The consummate newspaper man. An exemplary publisher. A visionary for his community. All of these describe Charles K. Connor Jr., who passed away Sunday at his home in Florida.
Known to most simply as “Charlie,” Connor arrived in Beckley in 1981 to serve as publisher of Beckley Newspapers, staying until his retirement in 1987. Tough when he needed to be, his heart was always with the news that he loved reporting from the time he was 10 years old and started his own neighborhood newspaper.
He moved on to Marshall University to study journalism, but had his studies interrupted by World War II. After serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he returned to Marshall after mustering out in 1946.
He started his professional career as an obit writer for the Charleston Daily Mail and, during his 34 years there, rose through the ranks to become executive editor. Then he made the jump to Beckley.
Once here, he settled in to make the Beckley area a better place to live.
If it weren’t for Charlie, everyone in southern West Virginia would still be doing “the Beckley Wave.” Remember the days when anytime you were outside you were constantly waving your hand in front of your face to scatter the “gnats” away. After many mothers brought their children in to see Charlie, their eyes swollen shut from bites from the critters, he decided it was time that something got done.
And so began his fight to get rid of the gnats — really called black flies — that breed in the waters of the New, Greenbrier and Bluestone rivers. It took a while, but Charlie never wavered. The resulting agreement from the state Department of Agriculture to spray the rivers with a biological insecticide remains in place today, leaving outdoors lovers free to do other things with their hands.
But perhaps the most important legacy Charlie left with us is the Beckley Area Foundation. He was one of the 10 co-founders, served as president of its board and was its first executive director, a voluntary position. This legacy is “for good, forever.”
In the words of current director Susan Landis, “Through the articles he wrote in The Register-Herald, the general community learned that this organization existed so everyone could pool their charitable dollars, big and small, for a permanent ‘bank account’ that would benefit generation after generation of area citizens. This was not to belong only to those with large bank accounts and extensive discretionary funds.
“His optimism, engaging smile, facility with the written word, gregarious nature, dedication to community service and leadership skills have been all important to the growth of the Beckley Area Foundation.”
For all of these qualities and service he was honored many times, receiving the Spirit of Beckley award, was named a Distinguished West Virginian twice and was a West Virginia Press Association Premier Journalist.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Nancy, and his four children.
We missed Charlie when left Beckley for the warmer clime of Florida. We will miss him more now. But his bright smile and sparkling eyes will remain forever in our memories. We are better people, a better newspaper, a better Beckley for having had Charlie Connor with us.