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Former publisher remembered as mentor, friend

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Mark Wilson

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Rocky Mount Telegram lost a valued friend and influence this week when former publisher Mark Wilson lost his 10-year battle with brain cancer.

Wilson began serving as the publisher of the Rocky Mount Telegram in 2013 and continued in that role until he retired in 2018 at the age of 67. However, his contribution to the newspaper business spanned 41 years.

During that time, he held various positions at papers including the (Raleigh) News and Observer, Zebulon Record/Gold Leaf Farmer, Suffolk News Herald, Florence Morning News, The (Greenville) Daily Reflector and the Rocky Mount Telegram.

“Mark Wilson was a strong right-hand man when I needed one,” said Rip Woodin, publisher of the Telegram from 1998 until 2013. “After the economic crash in 2008, advertising began to decline, so Mark came over here from Greenville to help us recover. Although Mark rose to management from the advertising side, he had a reporter’s appreciation for solid, local news. This perspective made him a great addition to the management team at the Telegram.”

Wilson had succeeded him in Greenville as the COO of 10-paper non-daily group owned by Cox Newspapers at the time, Woodin said.

“It was his foresight that created the regional magazine concept that gave us critical revenue in a difficult period,” he said.

Wilson later succeeded Woodin as publisher of the Telegram.

“And just as he did in Greenville, when Mark succeeded me as publisher of the Telegram, he did a much better job than I had done,” Woodin said. “All we old journalists want is for people to remember us as good newspaper men. I can most assuredly say that about Mark Wilson. And he was a friend, even if he cheered for the wrong color of blue.”

Wilson, who was a Duke fan, was a scholarship basketball player at Louisburg College and Methodist University where he received his bachelors degree. He later earned a master’s degree from Campbell University. He brought that wealth of training and experience to his role as publisher of the Rocky Mount Telegram.

The Telegram was fortunate when Mark took over the helm after Woodin retired, Telegram Editor Gene Metrick said.

"He continued and expanded upon the re-imagination of the paper that had been underway," he said. "His wit, humor and easy-going style inspired the staff as he challenged us to think outside the box to continue to adapt to the 21st-century media market."

Wilson also developed good relationships with the people who served under him.

"He loved to hang out with staff members — advising, strategizing, commiserating or laughing with them and always listening to them,” Metrick said. “And probably most importantly, being not just their boss, but a mentor and a friend — like he was to me.”

Kyle Stephens, current publisher of the Rocky Mount Telegram, said Wilson had a knack of improving everything around him.

“Mark just had a way of making everything better — your newspaper, your story or your day. He could even give me a plausible excuse for every officiating call that went Duke’s way against State. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He hired me based mainly on two premises, I was from Pilot, N.C. (near Zebulon) and I grew up on a farm. He backed me when I was right and questioned me when I was wrong. Always fair, always caring and nearly always right. That’s the Mark Wilson I will remember,” Stephens said.

J. Tim Holt, who recently retired as regional publisher for Adams Publishing Group, which owns the Telegram, said Wilson was also a skillful negotiator.

“Mark was a strong leader with the ability set folks at ease. He could understand all sides of any complaint, argument or political debate, put it into perspective and come up with a solution everyone could live with,” Holt said. “I believe Mark was just a good human being. I am glad to have known him.”

Gwen Davis, who works at the Telegram as the human resources manager for Adams Publishing Group newspapers in eastern North Carolina, said that Wilson was one of a kind.

“As a boss he was firm, kind and very attentive. His smile and laughter were truly infectious. His door was always open whenever someone had something to say, and he would offer the best advice he could give. If you were willing to listen to his advice, you could learn from it,” Davis said.

Wilson, who was active in working with United Way, also liked to keep up with his co-workers and community. But he also was a capable leader, Davis said.

“When tough business decisions had to be made, he may not like them but you could always count on Mark to be fair,” Davis said. “Mark was not only a wonderful boss, he was a wonderful man. He taught life lessons. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to work under his leadership.”

Wilson will be buried this morning during a private graveside service. A public Celebration of Life service will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Cornerstone Funeral Home in Nashville. 

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