Mitchell Oakley: Remembering Mark Wilson, a great newspaper man

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Mitchell Oakley



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Most of you readers won’t recognize the name Mark Wilson. And that’s OK. Some will.

Most of us newspapermen from the old school had a favorite expression, “We would rather report the news than make the news.” So it is that most of us have been able to whittle away at our trade while quietly serving our communities.

Mark Wilson was that quiet, easygoing and personable newspaperman who whittled away at his trade for many years before retiring as publisher of the Rocky Mount Telegram in February 2018 at the age of 67.

Many of us in the newspaper business across the state know Mark Wilson. He passed away Sunday, peacefully, I am told, with his family by his side. Wilson battled brain cancer for the better part of eight years, and it was a gallant fight. But like many who have faced the true bestiality of cancer, far more seem to lose than to win the battle. He will carry that huge smile and great personality of his to God’s Kingdom.

I met Wilson sometime around late 2003 or early 2004 when he became the leader of nine non-daily newspapers in eastern North Carolina. Changing bosses is not always something to look forward to because there is always the inner uneasiness that comes with it and the questions. 

It didn’t take long for me to see that Wilson was a perfect fit for our non-dailies. His easygoing style and gregarious laughter created a management style that allowed all of us publishers to manage our individual locations and come together with input into the larger picture of our operation. Wilson loved the interactions with us. His meetings were filled with reviews of our budgets and seeking new ideas to improve revenue or curtail expense. He set expectations and encouraged us to meet them.

He was a master at inclusiveness. He worked hard on both sides of the industry, improving and expanding editorial content and pushing the envelope for new advertising revenue. And in many ways, our nine locations rewarded him with higher revenue and additional editorial products, including a number of different magazines. Although the respective newspaper staffs put in the time and effort to make all of this come to fruition, it was Mark Wilson’s leadership his trust in all of us, and his willingness to help us rise above any obstacle that created a cooperative relationship between the editorial and advertising sides of our business.

I remember when I shared my cancer diagnosis with Wilson in 2007, just a year before he left to take over the advertising directorship of the Rocky Mount Telegram while continuing to manage several of the non-dailies. He was concerned, probably more so than I. He directed me to human resources so that I could get short-term disability and he told me to take all the time I needed to get well after surgery. I will never forget his thoughtfulness and kindness.

One of Wilson’s standing commitment for all of us publishers was a monthly publishers meeting. After one such meeting, I passed Mark going out the door. He said, “You get bored sometimes in these meetings, don’t you?” I replied, “Yes, how could you tell?” He said, “Because you start doodling on a piece of paper.”

That was Mark. He was observant. He had an innate ability to read us without us saying a word. That ability made him a great leader and for it, I am appreciative I had the opportunity to work for him.

Many people cross our paths in life, some for just a short measure of time. But they leave an indelible impression. Mark Wilson did just that for me. In my last phone conversation with him a few months ago, I made sure I told him I loved him before we hung up. For you see, I did love him, for all he meant to all of us that had the grand opportunity to work with him.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Mitchell Oakley is the former group publisher of The Times-Leader, The Standard Laconic and The Farmville Enterprise.