Remembering Rolfe Neill – G.O.A.T.

from the  Publisher

Pride Awards 2020 – Left to right: Rolf Neil, Harvey Gantt, Thereasea Elder, James Ferguson II, Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, Mayor Vi Lyles, Dorthy Counts-Scoggins, Dee Dixon

Rolfe Neill, one of Charlotte’s greatest leaders of all time, died on July 14, 2023. I had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the unique qualities of his leadership style when he was publisher of the “Charlotte Observer” during the late 80s and 90s. Without question, he opened a door of opportunity for me, which has led to a career in Charlotte, North Carolina, I never imagined in my wildest dreams.

The first call back from Rolfe
I’ve told this story often. Having moved back to my parents’ home with three children after a traumatic divorce, I was looking for a job — not a career. It was a harrowing time in my life. At one point, I read something in the Observer about the difficulty in finding qualified minorities to work. Livid and planning to give Rolfe Neill a piece of my mind, I called the Observer and asked to speak to him. As expected, I was told he was unavailable, so I left my name and number. To my surprise, Rolfe Neill actually called me back! I was dumbfounded. Long story short, with a recent master’s degree in urban administration, I ended up as an admin at the Observer in human resources.
For two years, Rolfe would occasionally ask me what I wanted to do at the newspaper. Finally, I responded by saying I wanted to sell advertising and thus began my career. A Black magazine — Community Pride — was born in 1993 during Rolfe’s tenure, and I was a part of the sales team.
I, along with many others, was saddened by Rolfe’s retirement in 1997. The quality that struck me the most about his leadership was his intuitiveness and uncanny ability to ask you a deep and unexpected question. He actually listened and remembered the conversation when he saw you again. It was a well-known fact Rolfe knew every employee by name and treated each with dignity and respect — no DEI training needed. After spending 14 years at the Observer, I left in 2001 as an entrepreneur, becoming the owner and publisher of “Pride Magazine.”

The final call back from Rolfe
Over the years, I periodically connected with Rolfe. In fact, he was one of the legends at our 2020 Pride Awards luncheon. It was such an honor to include him among such heroes as Ophelia Garmon-Brown, Harvey Gantt, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, Dorothy Counts, James Ferguson and Thereasea Elder. Rolfe stood out as the only non-Black person on the stage. I was so very pleased to have him there!
Several months ago, I was saddened upon receiving the news Rolfe was in hospice. Reluctantly, I decided to give him a call, thinking he surely would be unable to talk. He did not answer, so I left a message. Shortly thereafter, he called me back — one last time! We talked and I was able to thank him for being such a meaningful part of my life’s journey.
Did you know there is a public tribute to Rolfe called the “Writer’s Desk” on 7th Street? It is a beautiful collection of quotes from his Sunday columns. I spent time reading them all. I like one in particular: “If we listen carefully, our critics instruct us better than our friends.” – Rolfe Neill