Columbus native, former newspaper publisher John R. Cornett dies at 81

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 13, 2014 

Columbus native John R. Cornett, who served as publisher for daily newspapers in Florida and Indiana, lost his battle with lung cancer on Saturday.

He was 81.

At the time of his death, he was president and chief executive officer of Classic Sports International, a sports travel agency in Columbia, S.C., that he co-founded.

Cornett began his newspaper career at the Ledger-Enquirer where he worked for 20 years.

Jack Basset, a retired Columbus advertising agency executive, knew Cornett during his time at the newspaper. He said he recently chatted with him on Facebook.

"It was obvious he was dedicated to his family and his faith," he said.

Cornett's daughter, Virginia Cornett, agreed with Basset, saying the greatest gift her father gave her and her brother was his sense of integrity and business ethics.

"He always worked very hard because he wanted to provide for his family," she said.

She said what she will miss most is her father's wicked sense of humor.

Cornett was born Oct. 12, 1932, in Columbus and was a graduate of Columbus High School. He served four years in the U.S. Air Force. He was a weather observer and was discharged as a sergeant.

After a short time working for an advertising firm, in 1955, he joined the Ledger-Enquirer as an assistant promotion manager and held several positions, including national advertising manager, director of personnel and public relations, and administrative assistant to the publisher.

As promotion manager at the Ledger-Enquirer, he won a first-place award in the Georgia Press Association's annual contest four years in a row.

He was on the board of directors of the Columbus Lions Club and the Better Business Bureau. He served as treasurer of Goodwill Industries.

In 1975, he became publisher of the Boca Raton News in Boca Raton, Fla. In 1980, he was named the publisher of the Gary Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind. Both were in the Knight-Ridder group as was Columbus then. He retired from the Gary newspaper in 1985.

Upon his retirement in Gary, C.W. Baker, Knight-Ridder vice president of news, said that Cornett understood a community and the role of a newspaper covering that community.

"He's always been a humanitarian and gave good direction to covering the Gary area," Baker said.

In Gary, Cornett led a United Way campaign and was program chairman for the Northwest Indiana Urban League.

After his career in newspapers, the lover of sports, especially fishing and hunting, served as publisher of Sporting Classics magazine in Camden, S.C., before starting Classic Sports International.

Cornett will be cremated.

Beside his daughter, Virginia, Cornett is also survived by his wife, Dianne, a former Miss Columbus who he married in July 1956; a son, John Cornett III; a sister, Maryann Lyttle; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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