Vintage Rose Chapel
203 West Main Street, Pilot Mountain, NC
Saturday, Apr 01, 2017
Mar 31, 1939 - Feb 17, 2017
Wayne Edgar King, the legendary New York Times correspondent known to many around his Stokes County home simply as “the professor,” died February 17. He was 77. The former Director of Journalism at Wake Forest University and Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter had battled MS for many years and had suffered a stroke in 2014.
During his newspaper career, King was stationed at bureaus around the country, but he returned to his native (and beloved) North Carolina in the final decades of his life. When not in the classroom, he liked nothing better than tending his cows, tinkering with tractors, and planting trees across his hilltop farm on the Dan River.
King was born in the mountains of McDowell County, March 31,1939, to Weldon King and Mary Hixon. He was raised in Hickory, NC, and educated in the Hickory public schools, at NC State, and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. King began his 50-year career in journalism as the editor of The Daily Tar Heel (1962-63) at UNC, where he distinguished himself and the paper covering the early days of the Civil Rights movement. As a student editor, he witnessed the erupting racial tensions in the South and wrote a prize-winning article on James Meredith’s cataclysmic entry into Ole’ Miss. During his college years he also wrote for several other North Carolina newspapers, including the Raleigh News and Observer.
After college, King spent nine months in Washington on Lyndon Johnson’s campaign staff before embarking on his work as a reporter and editor, first at The Detroit Free Press (1965-69). A colleague from those days recently recalled his “enchantingly-phrased prose.” In 1967, King was the editor in charge of the local news desk the first day of the infamous Detroit race riots that killed 43 people and left the city in flames. He directed the early coverage and shared the Pulitzer Prize for local news coverage that year.
King joined The New York Times in 1969 and worked there for the next 24 years, primarily as a national correspondent. During his tenure at the Times, King covered a wide range of topics and events and earned several additional Pulitzer Prize nominations. He wrote dozens of stories on the civil rights struggle which together, he said, read like a “war diary.” He also covered the Ku Klux Klan and other radical political groups, guns and gun-trafficking, the underworld of sports and gaming, and national and local politics. For The New York Times Magazine, he wrote one of the early profiles of an obscure Georgia governor and peanut farmer in terms of a possible presidency.
King was a tough and tenacious reporter who was admired by his peers for his writing skill and style. In journalism, King was well-known as a Times reporter who “spoke fluent southern.” Deceptively folksy, he was known to friends and colleagues for his dry, sardonic – and often deadly – wit. He reveled in story-telling, especially story-telling about the South and what was quintessentially southern. Typical Wayne King stories included tales of possums, kudzu vines, catfish, varmint banquets, and all kinds of “critters,” as well as flamboyant human scoundrels.
After retiring from the Times in 1993, King joined the Wake Forest University faculty. In addition to directing the Journalism Program, he was an Associate Professor of English. As a professor, he was loved especially for his humor and the real-life experience he brought to the classroom. He respected his students and dedicated himself to teaching the craft of writing, and the history, and ethics of journalism. He also taught popular seminars. A friend, Tom Wark, wrote in a recent blog-post about one of his first, a freshman seminar on the Bill of Rights: “there were queues down the hallway and out the door for the class, and Mr. King’s reputation as sage and wit spread throughout the campus. He became an expert not just on the Bill of Rights, but on the Supreme Court, as well, capable of delivering spontaneous analyses of important decisions that were highly seasoned with an often acerbic and usually deadpan wit.”
King retired from the university in 2011.
King was married to Paula Duggan, whom he met in Denver on his 42nd birthday while on assignment for the Times. She joined him in Houston when he became Texas Bureau Chief for the Times in 1982. They moved to Washington DC in 1986, where they lived until returning to North Carolina.
In addition to his wife, King leaves a large and loving family of relatives and friends including his brother Bobby Ray King and sister-in-law, Lucille, of Hickory, N.C., and his sisters- and brothers-in-law Elizabeth and Jerry Reilly, Jeremy Carroll, and Johanna and Jim Delaney, and many nieces, nephews and god-children.
A celebration of King’s life will take place on his birthday weekend 2017. A memorial service will be held Saturday April 1, at 11:00 a.m. at the Vintage Rose Chapel, 203 W. Main Street in Pilot Mountain followed by a reception at Paula and Wayne’s home in Westfield.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts in Wayne’s honor to a charity of the donor’s choice or to Our Communities of NW Stokes, which he and his wife helped found (Our Comm. of NW Stokes Foundation, 7104 NC 89W, Westfield, NC 27053).
Online condolences may be sent to Salem Funeral Home at www.salemfh.com.
Dear Paula and family,
I am saddened to learn of Wayne's passing, and I thank my Duke Chronicle colleague Mark Pinsky for sharing Wayne's obituary. Wayne was an important figure for me at a time I was finding my sea-legs as a college journalist, including as an occasional stringer for the NYT. His demeanor, his warmth and his casual openness generated positive responses in me to the profession Wayne represented. Wayne readily supported my successful application to Columbia School of Journalism; I thank him for that support. Although I chose law school and, later, a career in the Foreign Service, Wayne is one of those generous and genuine personalities who had a positive impact on my life. May he rest in peace.
Wayne's passing is a huge loss for all of us who were blessed to know him. In addition to being all (and more...) his obituary describes so well, those of us who knew Wayne in high school and at NC State remember so well his incredible humanity, comfortable wit, keen mind, and truly compassionate friend. I will never forget those late-night sessions in the basement of Tucker Dorm (1957-58) at NC State when Wayne helped us learn the math/calculus we needed to know to survive the next test. Wayne was every bit as great a mathematician as he was a Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist!! And he was an incredible humanitarian, one we will always feel so thankful to have known as a precious friend. Very best wishes to all Wayne's family. We are grieving with you.
although i had not seen wayne in many years i still remember him from class of '57. i talked to him briefly at nc state one time and he said he was transferring to unc. i said why you would make a great engineer. he said he wanted to go into journalism. he made the right choice. he was the smartest man i ever new. RIP