Vance Trimble (1913–2021)
Vance Henry Trimble was a prolific award-winning journalist, biographer, and newspaperman from Harrison (Boone County). In 1960, Trimble won the Pulitzer Prize for national coverage, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for distinguished Washington coverage, and the Raymond Clapper Award for that year’s best reporting.
Vance Trimble was born in Harrison on July 6, 1913. His father, Guy L. Trimble, was a lawyer, and his mother, Josie Trimble, was a poet and writer. By 1920, anti-union violence and mob rule, culminating in what has been called the Harrison Railroad Riot, forced Guy Trimble to resign as mayor and move his family to Okemah, Oklahoma, where Vance Trimble grew up. Trimble’s mother directed plays at Okemah’s Crystal Theater, and when Trimble was fourteen, he was hired by the Okemah Daily Leader as a “cub reporter.” He worked there after school for $1.50 a week.
In 1929, his family moved to Wewoka, and he graduated from Wewoka High School in 1931. Trimble was editor of the school newspaper, The Little Tiger. He also worked as a reporter for the Wewoka Times-Democrat covering local politics, sports, and other news. Just after graduation, he married Elzene Miller.
During the Great Depression, Trimble and his wife traveled around the country in a 1926 Chevrolet coupe with bald tires searching for work with newspapers and doing typewriter repair. After more than a year on the road, Trimble landed jobs at the Oklahoma cities of Okmulgee, Muskogee, and Tulsa, though he was later fired for joining a workers’ union called the Newspaper Guild.
The couple moved to Texas, winding up in Beaumont, then Port Arthur, and finally Houston. While living in Port Arthur, their only child, Carol Ann, was born, and Trimble applied for work at the Houston Press. After being denied a job there, he subscribed to the paper, studied it, and sent in a critique on what changes could be made to improve the paper. Subsequently, he was offered a job at the Houston Press as copyeditor, and he worked there for the next seventeen years.
During World War II, Trimble was stationed at Camp Beale, California, as a member of the Signal Corps. There, he ran the base newspaper for two years. After he left the military, Trimble moved the family to Houston, where he had a new home built on a small lot. In 1955, he was promoted to the Scripps Howard National Bureau in Washington DC to run the night desk there. At the time, there were twenty-seven newspapers in the Scripps Howard Newspaper Alliance.
Trimble was always looking for stories to write outside of his job. A thirty-year-old book by journalist Raymond Clapper about nepotism in Congress inspired the young reporter to conduct his own investigation into all 535 members of Congress at the time. His findings were published in a series of columns for the Washington Daily News over six months. Trimble had found that at least twenty percent of the members of Congress had relatives or close friends on their payroll, which was very suspect. The stories caused a great deal of grassroots outrage. Trimble was even berated on the Senate floor by Senator Iris Blitch of Georgia. Trimble’s findings forced the Senate majority leader, and future U.S. president, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to open Congress’s secret payroll records to the public for the first time in over three decades. The Washington Daily News hailed it with this headline: “Victory for the Taxpayers and Vance Trimble.”
Due to his reporting on nepotism in Congress, in 1960, Vance Trimble was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Sigma Delta Chi Award, and the Raymond Clapper Award, making him one of the few to earn this “Triple Crown.” In 1963, he began running the Kentucky Post. He stayed there as its top editor for nearly two decades. Under Trimble, the Kentucky newspaper went from solely focusing on a Democratic readership to becoming more bipartisan, allowing space for both parties. Trimble was also instrumental in the creation of Northern Kentucky State College.
In 1970, his first book, The Uncertain Miracle: The History of Hyperbaric Medicine, was published. He was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalists Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1979, he left the Kentucky Post and the world of newspaper journalism to write several books and e-books. Among those books are Sam Walton: The Inside Story of America’s Richest Man (1990), The Astonishing Mr. Scripps: The Turbulent Life of America’s Penny Press Lord (1992), Choctaw Kisses, Bullets & Blood (2012), a book of his mother’s poetry called Poetry with My Love (2000), and Will Rogers and His Daredevil Movie (July 2012).
Elzene Trimble died on July 5, 1999, at their home in Covington, Kentucky. Throughout his career, Trimble had supplemented his income by designing, building, and selling homes in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. After his wife’s death, he sold his home in Kentucky and relocated to Wewoka to be near his wife’s grave. He later built an electronic “singing tower” near his wife’s grave at Wewoka’s Oakwood Cemetery as a tribute to her.
On July 26, 2013, weeks after turning 100, Trimble was interviewed by Tanya Finchum and Alex Bishop of Oklahoma State University. When asked about the secret of his longevity, he responded, “First of all, stay in love, eat light, not too much whisky, no cigarettes, don’t walk under any ladders, and watch out for black cats.”
Trimble began writing with the help of computer software when he lost his eyesight; his and Elzene’s library of more than 5,000 volumes was donated to the Wewoka Public Library, and he gave $25,000 to build an expansion to house them there. The couple’s papers were split between the University of Oklahoma at Norman and Oklahoma State University at Stillwater.
Trimble died on June 16, 2021, at his home in Wewoka.
For additional information:
Anson, Karen. “Harrison Gave Birth to Pulitzer Winner—Vance Trimble, 100.” HarrisonDaily.com, August 21, 2013. http://harrisondaily.com/harrison-gave-birth-to-pulitzer-winner-vance-trimble/article_077f2898-0916-11e3-852f-0019bb2963f4.html (accessed July 11, 2022).
Noll, Jessica. “Former Northern Kentucky Newspaper Editor Vance Trimble Celebrates his 100th Birthday.” WCPO Cincinnati, August 7, 2013.
Schudel, Matt. “Vance Trimble, Who Won Pulitzer Prize by Exposing Congressional Corruption, Dies at 107.” Washington Post, June 19, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/vance-trimble-died/2021/06/19/475cd4f4-d129-11eb-8cd2-4e95230cfac2_story.html (accessed July 11, 2022).
Cody Lynn Berry
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
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