TUPELO – Mississippi lost one of its most respected and tenacious journalistic voices Sunday with the unexpected death of Norma L. Fields, 86, the Daily Journal’s first Capitol Bureau correspondent and former longtime reporter.
Fields, a native of New Albany, had been hospitalized in Tupelo on Sept. 3 after a heart attack, but family and friends said she appeared to have been making a good recovery when she suffered another coronary on Sunday.
She resided at Traceway Manor in Tupelo.
Fields began her long career with the Daily Journal in 1964 covering the Northeast Mississippi region as a general assignment reporter, but she made her impressive record as a writer and investigative journalist in reporting on politics, politicians, public affairs and the Mississippi Legislature.
Fields covered the Journal’s full circulation area for almost 12 years before moving on permanent assignment to Jackson in 1975. She covered the Capitol, politics and the affairs of state government until her retirement in late 1988, and later wrote freelance columns for the Mississippi Business Journal and, occasionally, the Daily Journal.
She was the first woman to cover the Mississippi Capitol on a full-time basis and was well-known around the state as an outspoken advocate for women’s advancement in government, business and the professions.
Bill Minor, her longtime colleague in the Capitol press corps and close friend, said Fields was a “digger for stories, the kind of reporter we don’t see very often anymore.”
Minor described Fields as “feisty and belligerent” in going after facts.
“She challenged everybody, whether rich or a pauper,” he said.
Minor said Fields was especially noted for “looking over the shoulder” of the Mississippi Highway Commission. Minor said “she probably saved Mississippi taxpayers millions of dollars” with her reporting.
Speaker of the House Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, was in his second term in 1987 when he became heavily committed, with Rep. John David Pennebaker, D-New Albany, in an effort to pass a fully funded statewide highway program.
“She was relentless in covering that issue,” McCoy recalled, “and she demanded openness in the meetings we held about it, and you know we didn’t have an open conference rule back then, even though we should have. We tried to make sure she knew when the meetings were happening, and she never missed one.”
McCoy said Fields’ hard, factual reporting on the highway issue helped win its eventual adoption.
“Now, of course, Norma would always gnaw on everybody a little bit, and we deserved it,” he said. “She was the epitome of a professional journalist.”
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, a former Journal student intern, said Fields was “self-invented. She became a political reporter and bureau chief by an act of her will. And, I think it is notable that she always had the full backing of George McLean, the Journal’s owner and publisher. She could not have done the kind of reporting she did without Mr. McLean’s backing.”
Fields’ longtime friend, New Albany attorney Norman Gillespie, practiced in the courts of the region when Fields started working at the Journal in 1964.
“She was always so knowledgeable, and she was tenacious, and always visible for the Journal,” Gillespie said.
Lloyd Gray, executive editor of the Daily Journal, first met Fields when he was a young Capitol reporter and said she quickly became a generous mentor and friend.
“Norma Fields’ work embodied the Journal’s core mission,” Gray said. “She was in journalism because she wanted to make Northeast Mississippi and the state a better place, and that work will be her legacy.”
Memorial services are set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, with visitation preceding at 1 p.m.
A full obituary will be published later this week.
Contact Joe Rutherford (662) 678-1597 or email@example.com.
JOE RUTHERFORD / NEMS Daily Journal