Former Daily Progress editor, reporter diesA former managing editor who led The Daily Progress to one of Virginia's most coveted journalism awards in the 1960s, worked for the National Enquirer tabloid as a writer and reporter covering UFOs and wrote several books on that topic, died Nov. 21 in Atlantis, Fla.
By Bryan McKenzie
By Bryan McKenzie
Robert V. Pratt, 79, spent three terms with The Daily Progress, twice as a reporter in the 1950s and again as the paper's lead editor from 1960 to 1967. In 1965, Pratt's staff took the state's highest journalistic honor, the W.S. Copeland Award, given by the Virginia Press Association to recognize community service and journalistic integrity.
"He was a very mellow person. Nothing seemed to ever rile him," recalled David Lyster, a former Daily Progress photographer who won numerous awards in his tenure at the paper, including four awards in 1965. "He was very understanding and I feel that he empowered the people who worked for him. He hired them to do a job and relied on them to do it and people came through for him."
The Daily Progress won the award for a series of articles that investigated the condition of downtown Charlottesville, a series on a housing site at Ridge Lane and pollution in Lickinghole Creek near Crozet. Other stories included conditions at the city jail and the need for public support for the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad.
Lyster recalled Pratt being involved in the newsroom, but letting his staff bring the news to the readers rather than micromanaging their efforts.
"He asked a lot of questions and he wanted to know what we were seeing out there, what was going on. He was very complementary," Lyster recalled. "He was great to work for."
Lyster remembered Pratt as caring about his employees.
"I was hired as a photographer but he would take me over to another desk and work with me on my writing," Lyster recalled. "He'd take the time to work with me on style and help me put together small stories to go with the photographs. He was very patient."
Pratt also was active in the community. He served on numerous press association boards and was president of the Venable School PTA. He left the paper in 1967 to join the Miami News as a city editor.
During his career, Pratt worked for the Alexandria (Va.) Gazette, the Evansville (Ind.) Courier, the Buffalo Evening News, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Louisville Times and Courier-Journal. But it was the stint at the National Enquirer that changed his life and led to his research into unidentified flying objects.
Pratt wrote and co-authored books on the topic, including "UFO Danger Zone: Terror and Death in Brazil." On his Web site, www.bobpratt.org, he wrote about his conversion from being a nonbeliever.
"Even though the Enquirer regularly published UFO stories at that time, I still thought only crazies or misguided people believed UFOs were real," he wrote on the website. "I was certain [reporters] simply had not asked the right questions. If they had, it would be obvious what people were actually seeing; a planet, a satellite, a plane?"
Researching a UFO report in Superior, Wis., however, changed his mind.
"Putting my theory to the test - that with enough information I could determine exactly what people were seeing - I asked every ? question I could think of and I was not able to explain what any of them had seen," Pratt wrote. "The realization was astonishing and very sobering. I've been chasing UFOs ever since."
Pratt is survived by his wife Faith Collins Pratt of Florida and son Alan Collins Pratt of New York City. Son Robert Scott Pratt preceded him in death.
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