George Lee Thurston, III

George Lee Thurston, III

Culpeper, Culpeper County, Virginia, USA
Death 20 Mar 2001 (aged 75)
Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida, USA
Burial Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida, USA
Plot Block / Lot or Sec # / Space J / LOT 28, SEC 2 / 1, Lot Descr
Memorial ID 100102475 · View Source
Suggest Edits

GEORGE LEE THURSTON III was born October 01, 1925 in Culpeper Co., VA. He married MARYJANE BLIZZARD. She was born September 06, 1927 in Philadelphia, Philadelphia Co., PA.


Published Sunday, January 14, 2001 - Tallahassee Democrat

George Thurston: a pioneer in Florida broadcast journalism

By Gerald Ensley

There was a time when radio and television reporting were young. It was a time when a young man with a scientific mind, an unquenchable curiosity and a desire to serve the public could put his mark on journalism.
George Thurston was such a boy. And a half-century later, he ranks among the leading contributors to Florida's electronic media history.
"George was one of the pioneers of television reporting," said former Gov. Reubin Askew. "He was a role model of professionalism. He had an innate sense of fairness even as he asked piercing questions."
Thurston, 75, is now ailing. A radio, television and print reporter since World War II - including with the Tallahassee Democrat - Thurston has a terminal pulmonary disease.
Thurston has greeted the prognosis with his usual mix of candor and impish humor.
Afflicted with tuberculosis as a teen-ager, he lost part of his lungs as a young man and suffered a curvature of the spine that gave him a distinctive tilted gait throughout his career. He endured heart bypass surgery five years ago.
"I long ago realized I wasn't going to live 300 years," Thurston said last week. "I do have an aunt who's 101 - but she's totally non compos mentis."
Thurston remains totally compos mentis. He and his wife of 48 years, Maryjane, a retired Leon County teacher and school administrator, have put his business affairs in order. He recently completed a book about his great-grandfather. He continues to field questions about his specialties - amateur radio broadcasting and North Florida politics - from a comfortable chair in his Gibbs Drive home.
And he looks back over his groundbreaking career as a member of Florida's capital press corps.
Thurston joined that company in 1955, as the news director of Tallahassee's WTAL radio station. A year later, he became an independent radio and television news reporter, working for himself and a Jacksonville TV station for the next 18 years.

Covered bus boycott

In 1956, he was the chief electronic reporter to cover the Tallahassee bus boycott, posting nationwide radio reports of the city's first organized civil rights protest. That same year, he became the first radio-TV broadcaster in Florida to cover the capitol full-time.
In 1957, he initiated the first regular television broadcasts from the chambers of the Florida Legislature.
In 1970, he and an assistant uncovered a 1948 "white supremacy" support speech by G. Harrold Carswell, which toppled the Supreme Court nomination of the late Tallahassee judge.
In 1974, Thurston became program director of WFSU-FM. In 1979, he began a free-lance writing career he maintained until 1990.

Chronicled Ted Bundy

He became a prolific author of books, magazine articles and newspaper stories. He was one of the leading chroniclers of serial killer Ted Bundy, publishing articles in numerous newspapers and books.
He also became a correspondent for the Tallahassee Democrat. Though he uncovered several major stories in the Florida panhandle - including the murder of two Calhoun County brothers - he became best known for his weekly fishing column.
"He's always been afraid that (fishing column) will be his epitaph," Maryjane said with a chuckle.
Yet Thurston's reputation is firmly staked on his career as a news reporter.
"George was a tough reporter, who invested a lot of shoe leather in stories," said former capital reporter Dave Schultz, now the editorial page editor for the Lakeland Ledger. "His work stood out as what television reporting can be and ought to be."

A nose for news

Thurston was born in Culpeper, Va. His father was a weekly newspaper editor and publisher, who died when Thurston was 10. His mother became a bookkeeper. His mother's father was a railroad telegrapher, with a house full of gadgets and a wellspring of stories. By his early teens, Thurston had his own chemistry lab in the attic and had become a ham radio operator.
Classified 4-F because of his tuberculosis, he was not drafted for World War II and won a chemistry scholarship to William & Mary College in Virginia. But he wearied of the classroom in his second year and dropped out to become a broadcaster with a Culpeper radio station. He worked at radio stations and newspapers in Virginia and Pennsylvania for the next several years, before accepting the post with WTAL for $85 a week.
"I got a taste for news," he said of his grandfather and father. "If I was a pioneer, it was in the sense that circumstances projected me into a rapidly moving situation and I had some ideas that comported well with that."
The 1956 bus boycott was an example. Though raised in a family that embraced segregation, Thurston early on recognized blacks "were getting the (crummy) end of the stick." Thus he covered the bus boycott, and later the sit-ins at Tallahassee lunch counters, with enthusiasm. When WTAL officials tried to discourage his coverage of the bus boycott, which was picked up by the CBS radio network, he quit to become a free-lance broadcaster.
The WTAL "station manager said I was giving the city a bad name," Thurston said. "I thought the City Commission was doing that. I was just reporting."

Helped doom Carswell

Thurston's greatest national exposure came in 1970. He had struck up an association with a Florida State University student, Ed Roeder, who was active in campus politics. Roeder opposed the nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Carswell, of Tallahassee, and tried to get Thurston to do a story about Carswell's racist leanings.
Thurston explained there had to be substance to make such allegations and challenged Roeder to find proof.
Ultimately, Roeder uncovered a speech Carswell made in 1948 as a candidate for the Georgia legislature in which Carswell stated "a firm, vigorous belief in the principles of white supremacy."
Thurston confronted Carswell with the speech - "God almighty, did I say that; that's horrible," Carswell said - and broadcast the story on stations in Jacksonville and Miami in January 1970. The U.S. Senate rejected Carswell's nomination.
Carswell "brought it on himself," said Thurston. "Ed and I were responsible only for bringing his words to the public."
In 1956, Thurston became the first radio or TV reporter to cover the Legislature full-time (though he was soon joined by others, notably the late Ray Starr). In 1957, Thurston won permission to film and record inside the legislative chambers - another first.
Thurston was renowned in the capital press corps for "his unusual sense of humor," said former Orlando Sentinel reporter John Van Gieson. Thurston had a Marx Brothers-type horn on his camera cart that he liked to honk. He and Starr competed in practical jokes - with Thurston once dropping a martini olive in the water glass of teetotaler Askew.
Thurston particularly relished puns, most of which were "real groaners," said Schultz. When Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise visited Tallahassee, Thurston asked the Astronaut, "When you were young did women try to make Haise while the sun shined?"

Pranks and puns

"George pulled a few pranks," Askew said. "But there was an informality about the press corps in those days that did not affect their impartiality."
Indeed, when Thurston looks back he does not take pride in any particular stories as much as "the attitudes and instincts that helped me find stories."
"Good responsible journalism is one of the most effective ways of participating in governance," he said. "Journalism fertilizes the field of ideas about government. It contributes to the public dialogue."
As Thurston did.

Contact Gerald Ensley at or (850) 599-2310.

62. i. REBECCA JANE THURSTON, b. September 29, 1955, Tallahassee, Leon Co., Florida.
63. ii. LEE FREDERICK THURSTON, b. July 21, 1958, Tallahassee, Leon Co., Florida.
64. iii. ROBERT SAMUEL THURSTON, b. July 16, 1959, Tallahassee, Leon Co., Florida.
65. iv. KAREN ELIZABETH THURSTON, b. March 17, 1965, Tallahassee, Leon Co., Florida.


Broadcast journalism pioneer, Amateur Radio writer and ARRL field volunteer George Thurston III, W4MLE, of Tallahassee, Florida, died March 20. He was 75. Thurston was editor of the first ARRL Radio Amateur's Operating Manual, the author of QST "Public Service" columns and at least 10 other QST articles from 1951 to 1994. He also won a QST Cover Plaque award.
A Virginia native and a victim of tuberculosis as a teenager, Thurston was first licensed in 1947. He went on to become a respected broadcast news reporter and print journalist who covered stories of national and international interest during his career.

In the 1960s, Thurston and Andy Clark, W4IYT—now a Silent Key—who was then SEC of Southern Florida, put into place what is now the Amateur Radio Emergency Service in Florida and established close ties with the National Traffic System. ARRL Southeastern Division Director Frank Butler, W4RH—then a section manager—had appointed Thurston as Section Emergency Coordinator for the old Western Florida Section. Thurston later served as SEC of the Northern Florida Section—from July 1990 through November 1996--and is credited with helping to strengthen the ARES organization in the section. W4MLE also was an ARRL Official Relay Station and a past president of the Tallahassee Amateur Radio Society.

GARS members who worked with George will remember his clever wit and dedication to Emergency Services. His unusual answering machine messages (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.) and his habit of sending mail with some wild, bogus return addresses will never be forgotten. He will be missed.

Family Members

Sponsored by Ancestry


Planning a visit to Oakland Cemetery?



  • Created by: Bbarch
  • Added: 3 Nov 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 100102475
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for George Lee Thurston, III (1 Oct 1925–20 Mar 2001), Find A Grave Memorial no. 100102475, citing Oakland Cemetery, Tallahassee, Leon County, Florida, USA ; Maintained by Bbarch (contributor 47901543) .