By John Blankenship
In journalism, Charles Connor will stand among the beloved.
And though it’s a sad day, in some strange way the death of Charles Connor gives me hope for the future of journalism.
Perhaps it’s because he showed us the blueprint, that size and technology are overrated, that a half-dozen people can make a difference just by asking the right questions and by not backing down.
Because in the remarkable way that he lived, he showed the rest of journalism how to live.
And if Charles Connor and others could accomplish this at a small town newspaper, then I know that it can happen again, somewhere else and in some other format that no-holds-barred journalism is possible even on these weird little newfangled tablets and iPads.
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Charles K. Connor Jr., 89, retired publisher of Beckley Newspapers, died Sunday at his condo in Treasure Island, Fla.
Connor and his wife Nancy McGrew Connor grew up in Huntington, lived in Charleston and Beckley, and spent their retirement years in Florida.
A dedicated newspaperman since the age of 10 when he established his own neighborhood newspaper in his hometown of Huntington, Connor ended 40 years of professional journalism after the sale of Beckley Newspapers in 1987. He had come to Beckley as publisher in 1981 after 34 years in Charleston. He was a former Boy Scout and was an active supporter of the BSA.
Sam Hindman succeeded Connor as publisher of The Register-Herald in 1987 before moving on to Canada to become president and CEO of Thomson Newspapers there. Now retired, he had these kind words to say about his old friend and colleague: “He was an incredible ambassador for the State of West Virginia, and Beckley and Charleston in particular.
“He was an excellent journalist and a community asset. He set a great standard for publishers and was a great mentor and example to follow. He had a great love and admiration for Beckley, a town he called his home.
“He did many wonderful things in expanding the role of the Beckley Community Art Group and Beckley Area Foundation. He was unassuming in all the things that he did. It was a privilege to have worked for him and with him all those years.”
Frank Wood, the present publisher of The Register-Herald, also enjoyed a close friendship with Connor during the span of years Connor was publisher.
“Charlie was thoughtful and considerate when dealing with his friends and employees,” Wood said. “He was a role model for all of us. He was knowledgeable, compassionate and an astute publisher. His leadership of The Register-Herald was respected and invaluable. We will miss his warm demeanor and cheerful smile. JoAnn and I extend our sympathy to Nancy and the Connor family.”
Even though he has been gone from Beckley for a number of years, Managing Editor Dawn A. Dayton said she still will miss Connor.
“He called every so often,” she said, “and you could visualize the twinkle the sparkle that was surely in his eye just by hearing the happy lilt in his voice.
“I learned many things from Charlie, not the least of which is that you can ask your sources the hard questions that need answering, but you can do it being respectful. He was the best newsman I ever knew.”
Susan Landis, executive director of the Beckley Area Foundation, worked directly with Connor for a number of years.
“The BAF is a success in no small part due to Charles Connor. He worked with Jim Word, Warren Thornhill and seven other local civic leaders to establish the Foundation in 1985. He took the Foundation to the people of Raleigh County.
“Through the articles he wrote in The Register-Herald, the general community foundation existed so everyone could pool their charitable gifts, big and small. He taught us that this organization was not to belong only to those with large bank accounts but to the entire community. His optimism and leadership skills have been all important to the growth of the BAF and hosts of other community projects.”
Connor always promoted Beckley and the surrounding community with a passion, but he had a deeper passion for people — the average Joe on the street, the single mother, the homeless and the destitute — all those who were oppressed by big government and bureaucracy. He made it a point to speak to every single reporter and editor in the newsroom at least once a day. Usually he commented on a story he had enjoyed reading, or a photo that had good color or a layout he especially liked.
With a small staff and with so many changes in the world of journalism looming on the horizon, Connor had a remarkable knack for homing in on and reporting the few things that were most important — old-fashioned journalism that was both highly ethical and highly skeptical.
“A reporter’s purpose is to raise questions,” he used to say, “to not take what others say as the gospel truth, unless it’s really proven.”
Just after he retired in 1987 in this business he loved every day, he told some of the reporters in the newsroom that he wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. “Journalism is great work,” he said, “and it’s been good to me.”
Perhaps he had that backward. It’s not that journalism was good to Charles Connor; Charles Connor was good to journalism.
So when Connor retired, we all felt the newsroom would never be the same. I have a feeling now that heaven will never be the same either. Not if there’s a newsroom on the premises.
Connor was one of a kind. And we were truly blessed that he was one of us.
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