Charles House, a former editor of the London Sentinel-Echo and author of several books, including a biography of Lexington artist Henry Faulkner, died Wednesday at his Clay County home. He was 72 and had been in poor health for some time.
A Clay County native, House spent several years in Florida before he returned to Clay County in 2006. House then went on to publish several local history books, including Blame it on Salt and Heroes and Skallywags. Both works focused on Clay County's history. House published a total of five books.
In 2013, House received the Kentucky Historical Society's Award of Distinction for his work on Clay County history.
Author and newspaper editor were just two of several titles House held. He was also a social worker, musician, concrete inspector, boat builder and graphic artist.
He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University in 1970 with an art degree but played drums in several bands before becoming a social worker, said his widow, Nora House.
He left social work for journalism, eventually becoming the editor of the London newspaper in Laurel County, a position he held for eight years.
Charles House was editor when Al Smith, a veteran journalist and longtime host of KET's Comment on Kentucky, purchased the newspaper in 1981. House and Smith sometimes butted heads at work, yet remained friends for decades.
"He didn't hesitate to tell me when I was wrong and I didn't hesitate to tell him when he was wrong," Smith said Thursday. "But he was very honest and straightforward and a great writer. I am fortunate to call him my friend."
House became interested in Faulkner's work after seeing an exhibition of the flamboyant artist's work in Eastern Kentucky. Nora House said her husband went to the exhibit expecting to write a review for the Sentinel-Echo. He had low expectations. But the art major was impressed by Faulkner's work. He tried to contact Faulkner, who also grew up in Clay County, but got his answering machine. Faulkner called him back the next day and left a message.
The next morning, Dec. 3. 1981, Faulkner was killed in a car crash by a drunken driver at West Third Street and North Broadway in Lexington.
"The next morning I awoke to see a banner headline across the top of the front page of the Lexington Herald announcing Henry's death in a car accident," House said in an April 2014 Herald-Leader article. "I felt all the requisite chills, and right there, the news story I had planned to write became a book."
That book was published in 1988 by the University of Tennessee Press.
After he left the Sentinel-Echo, he was director of tourism for the local chamber of commerce for about a year. The Houses then moved to Apalachicola, Fla., where he worked for the local newspaper. A story House wrote about a new bridge in the area impressed the bridge contractor. House was offered a job as a concrete inspector for the new bridge, a job he held for more than a year.
After moving to Florida, the Houses wanted to buy a sail boat but had no money. So House built one using a kit. The Houses then rebuilt a second boat and lived on it for three years, said Nora House. The two sailed from Apalachicola to Sarasota, Fla.
In Sarasota, House reinvented himself again and became a graphic designer and taught graphic design at the local community college.
"That art degree finally paid off," Nora House said.
They lived in Sarasota for 18 years before returning to Clay County in 2006, Nora House said.
It was after returning to Clay County that Charles House focused on his writing. He was surprised at how well both of his Clay County history books sold and how well received they have been in Clay County, his wife said. His other books include Sailing Down the Pike, a novel, and One with the Fox, a collection of essays.
"It got people re-involved with their history and wanting to make Clay County a better place," Nora House said. "I will miss his invincible spirit and his kindness."
Nora and Charles House would have been married for 44 years in September.
In addition to Nora House, Charles House is survived by a son, John House; daughter, Sarah Greenlaw; two grandchildren; and brother, Glenn C. House of Louisville.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Rominger Funeral Home Chapel in Manchester. Visitation will be from 1 to 3 p.m.