Monday, January 28, 2008
Journalist active in Roanoke civic life
John Eure helped usher in Roanoke's post-war news values, both at the Times and WBDJ.
John Walter Eure Jr. went to Las Vegas on April 22, 1955, to watch an atomic bomb test.
At the time, Eure was assistant to the president of Times-World Corp., and starting out as news director for WDBJ-TV. He was one of 3,500 journalists picked to observe the test that became known as Operation Cue.
Later he gave talks about his experience at the May 5, 1955, bomb detonation, describing how, though he was supposedly protected behind a concrete wall, he was close enough to hear and feel the explosion, and to see the houses built in the testing ground disintegrate.
A newspaperman, radio personality, civic leader and philanthropist, Eure died early Sunday of kidney failure brought about by old age. He was 93.
"He was a bit of an anomaly in the newspaper business, because he was such a nice guy," quipped banker and civic leader Warner Dalhouse. "He was quite versatile, because he was scholarly, and had a wonderful mind."
A timely investment in Landmark Communications stock when the company purchased Roanoke's newspaper in 1969 -- prior to the advent of what became Landmark's best-known property, The Weather Channel -- ultimately allowed Eure to engage in philanthropy, another anomaly in the newspaper business.
Causes he contributed to included Roanoke's public libraries and Jefferson Center's Shaftman Performance Hall, and he gave to local churches. "It was scattered throughout the community," assisting causes that Eure felt deserved more attention, Dalhouse said. "It was, for his capacity, quite generous."
Eure was born Nov. 19, 1914, in Richmond, where his father, John, was a Methodist minister. He grew up in Lynchburg, where his mother, Addie, taught English at E.C. Glass High School. He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1936 -- a chemistry major who found the advanced study of this science too bewildering.
According to his son-in-law, Roanoke Circuit Court Judge Clifford Weckstein, Eure hitchhiked around the state looking for jobs his senior year, taking what he called a "do-everything" job at a newspaper in South Boston when he graduated. Later that year, he joined The Roanoke Times.
He met Virginia Dickens while taking English classes at Roanoke College and married her in 1940. They had two sons and a daughter. One son, Rob Eure, followed in his footsteps as a journalist and preceded him in death, dying of a heart attack in 2005 at his desk in Cairo, Egypt. His other son, John Eure, is a Roanoke lawyer, and daughter Ginger Weckstein is director of Roanoke's CITY School and teaches government there.
Before Army service interrupted his news career in 1943, Eure had advanced to state editor. On his return after an honorable discharge in 1946, he became dayside state and city editor for the Times, then forged into new territory as news director for WDBJ Radio, which the newspaper company owned.
"He had a good voice," Dalhouse said. Aside from overseeing news content, Eure would record a daily business roundup for the station. Ginger Weckstein recalled going to the station on days her father was working late and sitting quietly while he made his recording.
He became first assistant to the president of Times-World Corp., then a vice president in January 1960. During that time, he was active in numerous civic affairs. He served as a member of the Roanoke School Board, and directed successful campaigns to bring polio vaccines to the city's children and to get a bond issue passed for school funding.
Eure was named Father of the Year for civic affairs in 1959.
He returned to the newspaper side of the corporation in 1962 as managing editor of the evening World-News, the job he retired from in 1977. Jimmy Thacker, city editor while Eure was managing editor, recalled that Eure remained involved in civic activities while editor, and took a hands-off approach to the day-to-day running of the newsroom.
He was so well-known in the city's social circles, "you could not walk three steps downtown without someone greeting him," his daughter recalled.
A scholarly, pipe-smoking man, Eure told a reporter once that he had an obsession with good grammar and correct spelling. There was something old-world about him and a reporter once described him as walking with a "Dickensian shamble."
He was a visiting professor of journalism at Virginia Tech, and a journalism award at the school was named after him.
Virginia Eure died in 1973. Four years later, Eure married Peggy Thomas Mayer, and was a loving stepfather to her four children, his son-in-law said. His second wife, too, preceded him in death.
Eure spent his final months at Pheasant Ridge Nursing Center in Roanoke County. While he was there, one of his fellow residents recognized his name and remembered his radio broadcasts, Ginger Weckstein said.
The newsroom during her father's time was very different than today's, with smoke in the air, spitoons at the desks and the constant racket of the teletype machine back then.
Eure saw journalism as a calling of tremendous importance to the nation's survival. For him, "it was truly essential work to our existence," Ginger Weckstein said. "You have to know what's going on in order to govern yourself."