We have lost a few Titans of our local newspaper family over the past several months. The news of Jim High passing this week was met with great sadness but also admiration and inspiration when looking at his accomplishments and legacy. Please take time to read this wonderful obituary. This is what it means to be a newspaperman, to be an active civic member and to make a difference for a family, a business and a community.
What a great legacy to leave behind. Not just for a newspaper, but for Columbus county, the state, all those that learned from his mentorship and an incredible family that leads the good fight for the next generation.
The NCPA family grieves for the High family and is thankful for all that he fought for - an open government for the people of North Carolina, a strong and vibrant free press and a robust association that serves it and most importantly his family. Thank you Jim High, rest easy.
James Charles “Jim” High, 85, long-time publisher of The News Reporter, died Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019 at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte after a brief illness.
He was born Jan. 27, 1933, the son of Lonnie Haynes “Boy” High Jr., and Ferrell Moore High. He attended Hallsboro High School and graduated from Bob Jones Academy in Greenville, S.C.
He attended N.C. State for two years, enlisted in the Army for two years, then graduated with a BS in Business from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1959.
The News Reporter became one of the most respected community newspapers in the state under his guidance. He had worked for only a few weeks at The News Reporter when his father-in-law and publisher, Leslie S. Thompson, died suddenly, thrusting the 25-year-old into the role of general manager and publisher.
In the next 61 years of his career, he moved The News Reporter and its office supply division from its small storefront in downtown Whiteville to new facilities on West Columbus Street, adding on to the building twice.
In the newspaper business, Jim was a renaissance man. The News Reporter was one of the first two newspapers in the state to move to offset printing, which revolutionized the look and appearance of newsprint. It was a bold move that required significant investment and risk, but it allowed The News Reporter to expand its operation to print more than 10 newspapers in North and South Carolina. Soon, The News Reporter employed more than 50 people.
Jim later added color capabilities and embraced the change to websites and digital media.
Over the course of his career, The News Reporter won hundreds of state and national awards, but it was Jim’s philanthropy, civic involvement and care for others that made him an iconic figure to many.
Generous, kind, determined, selfless, humble, wise counselor, and gentle giant are some of the words often used to describe Jim. He was a nice man and never said a harsh word about anyone.He was happiest when he made others happy.
Over the course of his life, he very quietly helped a number of young people succeed and was a father figure to many.
He was beloved by his employees, one reason why so many members of The News Reporter family have worked there for 30, 40 or 50 years or more.
He was generous. He cheerfully gave money for local causes big and small, but he always had a soft place in his heart for those less fortunate than himself. For instance, he always tipped the servers in drive-thru fast food windows, thanking them for their hard work in a difficult job.
It’s unknown how many local kids he helped attend college or how often he provided spending money for those who needed it to get ahead in life.
Jim grew up on a farm on Red Hill Road, where he learned the value of hard work. Some of his best friends, both black and white, were the sons of sharecroppers. It was here that he saw the effects of poverty, which likely shaped his willingness to be generous to those who needed a hand up.
His father, Boy High, was a progressive farmer. He grew his own hybrid seed corn that won first-place ribbons at the state fair. He also raised prized Duroc hogs and Jim soon became known by his nickname that stuck with him throughout his high school years and beyond – Duroc.
His mother, Ferrell, was a remarkable musician and tenor. Young Jim took piano lessons for several years at the behest of his mother, which he readily admitted didn’t turn out well.
Still, it developed his appreciation of music, and the piano lessons and exposure to classical music at Bob Jones Academy propelled him to a lifelong love of the symphony and opera.
There was nothing he loved better than Friday nights at the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, or settling down with a box of popcorn to watch four- to six-hour performances of live-streamed operas from the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Jim was an avid outdoorsman, and he loved to hunt and fish. He particularly enjoyed quail hunting. He was a reliable marksman and had a long line of remarkable pointer bird dogs that also became members of the family.
He enjoyed traveling with friends to fish and hunt quail, ducks and geese. For many years, he organized goose hunting trips with friends at Lake Mattamuskeet and later, Peace River Valley of Alberta, Canada.
Back at home, he immersed himself in local projects to make Whiteville and Columbus County a better place to live and work.
He used The News Reporter as a force for good. It was said that if Jim High and The News Reporter got behind a worthwhile project, it was sure to succeed.
He was heavily involved in the Columbus County Committee of 100 and Greater Whiteville Chamber of Commerce. He and a handful of other business leaders were instrumental in bringing jobs to the county.
He was also a philanthropist, cheerfully giving money to good causes, large and small.
He was a lead fundraiser for a number of projects, including the Legion Stadium renovation, Bowers Auditorium, the Carolyn T. High Memorial Library, the Lower Cape Fear Angel House, and The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, among many others.
He was a supporter of Southeastern Community College and the longest-serving member of the SCC Foundation board of directors – 50 years. He was a past president of The North Carolina Press Association and board of directors of The UNC School of Journalism Foundation. He served on the board of directors of United Carolina Bank, the North Carolina board of BB&T, and the board of trustees at Methodist University.
He loved kids and was a little league baseball coach. After every game, he piled the team into a company pick-up truck and took them to Hardees for a post-game celebration.
He had other loves: N.C. State sports, reading, gardening (especially tomatoes), and time at Sunset Beach.
He enjoyed sports and had season tickets to N.C. State and UNC basketball and football games. He enjoyed sharing his tickets with others.
He was a lifelong learner. He was an avid reader of novels and often had two or three, by authors like Tom Clancy or Ken Follett, ongoing at the same time.
His happy place was Sunset Beach, where he had a cottage since the 1970s. It was there he could read, relax and enjoy family away from the constant bustle of the newspaper business.
Perhaps above all, Jim High was a devoted family man.
He was blessed to have two blended families that he loved dearly.
He married his high school sweetheart, Carolyn Thompson High, in 1958. They had two children, Leslie Thompson High and Stuart High Rogers, both of whom returned to work alongside him at The News Reporter. His daughter-in-law, Becky High, also works at the paper.
He and Carolyn spent many hours with their children and enjoyed traveling across the globe, especially with UNC tour groups.
Carolyn, who along with Jim was immersed in local causes, suffered an untimely death after a brief battle with cancer in 1985 at the age of 50. They were married for 27 years.
He later married Sally McKenzie Page, who had lost her husband Pete in a tragic accident.
Together, they travelled extensively and enjoyed symphonic and operatic performances. They were married 32 years.
Jim and Sally spent lots of time with their families, including Sally’s two children, Paul Milton Page and Sarah Page Shifflet and her husband Allen. It was time with the grandchildren, Carly and Margaret High, Parker and Elizabeth Nance, and Paul Shifflet and Anna Grieg, that brought him great joy. He had a special and unique relationship with each of them and enjoyed seeing their successes.
Jim died peacefully Jan. 2 while surrounded by his family over Christmas and New Year’s. He remained mentally sharp and was engaged at The News Reporter, where he worked regular hours and maintained an open door policy, until just four weeks before his death.
He is survived by his wife, Sarah McKenzie High of Lake Waccamaw; his son, Leslie Thompson High and wife, Becky, of Whiteville; his daughter, Stuart High Rogers and husband, Keith, of Lake Waccamaw; Sarah High’s son, Paul Milton Page of Birmingham, Ala.; and her daughter, Sarah Page Shifflet and husband, Allen, of Charlotte.
Grandchildren include Carolyn Nix High of Austin, Texas, Margaret Stuart High of Whiteville, Elizabeth Haynes Nance and Parker Thayer Nance, both of Charlotte, Paul Royer Shifflet of Boston and Anna McKenzie Grieg and husband, Robert, of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Memorials may be made to the Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Whiteville, 415 S. Madison St., Whiteville, N.C. 28472; the Jim High Memorial Fund, Lower Cape Fear Hospice and LifeCare Center, 206 Warrior Trail, Whiteville, N.C. 28472 and the Jim High Memorial Scholarship Fund at the SCC Foundation, P.O. Box 151, Whiteville, N.C. 28472.
A memorial service to celebrate his life is being planned for a later date.