The Star lost two members of its extended family last month: Eleanor Rice Feeney, 90, who died April 21 in Tucson, and Walt Nett, 59, who died April 23 in Lubbock, Texas.Both were journalism pioneers who enriched the news business, the community and their friends.
Feeney worked for Star for 28 years and was editor of the women’s page, a precursor to today’s Home + Life section, and was an Editorial Page editor at a time when a woman in the newsroom was a rarity, let alone a woman with an opinion.
I met Feeney about 35 years ago. A friend and de facto member of my husband’s family, Feeney lived across the street from my mother-in-law. Several of my husband’s visiting siblings took up temporary residence in Feeney’s home as she welcomed the overflow when my mother-in-law ran out of beds.
Feeney, who brought her cheerfulness to many family events over the years, shared her passion for hiking and the outdoors. She read practically every word of the newspaper daily and commented on the work I was doing, as my career path at the Star was similar to hers.
Many knew Feeney from volunteer work at St. Luke’s Home, the Oasis tutoring program and Primavera. Feeney, born in the mining town of Morenci, was a 1945 graduate of the University of Arizona.
Nett, a reporter-editor for Lubbock Avalanche-Journal from 2008 to the time of his death, wrote for the Star’s Money section, now Business, into the ‘90s. He was the online editor in the early days of AZStarNet.com, when everyone was trying to figure out the newfangled Internet and the World Wide Web and what they meant to newspapers.
News must have been in Nett’s blood. We went to Catalina High School (no “Magnet” in the name in the olden days) and worked a bit together on school paper, The Trumpeteer. (He was serious about the newspaper; I was more involved in the yearbook.) Nett graduated from the UA and had a 35-year career in journalism that included working for Territorial Newspapers in Tucson, holding news positions at papers in California and teaching at the UA. He also had a downtown Tucson restaurant several years ago.
Nett had a large presence, literally and figuratively, and was an old-school journalist. No bit of minutiae was too trite for Nett to readily recall. No bit of information was left uncovered.
“He was a pinch-hitting reporter whose knowledge of every topic a journalist could write about made him a newsroom sage,” said Adam D. Young in an Avalanche-Journal blog.
Music was Nett’s second passion, from strumming his guitar to appreciating musicians. Facebook friends not only got glimpses into Nett’s life as a courts reporter in Lubbock, but also his lovely, lyrical reminisces about music and meaningful performances that he frequently posted.
Nett died in his home, and his body was found when authorities conducted a welfare check when he didn’t show up for work. I like to think Nett died with his beloved, “funny little dog” Chester snuggled next to him.
Feeney and Nett were loved and respected by friends, extended family of any definition and co-workers, and they advanced journalism. They are missed.