COLUMBIA — Kenneth F. Bunting, a former executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, died playing tennis Sunday at the Bethel Tennis Courts. He was 65.
Bunting worked as an associate publisher at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and as the senior editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before joining the coalition as its first executive director.
He was passionate about journalism, Texas Christian University football and country karaoke, his wife, Juli Bunting, said, but "his greatest love was tennis."
Bunting was born in 1948 in Houston and graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970. He met his wife in 1986 in Austin, where she was working in radio and he was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's bureau chief. They got married in 1989 in the Texas Supreme Court chambers, and their son, Maxwell, was born in 1991.
"The best thing we shared, besides our son, was laughter and politics," Juli Bunting said. "We laughed a lot."
During his 17 years at the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Bunting worked as the managing editor, executive editor and the associate publisher. The paper won regional and national awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes in 1999 and 2003. Bunting also worked at the Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Cincinnati Post, San Antonio Express-News and Corpus Christi Caller-Times.
Bunting's friend Randy Smith, a professor at MU, remembers him as a fair editor who could make tough calls.
"Ken was good at everything," Smith said. "He could judge the right picture, the right tone for a headline and the best balance for a story. And he did it in a nice way."
When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased printing in 2009, Bunting joined the National Freedom of Information Coalition as the organization's first full-time executive director. He stayed on until earlier this year.
The coalition is a nonpartisan group based at MU that encourages transparent government and acts as a freedom of speech watchdog. Bunting oversaw daily operations including fundraising, expanding the organization and managing the Knight Freedom of Information Fund, an initiative created to support freedom of information litigation.
Smith said Bunting's caring spirit led him to be a great mentor to those pursuing careers in journalism, and he was especially interested in mentoring young journalists.
As Smith recalled his friend's loving personality, he pointed to a world map mounted on his office wall.
"If you could look at that map and see all the people that were touched by Ken, the whole thing would light up," he said.
Bunting and Smith met at a convention in Boston, and Bunting suggested the two of them go to a baseball game at Fenway Park. They hit it off over hot dogs and beers, Smith said, and their relationship blossomed into a lifelong friendship. They celebrated New Year's Eves together, watched elections together and their wives walked their dogs together.
"We talked about the big things and the little things," Smith said. "Now that that's gone, it's like I'm missing part of my soul."
Bunting is survived by his wife, Juli, and his son, Maxwell.
Smith and Juli Bunting are creating a scholarship fund in Bunting's name at Texas Christian University.
The family has requested that donations in Bunting’s memory be made to the TCU School of Journalism Scholarship Fund. Donations should be sent to John Lumpkin, TCU School of Journalism, TCU Box 298060, Fort Worth, TX 76129.