Losing a fine journalist and a good friend

Barry Friedman

Editor & Publisher

Lakeland lost a fine journalist this week, and those of us who knew him lost a good friend. John Valerino had recently returned home from the hospital following a heart attack and heart surgery when he died Sunday at age 70.

John had already been sports editor at The Ledger for three years when I was hired there as city editor in 1982. He was 30 then; he carried a friendly smile and an athletic build reminiscent of his days as a pitcher who had been followed by major league scouts until tendinitis ended his MLB dreams.

During his 24 years as sports editor, the newspaper grew exponentially and so did the scope of the Sports department as Central Florida continued sprouting major league teams. The Sports staff developed a camaraderie that felt like family, a tribute to John’s genial leadership.

Photo of John Valerino used courtesy of The Ledger

As an homage to his devotion to sports at Florida Southern College, John’s alma mater, his photo graced an empty space on the press table at FSC’s basketball game Tuesday night.

John and I cemented a strong bond in 1989 and 1990 when we co-chaired a redesign of The Ledger. I learned a lot from him. When we were given a new task, my first instinct was to prioritize it on my to-do list. John dove in and got it done. I followed his lead, and we got a lot done together.

One small incident from that period spoke volumes about the value John placed on friendship and loyalty. We hung out together a lot during a trip to Indianapolis with a few other Ledger staffers to check out some new publishing equipment.

During a free afternoon, we wandered a few blocks from our hotel to a museum of the American West. John wasn’t a museum guy; he had seen what he wanted to see in the first 15 minutes. I, on the other hand, lingered and read about the various pieces. John found a comfortable chair and waited until I was finished. I told him he should go back to the hotel. But he was happy to wait and walk back together with his friend.

John was devoted to family. He and his wife, Lorraine, made a mighty team; they celebrated their 40th anniversary in October. He also leaves behind two daughters he doted on and seven grandchildren. And a huge community of readers who benefitted from a Sports staff that punched well above its weight, thanks to John’s leadership.

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Black History Month Finale Highlights Struggles of the ’60s

Speakers include Beverly Boatwright and David Towns, who were involved in local civil rights issues as youths.

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The small gathering was delighted to discover that a second mosaic mural that had been covered up appears intact.

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senior center survey link


Watch implosion of 255-foot Lakeland Electric boiler from Lake Parker Park Saturday at 11 a.m. | The Ledger

‘Some things are bigger than the game:’ SEU softball players help injured opponent round the bases to score | News Channel 8

Fans seek autographs from Miggy and other Tigers at Joker Marchant | CBS News Detroit

RIP: John Valerino, 70, Ledger sports editor for 24 years | The Ledger

City of Lakeland seeking volunteers to serve on boards | LALtoday

Woman, 37, dies in hit-and-run on 10th Street; police seek silver sedan | Fox 13 News

Swan Forums pledges civil discussion of abortion for its opening debate Monday | The Ledger

First Friday Foodie Fest | Friday | 6-9 p.m. | Downtown streets
Sample small bites from local food makers, along with shopping at downtown stores and a Makers Market.

Family Nature Walk | Saturday | 10 a.m. | Bonnet Springs Park
Take a guided nature walk along the boardwalks that surround the Blanton Family Lagoon. The one-mile stroll along accessible boardwalks helps visitors explore the park’s plants and animals. Bring comfortable shoes and water.

Project Prom Store | Saturday | 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. | Lakeland Square Mall
UthMpact’s Project Prom provides free formal wear for students with a Polk County school ID who sign a pledge to celebrate prom alcohol and drug-free. The store will also be open 11 to 4 on March 18, April 1 and April 15.

Play ball! The Detroit Tigers opened Spring Training 2023 Saturday with a 4-2 victory over the Phillies. In the photo, that’s City Commissioner Chad McLeod throwing the ceremonial opening pitch on opening day. The Tigers have a dozen more home games at Joker Marchant Stadium this year before heading to their regular-season game opening against the Rays — all the way in St. Petersburg.

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Barry Friedman

Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.