Former Charlotte Observer Publisher Rolfe Neill dies at age 90

Jul 14, 2023, 2:03 PM | Updated: 2:18 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Rolfe Neill, a longtime newspaperman and editor who led The Charlotte Observer as its publisher when it won a pair of Pulitzer Prizes for public service, died Friday at age 90.

Neill, a North Carolina native whose journalism career included two stops in Charlotte between leadership positions in other big-city papers, died of complications from peritoneal cancer at his Lake Norman-area home, daughter Ingrid Ebert told the Observer.

In 1975, Neill became publisher and president of the Observer and the now-defunct afternoon Charlotte News. He retired as Observer publisher at the end of 1997, the newspaper reported.

Described as a perfectionist when it came to producing a newspaper, Neill also played a significant role in helping Charlotte grow and mature into a national powerhouse through his relationships with political and business leaders in the region and state.

“He had one foot in being the publisher of the newspaper and one foot in the community, and he was a force in both,” said former Duke Power CEO Bill Grigg, a longtime friend. “You can certainly say Rolfe is one of a handful of community leaders who over the past 40 years did more than just about anybody to make Charlotte what it is today.”

The Observer won a Pulitzer in 1981 for a series of stories on “brown lung” suffered by textile workers breathing in dust and in 1988 for reporting on the financial misdeeds at the Charlotte-area PTL television ministry led by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

“I had this strong desire to influence things for the better,” Neill once said. “Some things we didn’t get done. Some things maybe we fell short in. I tried to guide and inspire and improve people. But in the end, having said my piece, I left them to do what they thought best.”

Born in Mount Airy in 1932, Neill spent the second half of his childhood in Columbus, Georgia, where he delivered the local paper. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he became editor of The Daily Tar Heel, the Observer reported.

After an Army stint that included working for Stars and Stripes and a brief time at the weekly Franklin Press newspaper in the North Carolina mountains, the Observer hired him to open the paper’s Gastonia bureau. By 1958 he was the paper’s business editor.

Next he worked at several newspapers in Florida, including The Miami Beach Daily Sun, and moved in 1965 to the New York Daily News, where he ultimately became an assistant managing editor. He then became editor of the Philadelphia Daily News until he returned to Charlotte.

Former Observer editors and reporters generated a range of descriptions about Neill’s work habits and demeanor.

Some cited his charisma, his ability to know the names of everyone working in the Observer building, and his expression of confidence in staff even when there were disagreements.

“He was one of the most personable people I’ve ever worked for,” former Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland said.

Others said it was sometimes difficult to meet his expectations.

“He was the smartest person I ever worked for, very strong in character and driven by high standards,” former Observer Editor Rich Oppel said. Still, he added, “I never met an editor who worked for Rolfe who felt that he or she measured up.”

Neill continued in civic and charitable endeavors in Charlotte after retirement, including literacy, the arts and the protection of green spaces.

Neill’s wife of 28 years, Ann Marshall Snider, died in 2016, the newspaper reported. He had several children from a previous marriage.

United States News

Associated Press

Former Colombian military officer accused in base bombing extradited to Florida

MIAMI (AP) — A former Colombian military officer accused of injuring dozens, including three U.S. soldiers, in a bombing attack at a Colombian military base has been extradited to South Florida. A five-count indictment against Andres Fernando Medina Rodriguez, 39, was unsealed Friday in Miami federal court, according to court records. A federal grand jury […]

27 minutes ago

Associated Press

Los Angeles police searching for suspect in three fatal shootings of homeless people

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles police are searching for a suspect in the fatal shootings of three homeless people in separate incidents around the city, authorities announced Friday. All three shootings occurred in the early morning hours over several days in November, Police Chief Michel Moore said at a news conference along with Mayor […]

55 minutes ago

Associated Press

US expels an ex-Chilean army officer accused of a folk singer’s torture and murder

MIAMI (AP) — The U.S. has expelled a former Chilean Army officer accused of torturing and killing folk singer Victor Jara during the country’s bloody 1973 coup. Pedro Barrientos had emigrated to Florida in 1990, the same year the bloody dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet came to an end. This year, he was stripped of […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby; Ron Dermer, Israeli minister of strategic affairs; Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. ___ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Kirby; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate; Allyson Felix, Olympic gold medalist and Black maternal health advocate. ___ CBS’ “Face the […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Movie armorer in ‘Rust’ fatal shooting pleads not guilty to unrelated gun charge

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The weapons supervisor on the film set where Alec Baldwin shot and killed a cinematographer in 2021 waived her arraignment in a separate case, pleading not guilty to a charge of carrying a gun into a Santa Fe bar. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed had been set to appear in court next week […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

UN ends political mission in Sudan, where world hasn’t been able to stop bloodshed

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council voted Friday to end its political mission of a few hundred people dedicated to ending the civil war in Sudan. Russia abstained from the unanimous vote to end UNITAMS, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan. The United States’ and United Kingdom’s ambassadors expressed […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Dierdre Woodruff

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Follow @KTAR923...

West Hunsaker at Morris Hall supports Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona

KTAR's Community Spotlight this month focuses on Morris Hall and its commitment to supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Arizona.


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.

Former Charlotte Observer Publisher Rolfe Neill dies at age 90