It is still hard for me to believe that we buried him at Mount Zion, three miles from Fern Hollow’s house which he shared with his wonderful wife, Wanda, around noon on the day when the world would celebrate the passing of the year 2021.
We’ve shared so many wonderful outdoor adventures together: canoe trips on the Kinniconick, quick descents of the New River Gorge in a dory, chasing walleye on Lake Erie and little mouth on Dale Hollow. .
We split the expenses on trips 50-50. I remember once in a room we shared… he unlocked the door and walked in in front of me. Suddenly he stopped and stepped back. I looked over his shoulder and saw why: a bed, and it was barely as big as a queen bed. Share a room? Yes. Share a bed? No no. Return to the Clerk’s Office.
He began writing an outdoor column in the late 1960s for the Daily Portsmouth Schedules while working at the New Boston Steel Mill.
When discussing salary, editor George Stowell wrote a two followed by two zeros. Wow! That was pretty good, Soc thought, spending a few hours writing a column.
But Stowell made a point after the two.
I started my 30-year journalistic career with the Time in 1971. I took over the banner where Soc left off. We both wanted to clean up the Ohio River and its tributaries.
He liked to tell everyone that between the two of us, we had written a century about the outdoors. He was always available to help budding writers who came to him for advice. He has helped others in many ways.
Closure of the mill
When the mill closed its ovens forever in 1980, Soc was free, free to roam and write stories, take photos and send them.
He went all out for magazines. I stayed with the newspaper and this check, which came in every two weeks.
In an upstairs room at Portsmouth Public Library there are stacks and stacks of old magazines, including those from Outdoor Life and Field & Stream. He spent hours up there studying these publications in the open air; how the writers wrote the stories that take place there.
The McKell High School graduate in 1954 was a self-taught photojournalist.
Over the next 20 years, his stories and photos would grace the pages of almost every outdoor magazine in the country.
He describes himself as a commercial writer. He told me that one month he received 13 checks for his published work.
He was honored in 1984 as the Kentucky Poet Laureate.
Perhaps the honor he was most proud of was when he was elected to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a legendary journalist – the only one in this category.
We were brothers, Soc and me. Not biological brothers. But you know what I mean. We closed our phone or in-person conversations with, “I love you, brother. I love you, my brother.”
Our last trip together was last May when he drove us to Yatesville Lake for a meeting with other members of the Kentucky Outdoor Press Association. We didn’t look much like seasoned travelers. Twice we passed the road from US 23 to the lake.
A month or two later, he had a freak accident. On his way up the ramp to the back door of his house, he somehow fell between the rails and landed in a rocky depression three or four feet deep.
He smashed a hip bone. The EMT workers had to sedate him to get him out of there. There followed a long stay in a rehabilitation center in Portsmouth.
In early October, he was at the Greenup boat launch to greet the winners of the Soc & Sam canoe race on the Little Sandy River, held in conjunction with Greenup Old Fashion Day.
He was in a wheelchair. I really felt like he was going to get out of there and walk again.
But he did not do it. The family transferred him to Ashland hospice on December 27. He died at 1:50 a.m. on the 28th.
Soc is survived by a son, Tom, and his wife, Robin, and their daughters, Caroline and Haley; one daughter, Carla and her husband, Don, and their children, John Henry and Riah Jane; and a great-granddaughter, Eva Jane.
And her dog Stormy.
Safe at home
In a hospital room in the fall, I asked him if he wanted to be saved. “Yes,” he said, almost before I could finish the question.
We prayed the sinner’s prayer. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.
In my visits after this to their house, me and Wanda and Soc would join hands in prayer. I would start, then Wanda, and Soc would close. Her prayers were wonderful and coming straight from the heart, as much as any I have ever heard.
Soc and I have other adventures ahead of us.
Contact G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.