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Bigham, longtime AP correspondent in Fresno, dies

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GOSIA WOZNIACKA | March 5, 2013 06:35 PM EST | AP

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FRESNO, Calif. — Joe Bigham, an Associated Press reporter who covered California's Central Valley for more than a quarter of a century, has died. He was 76.

Bigham was hired as a reporter in Fresno in March 1971. After a year in San Francisco, he served as the news cooperative's Fresno correspondent until his retirement in 1998.

Bigham, who lived in Fresno with his wife Betty, died Feb. 24 of natural causes.

While some reporters remain in the agricultural region for just a few years, Bigham chose to stay and became a mentor to those starting out in the news business, his family and colleagues said.

"He liked the area here and he liked training the young people," his wife said.

In Fresno, Bigham covered national stories from Stockton to Bakersfield. Betty Bigham said her husband of 56 years liked to cover any good story.

"Politicians, agriculture, he just liked it all," she said.

Bigham wrote about the three men who kidnapped a busload of school children in 1976 in Chowchilla. He also reported on agricultural labor struggles, and was among the reporters invited to the funeral of Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers of America.

Bigham also covered the case of Fresno Bee reporters who were jailed for protecting sources.

"Joe was a dedicated reporter. He never quit on a story, he just kept going until he got everything possible," said Marty Thompson, former AP managing editor and San Francisco bureau chief who supervised Bigham. "He was highly regarded by other people in the media."

Family members remember him as an avid reader.

"He was passionate...about the written word, not just news," said his daughter Pamela Schy, a high school math teacher. "He was always reading, at least three newspapers, magazines, and books on history... or novels."

He taught his children respect for the country, its freedoms and people. "Even politicians he didn't agree with, he always respected them," Schy said.

Bigham was an amateur photographer who occasionally took photos for the AP. He traveled around the world with his wife after he retired.

Born in Ukiah, Calif., Bigham grew up in Modesto. After attending the University of Oregon, he got his first job as a sports reporter at the Salem Capital Journal.

He also worked at the Napa Valley Register and was managing editor at The Union in Grass Valley before he joined the AP.