God will enjoy arguing with authentic Delta journalist

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Harold Ray Mosby Jr.’s legendary editorial voice was at once powerful, poignant, prophetic and provocative. To the end of his days, which came last week in a Jackson hospital at the age 70, that reliable and important voice never failed him.

Barely six feet tall and 130 pounds with rocks in his pocket, Ray was not a physically imposing fellow. But when his editorial voice roared and he spoke what he believed to be truth to power, it had the impact of a heavyweight boxer throwing body blows. He asked no quarter, and he gave none.

You didn’t like what Ray wrote? Tough. You either threatened or actually cancelled your subscription or pulled your advertising account? Pop your whip. Ray wasn’t really wired up to back down from a scrap if his research and his gut told him he was right.

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His career in Mississippi journalism began as many do in the orbit of a mentor. Ray was an acolyte of crusading Clarksdale Press-Register publisher and editor Joe Ellis. Over the course of his own career, Ellis twice won the J. Oliver Emmerich Editorial Excellence Award as the state’s top editorial writer at a daily newspaper.

His protegee Mosby would win the Emmerich Award three times in one of the smallest and most isolated Mississippi communities attempting to sustain a weekly newspaper – Rolling Fork, Mississippi at the venerable Deer Creek Pilot. That’s an almost impossible feat.

Strangely enough, Mosby wasn’t the first award-winning editorial writer to operate The Pilot. Hal DeCell before him had taken on the Citizen’s Council and firebrand Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett during his long tenure leading the newspaper.

Despite Mosby’s reputation as a hard-nosed curmudgeon and a writer who could strip the bark off a foe, he was a prince of a guy who leaned into helping the little guy, the marginalized or the ignored. He cared deeply and he wanted to help people. More often than not, he did.

What is less known about Ray Mosby are the trials and tribulations of his life. Strapping on the purchase of a country newspaper at midlife is daunting enough. “The bank and I bought the newspaper,” he’d say with a wry grin. Circulation was small, usually less than 1,500. Advertising in the Mississippi Delta was hard to come by.

But the real load Ray carried was much heavier. Over the last decade of Ray’s life his father Harold Ray Mosby Sr. passed away. Later that same year, his mother Stanley Eleanor Williamson Mosby died after a long and debilitating illness. Mrs. Mosby was an old school English teacher and her influence on Ray’s writing talents are undeniable.

Then, Ray’s wife Phyllis Trelling Mosby – the love of his life and a talented lady who had worked alongside him at the Pilot and earlier at the Clarksdale Press-Register – passed away after a long struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Ray could have taught Job a thing or two about bearing up to troubles. Yet he never let those burdens cheat his readers out of a first-class community newspaper. Like a lot of editors of his era, Ray smoked too much and worked too hard and didn’t take particularly good care of himself while caring for others. Visitors to his office usually got beer and pretzels or coffee.

Writing about what country editors do and why it matters, Mosby said: “The community newspaper is not some monolithic entity; its editor is not some ivory towered “big shot.” He or she is also a neighbor. He or she is one who goes to church with you or stops to chat in the grocery store or is always there to volunteer at community functions or stops to shake hands or just waves in passing.

“More importantly, he or she is the one everybody else trusts to promote those things that are beneficial, and to try to stop that which is not. There’s a fishbowl effect in small towns, and its newspaper is hence, often its lightening rod. It may be praised one week and dog-cussed the next, but it is not only impossible, but really not important that it be liked. It’s important that it be respected, and it is even more important that it be trusted,” Mosby said.

Ray Mosby was the best editorial writer in Mississippi, and he was widely respected and trusted. Rest in the peace you’ve earned. 

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.