Benjamin R. Cole · 1989
When Benjamin Richason Cole went to Washington, D.C., to serve as Indianapolis Star Bureau chief, Harry S. Truman was president.
Since that hot July day in 1949, Ben has watched, reported on and mingled with seven other presidents who have sat in the Oval Office. On another July day in 1986, after 48 years as a newspaperman, 42 years with the Indianapolis Star, Ben retired. He was dean of the Indiana press corps in Washington.
He took with him a multitude of honors from his print colleagues and a host of accolades from those he has covered for so many years.
Born in Indianapolis, Ben first knew he wanted to make journalism his profession while attending Butler University in 1935. He landed a job as a newspaper carrier manager for the former Indianapolis Times. One of those he managed was Ted Stevens, later a United States Senator from Alaska.
At one recent Capitol Hill luncheon Ben was introduced as Stevens first boss.
Ben began his newspaper career as a reporter for the Terre Haute Star in 1938. He joined the Indianapolis Star as a copy editor in 1944 and worked his way through the ranks to statehouse reporter, assistant city editor and finally city editor in 1949.
One of his favorite stories happened shortly after Ben arrived in Washington. It involved a reporter for the Kansas City Star who, as Ben learned, had a reputation for being a better drinker than a journalist.
This reporter passed along a tip to Ben and other colleagues that President Truman was going to appoint Sherman (Shay) Minton, a former Indiana senator, to the Supreme Court.
No other reporter but Ben used the story. “In my innocence and youth I looked at him (the Kansas City reporter) as a wise old oracle. Fortunately, the story turned out to be true and the Indianapolis Star was credited nationwide for breaking the story,” Ben recently recalled.
We could say much more about Ben and the numerous honors accorded him. But let’s hear what others have said of him:
First, Vice President Dan Quayle, a former U.S. senator, had this to say: “Ben has been fair, objective and exceedingly accurate in this reporting throughout his long and distinguished career. “Ben Cole is a reporter’s reporter who has a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of the nation’s capital.”
U.S. Senator Richard G. Lugar, who was mayor of Indianapolis before going to Congress, long has followed Ben’s work. Lugar said at Ben’s retirement: “Long before I came to Washington, Ben had established a reputation for comprehensive coverage of national politics. It will be difficult to imagine the Washington scene without Ben Cole at each press conference and important committee meetings, reporter’s notebook in hand.”
Al Cromley, Washington bureau chief for the Daily Oklahoman, who has known Ben since 1953, said of Ben on his retirement:
“Ben has the fantastic ability to express himself beautifully, using Hoosier allusions and humor…no matter what the topic, he always had an Indiana anecdote to illustrate his point. He never lost his roots.”
Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of the Indianapolis Star, said of Ben: “I was proud to work with him and proud of what he did for the paper. I count him as a good friend.”
Lawrence S. Connor, managing editor and former city editor of The Indianapolis Star, had this to say of Ben: “Ben Cole, how do you characterize him? Loyal, dependable, good-humored, eminently sensible. Religious. Conservative and considerate.
“Always excellent company; a great story teller. He’s a man with an endless memory. One who can recall an incident of 40 years ago and in great detail.
“I am grateful to him for the many times he lifted my spirits over the phone with some choice insider’s tale of Washington life, or by recalling life on the Indianapolis Star in those days long before computers and carpeting moved into the city room.
“But overriding all of his attributes was the one he cherished most. He was a first-rate newspaperman. He is a worthy addition to the Hall of Fame.”
Although retired, Ben remains a first-rate newspaperman. He contributes columns occasionally to the Indianapolis Star about national political life. They are most perceptive.