heiss added that Mrs. Tucker supported Big Brothers Big Sisters, Warrensburg Senior Center and Survival Adult Abuse Center.

"Those were very near and dear to her," Heiss said, later adding she did not mention her largesse publicly. "She was private about this, but she was very generous toward a lot of charitable organizations, particularly in the area of child welfare."

Sproat said Mrs. Tucker was a caring person. "She did a lot of things she didn't want anybody to know about — donations she made and things like that," he said. "If there was someone in need, she took care of them. ... That's just the kind of person she was."

On her 90th birthday, people lined up outside The Star-Journal for a chance to wish her well.

"There were people from all over the state who came to that," Sproat said, including from MU, the newspaper business and various organizations.

Sproat described Mrs. Tucker as a good businesswoman and fair-minded person. "She was to be admired," he said.

Two nephews, Bob and Richard Green of Kansas City, survive Mrs. Tucker.

Her caregiver, Bessie Williams, on Monday said the family plans a private service.

Mrs. Tucker spent the last years of her life living on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.

In understated style, Mrs. Tucker once said, "I don't handle leisure time well."


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Comments

Tom Warhover December 21, 2010 | 11:20 a.m.

When I arrived in Columbia in '01, journalism types said I should put Avis Tucker high on my list of people to meet. They weren't wrong. She was, among many other things, a great supporter of the Columbia Missourian and of the Missouri School of Journalism.

Tom Warhover
executive editor

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