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Friends support veteran Ashland journalist

Friends gathered late Tuesday afternoon at the Ashland home of veteran Rogue Valley journalist John Darling, who has been diagnosed with liver cancer, to share their love and support for him with lighted candles outside his residence.

Darling has worked in journalism since 1967. His freelance work has appeared regularly in the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings for many years.

About two dozen friends lit candles outside to honor Darling while family members appeared on a balcony as the day ended. Participants were live-streamed to Darling via cellphone during the gathering.

Darling is under hospice care at home after a flight to Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, where it was determined an operation could not be performed for cancer in his liver.

Darling first became ill and began losing weight two and a half months ago. His condition is too fragile to allow for chemotherapy, said Ann Barton, his partner of 16 years. His adult children Colin, Heather and Hannah, are in Ashland, she said.

Rogue Valley media leaders are high on praise for Darling’s work and commitment.

“John was my eyes and ears in Ashland,” said Cathy Noah, who worked as a Mail Tribune editor for 20 years until 2019. “He was a big part of our coverage of the Oak Knoll fire in 2010. I believe he was the first reporter on the scene and he called updates to me as the fire worsened. His reporting there was phenomenal.

“I love how, even after so many decades of covering Ashland, he still gets excited about a new story idea,” said Noah. “He’s made our community a better place.”

“I remember how wordy John is when he is writing. How detailed and in depth he was. That’s not a criticism, it’s a compliment,” said retired Southern Oregon University journalism professor Tom Pyle. “He loved to write long, in-depth, detailed stories.”

Those stories were something that people really cared about, said Pyle. They often had deep meaning for readers.

“I think John always put people in the story. He was never one to take a press release and just regurgitate the press release. He would go out and try find the people in the story and get the story from them,” said former long-time Mail Tribune Editor Bob Hunter.

Darling covered the valley from one end to the other and any number of cultures and events over the years, said Hunter. He was always willing to take on assignments.

John is “a bright, daring person, with a great sense of humor who kept with the work for a long time. Even though it’s not a high-paying job, he views it as a community service,” said Julie Akins, who first met Darling when she was a local TV news editor in the 1990s.

Akins, who is on Ashland City Council and is mayor-elect, said Darling “wouldn’t tolerate bulls--- answers” when she was the interviewee. “He would let me know it. I would appreciate that. We have absolutely nothing to fear from being honest,” said Akins.

Darling recalled his career during a Tuesday morning phone interview.

At age 16 he started working at the Lansing, Michigan State Journal, where his father was editor. From 1961 to 1964 he was in the Marine Corps in Southern California, where he worked in public information.

In 1967 Darling became a reporter for United Press International in Oregon. He covered Robert Kennedy’s 1968 primary presidential campaign in the state. He also covered Tom McCall’s governorship.

“I worked with Governor Tom McCall, who was a brilliant governor and a beautiful man. Very intelligent,” said Darling. The time period included the successful effort to make sure Oregon beaches remained open to the public. It was also the time when abortion rights, recycling, land-use planning and marijuana decriminalization were emerging and getting media coverage, Darling explained.

Darling moved to Ashland in 1971, and during that decade he worked both in the community and around the state on various projects.

“Salem was the big media and politics town, and Ashland was community journalism,” said Darling. He served as editor of the underground Table Rock News, an independent Ashland publication. He also spent time in politics, as executive assistant to Oregon Senate President Jason Boe and also worked for Ashland State Senator Lenn Hannon.

Darling said he is especially proud of his 1974 work as media manager for Ken Kesey’s “Bend in the River.” It was a four-month state conversation tour around Oregon to engage citizens on issues that was funded by a state grant.

With Southern Oregon Public Televising he created five documentaries, including “Crater Lake: Mirror of Heaven,” which still airs about once per year, Darling said.

Darling was the Revels editor for the Ashland Daily Tidings in the mid-1980s, but then became a father and took on what he regards as his most important role, “Mr. Mom,” for the next 20 years. He has three grandchildren and stepchildren Jay and Rissa.

Darling also worked as a therapist after earning a master’s degree at Southern Oregon University in the 1970s and taught journalism classes there too.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

Reporter John Darling is greeted on a live video call by friends who gathered for a vigil Tuesday outside of his Ashland home. Photo by Denise Baratta