Roy C. Coleson was publisher and editor of The Fayette Falcon in Somerville for 34 years, and in 1942-43 served as president of the Tennessee Press Association, having previously served three years as secretary-treasurer, and vice president 1941-1942.
Born in New Albany, Mississippi, he was a third generation newspaperman, following both his father and grandfather in weekly newspapers. He was educated in New Albany city schools, and on February 1, 1918, his 17th birthday, enlisted in the United States Army, and served with the
American Expeditionary Forces in France until discharged in July 1919.
He began journalism studies at Birmingham Southern College, but soon initiated his professional association with newspapers and commercial printing plants. He worked as a Linotype operator at the Birmingham Age-Herald, the Chattanooga Times and the Knoxville Journal. In 1928, he bought his first newspaper, The Tri County News, in Belmont, Mississippi, and also owned the newspaper in Red Bay, Alabama. He was a news correspondent for the Memphis Commercial Appeal after moving to Somerville in 1931, where he spent his remaining career.
In the 1930s, he was among the publishers who worked to reactivate the Tennessee Press Association, having previously served as the TPA volunteer executive secretary. In September 1940, Coleson was serving also as a TPA Director, and was among those who negotiated terms of TPA’s first cooperative operating agreement with the University of Tennessee.
In February 1941, Coleson worked as a member of the legislative committee that drafted terms of the first Newspaper Definition Law proposed to the Tennessee legislature as part of the TPA legislative program. When association directors met in Nashville July 19, 1941, it was Coleson who suggested TPA establish a press clipping service as a source of association revenue. And on November 17, 1941, when the TPA incorporation charter was issued by the Tennessee Secretary of State, the signature of Roy Coleson was among the original 14 incorporators.
Coleson chaired the committee that planned, promoted, and conducted in 1941 what was to become the annual TPA Press Institute, and served as its chairman from 1951 to 1955. He also was chairman of the Election Laws Study Committee in 1957-58 and 1961-62, which successfully proposed and saw enactment of Tennessee election law reforms to improve accountability and transparency procedures.
In 1949, he chaired the TPA legislative committee that drafted what became Tennessee’s “honest mistake” libel law to protect newspapers from damages resulting from publications based on inadvertent errors. Coleson’s committee also drafted in 1949 the first Tennessee Newsman’s Shield Law, which the state legislature would enact in 1973.
Under Coleson’s direction, his 1,500 subscriber The Fayette Falcon was a consistent winner in the annual UT-TPA newspaper contests. In August 1940, it won the first award competition for local news coverage, and at one time Coleson’s newspaper held 35 awards for editorials, public service, local features, and makeup and appearance, more than any other state newspaper.
Coleson was an early and vigorous promoter of a Tennessee Valley Authority hook-up for Somerville’s Municipal Light and Water Plant, and for improvement and expansion of the city’s electric power distribution system, water system and sewer system. He worked for organization of a volunteer fire department and the purchase of Somerville’s first fire engine in 1935.
His newspaper consistently supported programs for better farming practices, in cooperation with the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. As needs for area industrial development became clear, he worked with local officials, bankers, and businessmen to attract industrial plants to Fayette County.
He supported county schools and was largely responsible for forming and training school bus safety teams, and for providing the scholastic letters awarded at Fayette County High School to academic honors students.
Coleson was highly regarded for his fair, impartial and complete coverage of local news in The Fayette Falcon.