A child of Birmingham and son of the South, Hemphill examined both through his work without apologetic or nostalgic lacquer.
In his 1993 memoir Leaving Birmingham, Hemphill recounted the experience of growing up in this strife-torn city. His body of work examined myriad topics — sports, country music, race relations and family — but all contained a thread of personal experience and an emotional familiarity. Like a lot of journalists, he sometimes stood too close to the campfire, and his rough-and-tumble life showed the scars.
“He was the kind of general newspaper columnist that hardly exists anymore,” Roy Blount Jr., told The New York Times. “He’d go out and do things and talk to people and write 2,000 words, daily. He wasn’t a talking head; he was walking ears, or listening legs.”
Hemphill suffered from cancer and had spent much of the last several weeks in hospice care. He died Saturday at his home in Atlanta. Survivors include his wife of 29 years, the writer Susan Perry; a sister, Joyce Lott of Birmingham; four children, Lisa Shadrach of Franklin, Tenn., David Hemphill and Molly Knudsen, both of Birmingham and Martha Hemphill of Decatur, Ga., along with six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are being coordinated by A.S. Turner & Sons in Decatur, Ga.