CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charlie Connor, former Daily Mail executive editor and co-creator of Charley West, died Sunday in Florida, his family confirmed. He was 89 years old.
He began his career at the Daily Mail in 1948 as an obituary reporter just one week after graduating from Marshall University, according to an obituary provided by the family. Over the next three and a half decades he would rise through the ranks from reporter to managing editor to executive editor.
He was among a group of staff members that in 1958 created Charley West, the newspaper's wise-cracking mascot who offers up witticisms from a lower corner of the front page each day.
Former Daily Mail publisher Sam Hindman said Connor "personified" Charley West. He said he was deeply saddened at the news of his death.
"Charlie was the consummate journalist," he said. "He was part of the old guard at the Daily Mail back years ago. I admired him greatly."
Connor was named publisher of Beckley Newspapers in 1981, according to the family's obituary. He retired from journalism in 1987.
Nanya Friend, who recently stepped down as Daily Mail editor and publisher, said Connor hired her as education reporter in 1977.
"He was a terrific editor, always upbeat and encouraging. He took on local causes and pursued them doggedly but with flair and grace.
"One of those causes was the gilding of the Capitol dome, and I remember being sent out on a rainy day to conduct man-on-the-street interviews about it. Charlie had good instincts, and people were overwhelmingly in favor.
To this day, Friend said she often thinks of Connor when she sees the dome gleaming in the city's skyline.
"It has become iconic and was well worth the investment," she said.
Colleagues also remembered him for maintaining a fun work atmosphere. Friend said he had a particular love for St. Patrick's Day.
"We were an afternoon paper when he was one of our top editors, and that meant most of us arrived at work by 7 a.m.," she said. "Despite the early hour, on March 17 we would walk into a newsroom decorated with bright green shamrocks and green crepe paper hanging from the ceiling tiles. There would be green doughnuts by the coffee machine.
"After work that afternoon, Charlie would take a horde of young reporters downtown for green beer.
"He created an esprit de corps that made the Daily Mail a fun place to work."
Newspapers were in his blood from an early age. He began his own neighborhood newspaper at the age of 10 in his hometown of Huntington, according to the obituary.
Longtime readers also may remember Connor's six-days-a-week column "Roving the Valley with Friends and Neighbors," which enjoyed wide readership.
He was twice named a Distinguished West Virginian -- once by Republican Gov. Arch Moore and again by Democratic Gov. Gaston Caperton.
He served on the Marshall University Board of Advisers and later on the statewide Board of Regents.
During World War II he served with the Army Signal Corps in North Africa as a staff sergeant.
He was among the first Marshall graduates elected to the W. Page Pitt's School of Journalism Hall of Fame. He also was a recipient of the West Virginia Press Association's "Premier Journalist" award.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Nancy McGrew Connor, and his four children: Charles Michael Connor of El Dorado, Calif.; Carolyn Monday of Stafford, Va.; Amy Connor of San Diego; and Marsha Bescos of Los Angeles. He had 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be announced in the near future.
A memorial gift may be made to the Nancy and Charlie Connor Fund, Beckley Area Foundation, 129 Main St., Suite 203, Beckley, WV 25801.
Memorial gifts may be made to Suncoast Hospice, 3050 1st Ave. St. Petersburg, FL 33712.