It’s with a heavy heart that I write this column about my 90-year-old uncle, Frank Arthur Daniels Jr. My mentor, role model, friend and business partner, Frank Jr. died at his home in Raleigh Thursday afternoon.
Frank Jr. knew — and I quickly learned from him — that newspapering is inherently stressful. We employ a small army of creatives and ask them to work under deadline pressure every day — not to mention the vagaries of a few dozen carriers delivering papers to thousands of homes and businesses in the middle of the night.
So, the best publishers know that a big part of their job is to alleviate stress for their staff. Frank Arthur Daniels Jr. mastered this skill by bringing humor and candor to the inevitable tense situations.
As The Pilot’s board chairman for the last 26 years, Frank used to tell me regularly that he was never bothered if I angered a local civic leader – as long as I did it on purpose.
He taught me that lesson early in my time here in the Sandhills. That’s when a corporate executive called — cussing mad — to complain about his organization’s treatment on our editorial pages. The corporate heavy concluded his tirade by screaming, “You’re nothing but a disgrace to your famous publishing family.”
The executive was so irate, I thought it prudent to call Frank and let him know that he might expect an angry call too. As I recounted the incident, I can still hear Frank reassuring me, “David, you’ll never go wrong punching the town’s biggest bully in the nose. But, you’ll always be wrong in failing to offer a hand up to the weakest folks around.”
Then, he tossed in his classic wry sense of humor to calm me down. “Besides, the jury is still out on whether or not you’re a disgrace.”
The alert readers among you might recognize Frank’s name from its mention at the bottom of our editorial page with every edition since 1996. Frank believed that readers should know who owns their newspaper. That’s why we proudly place his name as well as the other four owners in every one of our publications.
I’d call Frank a silent investor, except he was anything but silent with me. Early in my time here in Southern Pines, Frank badgered me to create a telephone directory for our community. He was spoiling to battle with the monopoly utility company, which he felt was taking advantage of small businesses in town, and he wanted to serve this special community more completely than with just the newspaper.
I came up with dozens of reasons to avoid getting into the phone book business. He was unmoved by any of them.
In exasperation, I told him that I would give him a phonebook and I was going to spend an exorbitant amount of money to do it. He replied by slapping the table and declaring, “That’s the spirit! I can’t wait to see it this spring!”
It’s hard to believe, but 25 years later we’re still publishing Frank’s phonebook.
He also taught me to think beyond the newspaper and to use the publishing company as a force for civic good. That’s why we saved The Country Bookshop when its future was in doubt. We bought the struggling PineStraw magazine and Seven Lakes Insider, started The Sway and First Flight Agency, as well as Frank’s favorite phonebook.
That’s also why we expanded our journalistic operations to Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro. Frank felt that most publishing initiatives failed from a lack of funding, not because they were flawed ideas.
“Don’t cheap out on it,” he would implore me on countless occasions, knowing my frugal nature.
An aptly named newspaper titan who chaired just about every industry trade group in America, Frank was famous for his frankness. Having served a few years in the Air Force just as the Korean War concluded, Frank learned to pepper his sentences with profanity. That was evident in one of my first lessons from him.
After we struck a deal with Sam Ragan to buy The Pilot through a competitive bidding process (but before the deal closed), one of the other bidders reached out to my uncle to offer his services as publisher. He did so with an impassioned and impressive five-page letter.
In his typical fashion, Frank scratched out a brief note at the top of the letter and forwarded it to me. “David, this fella might make a good editor. Give him a call.”
By every measure, “this fella” was more qualified to be publisher of The Pilot than me. He was an Ivy League-educated attorney as well as a former political reporter and state government editor for The Charlotte Observer. The only thing he wasn’t was my uncle’s 30-year-old nephew.
He growled into the phone. “If you have to be the ##!## smartest ###!!! !!!##!! ##!!! ##!!, then we might as well sell the ##!!! ### !!! ### paper today, because we’re going to !!##!!! fail.”
Ever an astute observer of his audience, Frank could tell I was rattled by his remarks. So, he softened his tone and hammered home his point, which was brilliant and has propelled The Pilot ever since. He patiently explained that first-rate managers are confident, and confident managers aren’t afraid to hire people who are better than themselves.
“Besides,” he said with a grin as he twisted that knife in just a little bit deeper, “You’re the second largest shareholder in the company and my nephew. And, if that doesn’t make you confident in your position, then you’re not the guy I thought you were!”
Message received. So, that became our rule. Every executive that we hired had to be better than me. But, it’s made all the difference for us.
When Frank finished dressing me down, I stammered that I would call “this fella” and discuss becoming our new editor. As an aside, “this fella” politely declined my job offer and went on to become a best-selling author. But, we would become good friends. I expect to connect with him at Frank’s funeral.
Everyone can use a Frank Jr. in their life. He was a brutally honest friend who loved opening doors for me and reveled in my accomplishments — no matter how insignificant.
I revered him. So much so that I patterned my life after him.
Frank Jr. went to boarding school at Woodberry Forest. So, I did — at his recommendation.
Frank Jr. went to college in Chapel Hill. So, I worked hard to get into school there too.
Frank Jr. chose to go into our family’s newspaper business. And, to no one in my family’s surprise, I followed him into this line of work.
I wanted to be just like him. Except, I discovered over the years that I couldn’t.
Frank made a difference by serving his beloved Old North State. I know it sounds like an old-fashioned notion, but Frank wanted me to create an organization of statewide influence that did well by doing good. Frank felt that creating publications of national renown was the best public service that we could render. We work hard every day to accomplish that goal.
A great North Carolinian, Frank personified our state motto: Esse Quam Videri – to be rather than to seem. He will be missed by many. And, that’s the ##!!#&^%!! Truth.