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Wednesday, December 19,2012

Eric Jennings

Photo Credits: Submitted by the family
Photo Caption: Eric Jennings

Eric Jennings, a locally renowned sports journalist and mental health care advocate, died in the early hours of Wednesday, December 12 after a fall near his home in Athens. He was 50.

Born October 1, 1962 in Nelsonville, Ohio and raised in Athens, Eric was the son of Eugene Jennings and the late Lucile Jennings, music professors at Ohio University. He excelled in youth sports leagues prior to joining basketball and football teams in middle school, and he had fond memories for his three years playing football for the Athens High School Bulldogs. But a personal high point for Eric was the school's tennis team, which he captained his senior year. In the years he played, the tennis team went undefeated and won league championships, in large measure due to his fiercely competitive style on the court.

Eric sought to play tennis on scholarship at Denison University, but it was there that the first sign of bipolar syndrome surfaced in 1981. It changed the course of his life, and from that point forward he fought to contain a hallmark of the syndrome: debilitating manic episodes interspersed with periods of deep depression. Coping with the challenges of managing this illness, Eric nonetheless travelled the world and plying his tennis skills, teaching the game in places as far flung as France and Venezuela.

All the while he also pursued his dream of becoming a sports journalist. Starting in 1989 he spent two years as sports editor for the Daily Journal, the popular English-language newspaper in Caracas, where he became fluent in Spanish. He also lived in Denver for three years and wrote for the Rocky Mountain News.

But Eric always came back to Athens, where he found safe harbor and, as time passed, a sense of stability. Here he came to terms with his condition and, especially with the support of his mother, grew candid about it. Possessing an engagingly friendly manner, he sought to help people understand life with a mental illness. In that capacity, Eric volunteered his time to educate law enforcement officials on ways to help people in the throes of bipolar highs. He also served as a member of the 317 Board for Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services. Just before his death, he had planned on reinstituting a chapter of Dual Recovery Anonymous, which provides support for people with addiction and mental illness. He belonged to and gained strength from the Athens Community Church, where he participated in recovery programs. He was also was a regular at the Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, his childhood religious home, as well as The Gathering Place, a community support home for Eric.

Eric's roots in his home community were deep. More than anything it was southeastern Ohio that brought him comfort and his life's most cherished friendships and memories. Eric was a local character, renowned for his humor and his passion about the area's sports teams. His unparalleled knowledge of local athletics could be seen on his weekly ACTV talk show, "Sports Talk Athens." Whether providing half-hour unscripted monologues on the history of Athens High football or bringing in Athens community or Ohio University athletes, coaches and commentators, his depth of knowledge - delivered with a sweet, bashful smile - would often astound viewers and guests.

Eric will be missed by family, friends, colleagues and the skilled professionals who cared for and supported him. He is survived by his father, Eugene, of Arlington, Virginia; his brothers, Chris (and wife Jan Montgomery) of Arlington, Virginia, and Tom (and wife Rebecca Perl) of New York City; and nephews Nate, Nicholas, Luke and Griffin. He was preceded in death by his mother, Lucile.

A memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 3:00 at the Church of the Good Shepherd. In lieu of flowers please make donations in the name of Eric Jennings to the Athens Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 100 Hospital Drive, Athens, Ohio, 45701.


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