Citizen Sports Editor Jeff Gillespie succumbs to cancer

Special Photo
 Citizen Sports Editor Jeff Gillespie looks over the team rosters in the press box just before a Heritage High School football game last season. Gillespie, who was sports editor for more than 12 years, died Friday night following a lengthy illness. 

Special Photo Citizen Sports Editor Jeff Gillespie looks over the team rosters in the press box just before a Heritage High School football game last season. Gillespie, who was sports editor for more than 12 years, died Friday night following a lengthy illness. 

CONYERS — Rockdale Citizen and Newton Citizen Sports Editor Jeff Gillespie died Friday evening at an Atlanta hospice after a long battle against cancer.

Gillespie, 44, was sports editor at the Citizen for 12 and a half years and during that time became a fixture at prep sports events in Rockdale County.

He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and continued to work while receiving treatment. He suffered from other ailments while being treated for cancer, which eventually caused him to cut back on his workload. Gillespie was moved from a long-term care facility at DeKalb Medical Center to Hospice Atlanta on Wednesday.

The body is to be cremated. Visitation is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at St. Pius X Catholic Church, located at 2621 Ga. Highway 20 S.E., in Conyers. The funeral mass will follow at 7 p.m.

Citizen Publisher and Editor Alice Queen praised Gillespie's professionalism and work ethic he brought to the paper's sports department.

"In looking back on notes that I took from one of Jeff's references at the Marietta Daily Journal, I saw that I had written ‘extremely reliable.' Truer words were never spoken, but Jeff was much more than that," she said. "He was our talented colleague and our well-loved friend. Jeff had a certitude about the things that were important to him — his faith, his love for his family, his work, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — that never wavered. He is greatly missed in our newsroom."

Several people in the community who worked with Gillespie echoed Queen. Jim McBrayer, former athletic director at Salem High School and a current member of the Rockdale County Board of Education, remembered Gillespie as a consummate professional and as a friend.

"Whenever Jeff quoted you in the paper, you knew you wouldn't be taken out of context and you'd be quoted correctly," McBrayer said. "From an athletic director standpoint and a coach standpoint, we really appreciated that."

McBrayer said most of all, Gillespie was a good friend who will be missed by the community.

"It's difficult for all of us, but Jeff will leave us with good memories," McBrayer said. "He will make our lives better, for sure. He was a gentle guy, and you could count on him being at all the high school ball games. It'd be freezing cold and he'd have on shorts — that's just the way he was."

Chuck Landy, athletic director and tennis coach at Heritage High School, said he and his coaches enjoyed a "fantastic relationship" working with Gillespie.

"Jeff was just such a great guy to be around," Landy said. "We enjoyed seeing him come out, whether it was to practice or to games, you could just tell he was someone who loved what he was doing. He was so serious about his job, but he had a lot of fun with it, too."

Landy also remembered Gillespie's professionalism.

"We all just felt like he had such good knowledge about every sport," Landy said. "It didn't matter if it was football or basketball or volleyball. He knew what to look for and what questions to ask."

Blake Craft, principal of Shoal Creek Elementary and a volunteer assistant tennis coach for Heritage, said Gillespie brought something special to sports writing at the Citizen.

"I just think when Jeff came to the Rockdale Citizen, he took sports writing to another level," Craft said.

Gillespie also went out of his way to become involved with the sports teams and players he covered, Craft said, noting that Gillespie and his wife, Linda, sometimes rode the bus with the tennis team to out-of-town matches.

"I think he cared about the kids, he knew what was going on around the county, and he got involved with the kids," Craft said.

Craft and Gillespie also participated in the same fantasy football league, along with 10 other guys.

"Jeff and I had a team together — he was the coach and I was the owner," Craft said. "Jeff was a big part of that, and he was a big inspiration. He did a lot of writing on our blog for that."

Gillespie was a Steelers fan and Craft was a Cowboys fan, so they named their team "The Holy Alliance."

"He brought the ‘holy' to it and I brought the ‘alliance,'" Craft said.

"We were successful until I started making some decisions, and then we weren't very successful after that," Craft added.

A Pittsburgh native, Gillespie came to the Rockdale Citizen from The Marietta Daily Journal where he served as assistant sports editor. Before coming to Georgia, he was a sports writer for nine years with The Intelligencer of Wheeling, in Wheeling, W.Va., where he covered professional sports including the Wheeling Nailers minor league hockey, Major League Baseball Pittsburgh Pirates and his beloved Steelers.

He was a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English and professional writing in 1988.

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the Georgia Battlefield Association, 7 Camden Road, N.E., Atlanta, Ga. 30309 and the Gettysburg Foundation 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Pa. 17325

Gillespie's obituary will appear in Tuesday's Citizen.