The Tribune’s first reader advocate — a mild-tempered news junkie — dies at 85

(Photo courtesy of the Cummins family) John Cummins, The Salt Lake Tribune's first reader advocate, died on Oct. 8 at the age of 85.

Long before cable television and the internet created the 24-hour news cycle, John Cummins found a way to consume information all day, every day.

He listened to it on the radio each morning, watched it on the television each night, and read it at his desk inside The Salt Lake Tribune newsroom — where he worked for three decades as a reporter, editor, promotions manager and as the newspaper’s first reader advocate

"He was definitely a news junkie,” Scott Cummins said of his father who died Oct. 8 from injuries sustained in a fall. Cummins was 85.

A voracious reader, who enjoyed books about world history and Western Americana, “he could remember historical facts like no one I’ve ever known," added his younger son, Stephen Cummins.

Cummins was born Oct. 23, 1934, in Fort Scott, Kansas, and was the son of a traveling salesman — who moved the family to different communities for work. After graduating from high school, he attended Kansas State University and spent four years in the U.S. Army. He married his wife, Joan, in 1962.

Following military service, Cummins worked for local newspapers in Kansas and Dove Creek, Colorado, before joining The Salt Lake Tribune in 1966.

Known as a fair and accurate reporter among his former colleagues, Cummins wrote about various news events, but was remembered for his coverage of the state’s education system.

He was kind, enjoyed a good laugh, they said, and proudly wore cowboy boots and a bolo tie with a business suit.

He was one of several veteran reporters “who took me under their wing when I first started in the 1970s,” remembers Paul Rolly, the Tribune’s longtime political reporter and columnist. “I had these guys who were really good mentors, and John was one of them.”

Cummins later became The Tribune’s promotions manager overseeing popular community events sponsored by the newspaper, including the NoChamps Tennis Tournament, the Concours d’elegance vintage show, the old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration at Lagoon Amusement Park, and the lighting of the tree in front of the former Tribune building at 143 S. Main for the holidays.

Unlike some of his crusty co-workers, Cummins had the right temperament for the job. “I don’t think I ever saw him lose his temper. He was a mellow guy,” added Rolly. “He had a good heart and good spirit and was a good journalist.”

In the 1990s, Cummins transitioned again, becoming The Tribune’s first reader advocate, a job that required him to answer questions from the public — and occasionally an irate reader. This was before online comment boards were big, so Cummins did all his talking over the telephone or in person.

He was a natural at the job, remembers former Tribune executive editor Terry Orme. “Subscribers were well-served, as he cared very much about the newspaper’s standing in the region.”

After retirement in the 1990s, Cummins spent time camping and hunting, and he continued his deep appreciation for bagpipe music and, of course, the news.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and five grandchildren. Funeral services have been postponed, due to the pandemic.

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