Joan I. Duffy

Tough journalist, mentor to many

— Joan I. Duffy, a longtime journalist whose coverage of politics, government and other issues ranged over four states and four decades, died Thursday. She was 61.

Duffy, a senior writer in the communications office at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, died from complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, said her sister, Lynn Duffy Kasow of Miami.

Duffy spent 14 years as a reporter in Arkansas. She was Little Rock bureau chief for The Commercial Appeal of Memphis for 12 of those years after a stint at the Arkansas Democrat. She covered three Arkansas governors and was a fixture on Arkansas Week, a weekly television news program.

Gov. Mike Beebe came to know Duffy when he was a state senator.

“When you met Joan during her reporting days at the Capitol, she would immediately come across as tough and aloof,” he said. “However, as you got to know her, you discovered the warmth and compassion that lay beneath her gruff, professional surface. She kept us all honest as politicians, but was always someone I treasured in my life as a friend.”

Ron Fournier, a veteran Washington journalist, met Duffy while in Little Rock where he worked with her at the Democrat before he joined the Little Rock bureau of The Associated Press for a 20-year career, moving to the wire service’s Washington bureau to report on the Clinton White House and eventually heading the bureau.

“Joan was a great friend, inspiration and mentor,” he said. “She launched my career (and many others) with a glorious mix of wise counsel and wisecracks. But what I’ll treasure the most are the lessons Joanie taught me about work, life balance and the importance of friends and family. To this day, I hear her telling me how to file on deadline: ‘Two quotes and a vote, Fournier. And get your butt home!’”

A native of Boston, her father’s work as a hotel manager took her to Houston before moving to Hartford, Conn., where she graduated from high school and edited the school paper. She studied journalism at the University of Houston, where she was the first female editor of the school’s newspaper, the Daily Cougar, said a brother, Mark Duffy of Florida.

Duffy’s first job was for the Beaumont Enterprise in Beaumont, Texas. Her first big break came as she returned from a meeting and happened upon a fire at a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant. United Press International picked up the photographs she took of the blaze, Mark Duffy said.

She joined UPI, working as an editor, reporter and correspondent in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, covering Louisiana’s colorful political scene, including former Gov. Edwin Edwards, Mark Duffy said.

“Duffy was a legendary newswoman, even 30-something years ago in Baton Rouge, when we were all much younger,” said Sonny Albarado, the acting city editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who worked with her in Louisiana and in Memphis. “She was tough, she was fair, she was compassionate.”

For Duffy, former colleagues became lifelong friends, said Rachel Chaney, a former Democrat-Gazette reporter who shared the state Capitol press room with Duffy in the 1990s.

“She loved to laugh,” Chaney said. “She was the first person I called when I had something juicy to tell.”

She has a son, two stepdaughters and three grandchildren. Her father, Earl Duffy of Hallandale Beach, Fla., and two other brothers also survive her.

“She was an amazingly strong and intelligent woman who had a heart of gold,” Kasow said.

Arkansas, Pages 15 on 12/07/2012