Tributes flow for 'great newspaper man' Kevin Wells who died aged 68

GREAT DAILY: Newcastle Herald staff in the 1990s (from left) sub-editor Bill Hawke, artist Kevin Kearney, photographer John Herrett, cartoonist Peter Lewis, deputy editor Chris Watson, editor Paul Ramage, night editor Kevin Wells, who died last week, and chief of staff Linda Doherty (sitting).
GREAT DAILY: Newcastle Herald staff in the 1990s (from left) sub-editor Bill Hawke, artist Kevin Kearney, photographer John Herrett, cartoonist Peter Lewis, deputy editor Chris Watson, editor Paul Ramage, night editor Kevin Wells, who died last week, and chief of staff Linda Doherty (sitting).

NEWCASTLE Herald readers may not know the name Kevin Wells, but they would certainly know his work.

For more than 35 years Mr Wells, better known as Wellsy, was a stalwart of the Newcastle Herald newsroom earning a reputation as a tough but fair, dedicated newspaper man.  

He died unexpectedly last week at his Bishops Bridge home, near Maitland, after a stroke. He was 68.

Mr Wells was a distinguished journalist who served the Herald as a reporter, night editor, chief of staff and as day editor before his retirement in 2008.

He worked as a cadet counsellor and was a mentor to many journalists over decades. 

Friends and family bid farewell to Mr Wells at a service in Cessnock on Tuesday.

Mourners laughed as tributes recalled his passion for newspapers, his family, partying and being “grumpy”. He was legendary for an outwardly gruff manner that could terrify young reporters. You didn’t want to get it wrong on Wellsy’s watch. 

DEDICATED: Newcastle Herald stalwart Kevin Wells died unexpectedly at his Bishops Bridge home last week.

DEDICATED: Newcastle Herald stalwart Kevin Wells died unexpectedly at his Bishops Bridge home last week.

Long-time Herald journalist Ian Kirkwood said “everyone who spoke at the funeral, including his wife and sister, happily pointed out he was a grumpy bugger”.

“He could be intimidating to work for, but he also knew how to get great work out of people and to make sure it was done on time, which is important in newspapers,” Mr Kirkwood said.

“Best of all, he was born and raised here and loved the place, and once you got past the gruff exterior, he cared very much for the people around him.”

Mr Wells’ sister Beth Parkinson agreed: “Kevin was like a freshly baked loaf of bread, a bit crisp and crusty on the outside but always warm and soft on the inside.” 

In tributes on social media, past and present Herald staff told of Wellsy’s creativity and speed as night editor.

He was regarded as one of the paper's best leaders, craftily putting the pages together each night, taking late-breaking stories in his stride, and never losing his cool despite the pressure of ever-present deadlines.

As chief of staff he was as an ideas man who helped reporters produce first-class reads on everything from natural disasters to award-winning investigations.

Born at Western Suburbs Maternity Hospital, Waratah, in 1949, he grew up in Lake Macquarie and was educated at Booragul High School.

Mr Wells began his career at the Newcastle Herald as a cadet journalist in 1969.

Over the next few decades he held senior management positions and helped oversee the modernisation of the Herald from broadsheet to tabloid.

Rod Quinn, the editorial director of Fairfax’s regional division Australian Community Media, said he counted himself among the many who would be eternally grateful to Mr Wells for teaching them not only about journalism but life in general.

“Kevin had a profound influence on a generation of journalists, editors and readers,” said Mr Quinn, who started his career as a cadet under Mr Wells at the Herald.

Mr Wells worked in the Canberra press corps for the Army during a period of national service in the 1970s, spent time as editor of the Port Macquarie News and had a public relations stint with the Rice Growers Association, before returning to journalism.

He is survived by his wife Margaret, son Luke and grandchildren Harmonee and Joel. His eldest son Matthew passed away almost three years ago.