Stan Swofford, RIP

UPDATED: Editor Cindy Loman has written a nice appreciation of Stan.

UPDATED, AGAIN: The family obituary.

One of the best journalists I’ve ever had the honor of working with, Stan Swofford, died last night. Greensboro and North Carolina are poorer today.

I wrote about Stan when he retired from the News & Record, and when he won his fourth Landmark Award. I’m going to let others talk about Stan’s prowess as an investigative reporter and as finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and his post-newspaper career writing books.

I knew of Stan well before I came to the News & Record. I met him when I was a reporter for the Citizen-Times in Asheville and my roommate brought Stan and Brent Hackney, another reporter with the Greensboro Daily News to our apartment after the bars closed at 2 a.m.. I was asleep. They started to continue their drinking, woke me up and I went downstairs and told them to get the hell out so I could go back to sleep. I didn’t know who they were and didn’t care. Until the next day when my roommate told me that was Stan. He had just been named a finalist for the Pulitzer. Of course, I knew who he was.

Seven years later, I’m hired as on at the News & Record in the lowest editing rung there was. Great.

I was a new assistant city state editor working the morning shift for the afternoon paper, and I had been told to get someone to the United Way meeting the next morning. The United Way report-out on how its fund-raising was going was, to be generous, worth about three inches deep inside the paper. The only person I could find who was remotely available was Stan. Stan was always working on a long-term project, and for good reason, he was a freaking Pulitzer finalist! Along with Jim Schlosser and Jerry Bledsoe, he was the grand poobah of the newsroom. Meanwhile, I was a wet-behind-the-ears editor.

I went to his desk. “Stan, could you cover the United Way meeting tomorrow morning?” I asked.

He looked up at me, said he could, and asked me when and where.

The next day, he went to the meeting and filed his story. I saw it in our ancient computer system, but when I went to edit it, it had disappeared. I couldn’t find it anywhere. My deadline was 12:30. At 12:15, as Stan and some other other reporters were preparing to go to lunch, I walked over.

“Stan, I know you filed your story but the computer’s eaten it. I’m sorry but, umm, can you rewrite it and file it again?”

The other reporters started chuckling. Stan didn’t groan or make a face or say anything but “OK. When’s my deadline?”

Then he turned to the others and said, “Where are y’all going? I’ll meet you.”

He made the 12:30 deadline.

One of the reporters came to me afterward and said, “That’s the fastest Stan’s ever written a story.”

To me, that captures Stan as both a journalist and as a person.

Greensboro — hell, North Carolina — will miss you, Stan.

13 thoughts on “Stan Swofford, RIP

  1. The Wilmington 10 story came to life because of Stan, but more than that he was a good friend. He loved the craft and wanted you to love it like he did. I often picked at Stan. He was an old school reporter – smoking, drinking, cussing – but he also wanted to keep abreast of what was new.

  2. Well, damn. My last conversation with him was just a few weeks ago and must have lasted a good hour. We covered kids, politics, journalism, and, of course, UNC basketball. I am glad I got the chance to tell him how much I’ve admired him and his work over the years, and what fun it was to have him for a co-worker.

  3. As a reporter, I actually had the honor of following a story Stan had started: The case of western N.C. Democratic power broker Zeno Ponder. I learned tons from that experience, but the thing I learned most was that, at 28 or 29 at that point, I wasn’t in the same universe as Stan. RIP. You were an all-time great, and also a heck of a nice guy.

  4. I am so sorry to hear this. In addition to being an incredibly talented journalist and one of the nicest guys in the world, he was really, really funny.

  5. Sometimes when I’m in the cereal aisle at Publix, I see Cheerrios and think of Stan. He wrote a column about being a dad later in life than most dads. He wrote of pushing his young son in a grocery cart, picking a single Cheerrio from behind one of his ears and having a cheerful woman exclaim. “What a beautiful grandson you have.” Or some such. Of course, Stan wrote it better than that.

  6. This is very sad news. I never worked with Stanley. I did marvel at his story telling and in-depth knowledge of all things North Carolina and had many opportunities to listen to those stories in the Swofford family kitchen. He was a Tarheel to the bone and will be deeply missed by many people. Aye Zigga Zoomba Stanley!

  7. That’s horrible news. The short time I got to spend in the same newsroom with him was an honor and an education.

  8. He was the best storyteller I’ve ever known up close and personal. He once wrote a piece about the wild strawberries of his mountain-boy youth, which were growing at Hagan-Stone Park. His prose was even sweeter and more alive with color and flavor than I imagined those strawberries to be. I sat next to him for a few priceless years in the newsroom and learned so much from him. We discovered that we’d already met through the paper long before I came to work there, because he’d done a profile on my grandfather more than a decade earlier and I was mentioned in the story: “Cathy, 17, a senior at Page High School..” We later found the clip in the archives, and it was always a validation that two of the men I adored had intersected that way, and that we – my mentor and me – had been destined to meet. To read a story by Stan Swofford was to be immersed in place, event and time. To hear a tale from Stan was to laugh. Heartily. Today – God bless him – with his passing, I am sad. But I’m smiling a little bit too.

  9. I remember back in the day when the state Democratic Party’s annual Vance-Aycock dinners drew all of the state’s heavy-hitter journalists – and staffers to high-level Democratic politicians – to Asheville for the weekend. As a young reporter, I swooned at being included in post-event bar meetups (after everyone made deadline) with luminaries such as Dan Hoover, Brent Hackney and Stan, who kept us mesmerized for hours with stories and shop talk. Being in their presence was far more exciting than hanging out with musical rock stars. I’m sorry, John, for your personal loss. I know Stan won’t be forgotten.

  10. Stan was my 1st cousin and graduated from North Cove School (as did I and several in our family) in northern McDowell County NC (near Linville Caverns where most of us worked during high school). We loved basketball, and Stan and his brother Ron were star players. Stan made 44 points in a game! Stan and Ron left UNC-CH and ended up fighting in Vietnam, their parents’ only children. They came back and finished UNC and led outstanding lives. Cheryl Swofford, Marion NC 404-313-2554

  11. My roommate in Battle- Vance-Pettigrew.
    My friend. My colleague at GDN. My idol as a writer and researcher.
    A person of great integrity with a helluva jump shot.
    Dave Alexander

  12. A huge loss for the region and those of us honored enough to call him a friend! Stan was one of my heroes. My daddy, Moses Crutchfield worked at the newspaper in the old days and gentlemen like Stan, Irwin Smallwood, Jerry Bledsoe, Larry Kerch and so many more were my heroes growing up and even more so now. Stan’s smile, humor, writing, laughter and hugs will be O so missed! I love you Stan and all of your family and my heroes!

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