Newspaperman James Franklin ‘‘Jim’’ Comstock (February 25, 1911-May 22, 1996) was born in Richwood, the son of Harry Clinton Comstock and Myrtle Blanche Cunningham Comstock. He received his B.A. from Marshall College in 1934.
He was a teacher at Richwood High School from 1938 until 1942 and also wrote for the Clarksburg Telegram during that period. Later he worked for a defense plant before serving in the U.S. Navy, 1944–46. Back in Richwood, he founded the Richwood News Leader in 1946 and served as its editor. In 1957, he founded the West Virginia Hillbilly, a weekly (‘‘weakly,’’ according to its masthead) newspaper that circulated both inside and outside the state. The paper was characterized by Comstock’s wry humor and conservative politics.
In addition to his newspaper writing, Comstock’s publications include the book, Pa and Ma and Mr. Kennedy,a 50-volume West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, and a collection titled Best of Hillbilly compiled and edited by Otto Whittaker. Comstock operated a bookstore adjacent to the offices of the Hillbilly, and he started the Mountain State Press to publish books of West Virginia interest. Comstock ran as a Republican for Congress in 1963, losing to incumbent John M. Slack Jr. He also founded the University of Hard Knocks to recognize the accomplishments of successful individuals who never attended college. Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi hosted the ‘‘university’s’’ annual commencement ceremony on its campus.
Among Comstock’s best-known practical jokes was once including pungent ramp juice in the ink used to print the Richwood News Leader. The odor when he mailed that week’s papers was so offensive that he received a reprimand from the postmaster general. (This prank has often been attributed to the Hillbilly, but Best of Hillbilly identifies the smelly newspaper as the News Leader.) On another occasion he perpetuated an elaborate hoax involving the use of a captive mountain lion, to convince editor Calvin Price of neighboring Pocahontas County that mountain lions still existed in West Virginia.
A popular speaker and the best-known newspaperman of his generation, Jim Comstock was Mr. West Virginia in the hearts of many Mountaineers. He spearheaded the purchase and preservation of Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl Buck’s birthplace at Hillsboro, helped pay for the rescue of the historic Cass Scenic Railroad, and frequently conducted quizzes on West Virginia history for students. He sold the Hillbilly to Sandy McCauley in 1992. Comstock died at St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery at the top of a hill overlooking his native Richwood.
This Article was written by Tom D. Miller
Last Revised on October 05, 2012
Kelly, Richard A. Outstanding West Virginians. Charleston: Bold Enterprises, 1969.
Famed Hillbilly Editor Dies at 85. Marshall Journalism School AlumNews, 1996.