Trucking journalist Peter Rigney, widely known as the “Silver Fox,” died Oct. 21, 2007. He was 81.
Pete was an investigative photojournalist and columnist in the trucking industry for more than 30 years. He won two Jesse H. Neal awards for trucking journalism excellence from American Business Media. He was a field editor for Truckers News for 20 years and for Roadstar Magazine for seven years, and a columnist for Land Line Magazine for more than five years.
Pete began writing a monthly column for Land Line in May 2002 and never missed a deadline. He had battled respiratory problems for several years. He became ill with pneumonia earlier this fall and had been in the hospital in Salem, VA, since Sept. 23. His column for the November issue of Land Line was already “in” at the point he went to the hospital.
Land Line Executive Editor Todd Spencer knew Pete for at least two decades.
“He really enjoyed being out there on the road, meeting truckers and writing about them,” said Spencer.
Fellow Land Line columnist Bill Hudgins knew Pete for many years.
“Pete was one of the nicest folks I know in trucking. Very kind, concerned about other people and plucky – I won’t say feisty as that is overused about older people. He was plucky – confronting all sorts of situations on the road and in his life and just grabbing a gear for some more torque and going on through,” Hudgins said.
“He had a really good eye and ear for people with interesting stories, even if they didn’t know they were interesting. People he wrote about remembered it always, and he seemed to remember all of them, too.”
Suzanne Stempinski, Land Line’s field editor, equates the Silver Fox with a story and a smile.
“Pete Rigney was one of my favorite storytellers,” said Stempinski. “The tales he told –and he never ran out of them – about life on the road, even in an RV with ‘My Girl Shirl’ and the dogs, were things I could relate to.
“The first time I met Pete was many years ago in Louisville in the press room. He looked just like his pictures, with a smile and a twinkle. Even though his step wasn’t very spry, his enthusiasm was boundless. He loved having the chance to visit with friends old and new. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Pete and Shirl, but just hearing his name makes me smile.”
Pete was born in 1926. He served his country in World War II on board the USS Maryland and was honorably discharged in 1946. In his May 2007 column for Land Line, Pete described his initial attempt to serve.
“My career took a giant leap forward when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” Pete wrote. “Almost 15, I decided to enlist in the US Army. I felt idle youth was no longer an option after the attack. Mother disagreed with my philosophy on patriotism and tracked me down. My commanding officer agreed with Mother, and I was discharged on the spot.”
In 1951, Pete received his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. While in college he started his own photography business, then worked in advertising for several years as a copywriter. He left Madison Avenue to raise a family, while handling advertising sales and exhibit management for a number of national associations.
In 1973, he hit the road as a roving columnist. With an insatiable curiosity and a great love for America, he traveled big roads and back roads, and claimed to have interviewed people in every city and town with a population of more than 5,000.
He drove his first 125,000 miles in a Pinto. After several trades up, he ended up with a Blue Bird Wanderlodge, which he converted into a mobile office, darkroom and home. His goal was to interview people in the four corners of the USA: Madawaska, ME; Key West, FL; San Ysidro, CA; and Blaine, WA. He accomplished that goal, and along the way his work was published in at least 17 trade magazines.
Pete proudly said he had interviewed and photographed more than 24,000 people in the contiguous 48 states. He recently discussed his career, estimating that he had driven more than 3 million miles and visited more than 2,000 truck stops. His photographs graced the covers of more than 200 magazines.
In 2002, the Rigneys purchased a home in Martinsville, VA.
Pete is survived by his wife, Shirley, and their eight children, 16 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
He was a member of the Christ Church in Martinsville.
Editor’s note: Arrangements for funeral services are pending. Watch this Web site for details.
– By Sandi Soendker, managing editor