Our Opinion: Mrs. Swindell set sterling example

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Elizabeth Gold Swindell shattered the glass ceiling, but she spent as much time in the newsroom as in boardrooms during her tenure as publisher of The Wilson Daily Times.

Widely honored as a newspaper industry leader, Swindell considered the quiet work of chronicling her community every bit as important as serving in prominent roles on boards and commissions. She set the tone for this page’s strong editorial voice on public policy matters, a tradition we strive to uphold.

“She would write an editorial almost every night,” recalled Kennon Borden Jr., Swindell’s great-nephew. “After having published the newspaper, she would come home at night and write an editorial for the next day. It was important to her that The Wilson Times had a voice and gave a voice to the Wilson community.”

Swindell grew up around the newspaper as the oldest of Times founder John D. Gold’s three daughters. She married attorney Frederick Swindell and intended to be a homemaker, beginning what former city editor Jim Fulghum called “a second life” following her husband’s illness and untimely death.

She “possessed unusual talent in the business affairs of the newspaper,” Fulghum wrote in a 1971 tribute, “and was soon the most capable ‘management’ person on the staff.”

Swindell served as the paper’s business manager, and when her father sold the Times to Pennsylvania native Herbert D. Brauff, her contributions were so integral that Brauff offered her a one-fifth ownership stake to entice her to remain on staff. Two years later, she purchased the paper from the Brauff family and took the reins as editor and publisher.

“She had to become a writer of daily material, something she had not done before,” Fulghum wrote. “She had written some materials in the past at the Times, but never daily editorials and stories. She became proficient at it as she had done at the business side of the newspaper.”

While leading the Times’ news coverage and weighing in on matters of local importance on this opinion page, Swindell was also becoming a force in the publishing world. Her first leadership roles came in 1951, when she was elected president of both the Association of Afternoon Dailies and the Eastern North Carolina Press Association. In 1963, Swindell became the first woman elected to lead the North Carolina Press Association.

“Elizabeth Swindell moved into a man’s world,” Fulghum noted. “That she was able to succeed in this kind of environment became possible because she was willing to work hard.”

Gov. Dan Moore appointed Swindell to the state commission that replaced the UNC speaker ban law with a policy more favorable to free speech.

“Mrs. Swindell’s integrity and insistence on determining the facts and looking at problems objectively, with the good of the state and its people in mind, made her an outstanding and extremely valuable member of the Speaker Ban Commission,” Moore wrote.

Those words, along with Fulghum’s, are recorded in an Oct. 15, 1971, special edition of The Wilson Daily Times printed to commemorate a community appreciation dinner held in Swindell’s honor at the Atlantic Christian College student union. The city council and county commissioners had proclaimed Oct. 15 Elizabeth Gold Swindell Day in Wilson County.

Moore, who was then serving as a state Supreme Court justice, noted Swindell’s commitment to accurate reporting.

“Although her personal opinion was no secret and was freely expressed in her editorials, she never allowed the newspaper to reflect her personal opinion in the news stories, which remained factual and objective,” he wrote.

Elizabeth Gold Swindell has been hailed as a role model for women in journalism and business, and we hope her life will serve to inspire women and girls. She set an example of hard work, determination, persistence and commitment that men and boys also would do well to follow.

On Saturday, we celebrated the installation of a state historical marker at the Frederick D. Swindell House, which is now home to her grandson Morgan Dickerman, the newspaper’s fifth-generation family owner. The marker includes Swindell’s birth and death years, her years of service as publisher and her distinction as the press association’s first female president.

“We kinda joke that these are like tweets,” said Ansley Wegner, administrator of the North Carolina highway historical marker program. “It’s just about 25 words to tell a story. Obviously we can’t tell everything, so we’ve got a website where you can go and read a little bit more about the topic.”

We hope passersby will take inspiration from Swindell’s achievements and learn more about her, both from the highway marker program’s website and from the newspaper to which she devoted her life.