January 12, 2007
By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer
William R. Hales, the longtime publisher of the Hartford Inquirer and an icon in the city's black community, died Wednesday. He was 73.
Hales founded the Inquirer in the mid-1970s, and for the next three decades it gave voice to black perspectives on local issues. Leaders of the city's African American community Thursday remembered him as a benevolent man who was passionate about his community.
"Mr. Hales had the same impact in Hartford that Jet magazine did nationally," former city Councilman Steve Harris said Thursday.
"We had a voice that people would hear all over the state."
Soon after starting the Hartford Inquirer, Hales helped create the Waterbury Inquirer, and eventually Inquirer newspapers sprang up in Bridgeport, New Haven and Springfield.
Raised on a farm in Girard, Ga., Hales came to Hartford in the 1950s and opened a laundromat and electronics business on Albany Avenue before moving on to real estate.
He launched the Inquirer in 1975, a year after the collapse of another community paper, the Hartford Star. Putting out the paper from a one-room office on Albany Avenue, Hales was learning on the fly, picking up tips on graphics, layout and photography from people in the business.
"Little by little he learned," his son, Reggie Hales, said Thursday.
"Back then, the paper looked pretty raggedy, but the community had a way to get the positive aspects of their neighborhoods in print. They weren't getting coverage in the big media."
Although self-taught in the industry, Hales would go on to win numerous awards and citations for championing the causes of the less privileged and covering key issues important to north Hartford residents. The Inquirer was the recipient of a proclamation on June 7, 1995, declaring that day "Inquirer Newspaper Day" in Hartford.
Former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner remembered Hales Thursday as a great man who cared deeply about the city and its residents.
Milner said he and Hales talked often about important issues, as well as the difficulties of running a newspaper.
"Being a publisher was tough. Many times he talked about how hard it was," Milner said.
"But he kept the paper going for the community, and that was an accomplishment."
In the mid-1980s the Inquirer moved to a new location at Main Street and Tower Avenue, and Hales became a fixture in the neighborhood, said longtime North End resident Helen Nixon.
Nixon remembered him Thursday as a quiet, calm icon, who never harassed advertisers to pay their bills and reached out to help young people, including her son Gregory, who as a teenager was studying to be a brick mason.
Hales gave Gregory, now 42, the job of laying the bricks for the Inquirer's new office, she recalled.
"Those bricks are still up. I always think about Mr. Hales giving him that opportunity," she said. "That's something I'll never forget."
When the paper marked its 30th anniversary in 2005 Hales passed the publisher's duties on to his son but stayed involved. With his health failing, Hales published the last issue of the Inquirer on May 30, 2006.
In June, Reggie Hales created Inquiring News, in hopes of carrying on his father's mission.
"We need a voice. There are so many positive stories that don't get told," Reggie Hales said.
Harris said that the Haleses' commitment is appreciated and needed.
"A city like Hartford without a paper like the Inquirer is missing something," he said.
Calling hours are scheduled for next Wednesday at Shiloh Baptist Church, 350 Albany Ave., beginning at 10 a.m. Funeral services will be held at the church, beginning at noon.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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