John Talcott Hough, whose newspaper career spanned nearly half a century and who retired 16 years ago to the family home called “Fish Hook” in the woods of North Tisbury, died on Sunday of natural causes at the JML Care Center in Falmouth. He was 87.
Mr. Hough, who was known to all as “Jack,” was born in New Bedford in 1922 into a newspaper family. His father, George A. Hough Jr., was city editor of the New Bedford Evening Standard. The elder George Hough, Mr. Hough’s grandfather, was managing editor, a position he’d held since before the turn of the century. Mr. Hough and his older brother, George 3rd, grew up with talk of newspapers in the air, and the craft was in their blood from an early age.
Mr. Hough’s family came to Falmouth in 1929, when his father bought the Falmouth Enterprise and took over as publisher. Mr. Hough attended the Lenox School in western Massachusetts, where he was captain of the football team and one of two graduates in the class of 1940 to receive silver medal for scholarship.
He attended Haverford College in Pennsylvania and played guard on the 1942 football team, which went undefeated for the only time in school history. In May of that year, on a blind date, Mr. Hough met a chestnut-haired Bryn Mawr College English major named Mary Small Kurtz. They were married in 1944 in York, Pennsylvania, Miss Kurtz’s home.
Mr. Hough was a lieutenant in the Marines by then. He and his bride spent the next 15 months at military bases across the South, and in 1945 Lt. Hough was sent to the Pacific island of Okinawa to serve with the Marine Air Defense Command. On Okinawa he saw combat and won promotion to first lieutenant.
He was discharged in August, 1946, and went to work as a reporter for the York Gazette and Daily. Years later he recalled what he described as his “apprenticeship” in the small factory city above the Maryland border:
“I look back on my five years with the Gazette and Daily with undiluted nostalgia. In my case it was the opportunity for a callow youth to learn the rudiments of an old and honest trade; to go out and report the news as it happened, as we saw it.
“We attended aldermanic hearings, the police court, school board meetings, and the township commission meetings. We covered the churches and visited undertakers, hospitals, the YMCA and YWCA, courthouse and county fair.
“The news for us was a live thing, to be hunted down and captured.”
All this was prelude. In 1951 Mr. Hough came home, with his growing family, to Falmouth and the Enterprise. He began as a reporter, took over the day-to-day running of the paper by degrees, and became publisher with the death of his father in 1976. Mary Hough died in 1987. Mr. Hough eased into semi-retirement in 1991 and was succeeded by his two youngest children, Margaret Hough Russell and William Henry.
Mr. Hough never hesitated to take a firm and unpopular stand in his editorials, but he believed that a newspaper’s primary obligation is honest and comprehensive reporting — “telling the truth as plainly as possible.” A good newspaper, he said, develops a “compact” with its readers to give them the news complete and unvarnished.
He had visited the Vineyard and Fish Hook all his life, and had always intended to retire here. He came in 1994. It was a quiet life. He ordered books by mail — dozens and dozens over the years — and read them all. He enjoyed old movies and said there was never a better one than “Casablanca.” He took long walks with his bull terrier, Jock, and cut wood for his fireplaces, sawing and splitting by hand. He cleared brush, planted trees and shrubs. He was well into his eighties before his physical vitality began to ebb.
Mr. Hough cherished the English language and used it with precision and quiet elegance. At Fish Hook he kept a daily logbook, as his grandfather had done, chronicling life in the country.
“I was downstairs at 5:30 A.M.,” he wrote one June. “Not long after 7 o’clock we set out on the morning walk. The woods and the beach and the water were all lovely. Has this corner of North Tisbury ever been so green?”
Fall was his favorite season. “There was no breeze,” he wrote one October. “The Sound was a smooth expanse, robin’s egg blue in the soft morning sunlight. Small waves lapped at the shore.”
And one late August: “After noon it cleared. By late afternoon we were in September — that crystal clear air, high cottony white cumulus, an infinity of dazzling blue sky, bright but gentle sunshine. We are approaching the best part of the North Tisbury year.”
In addition to his brother and two youngest children, Mr. Hough is survived by a son, John Jr. of West Tisbury; his daughters, Mary Hough-Schroeder of Orono, Maine, and Julia Hough of Weehawken, New Jersey; and by seven grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held in Falmouth at a date still to be determined.