Former Roanoke Times editor, Ben Bowers, dies at age 82

BY LAURENCE HAMMACK

laurence.hammack@roanoke.com

Ben J. Bowers, editor of The Roanoke Times during a time when the clatter of typewriters filled the newsroom, died Wednesday. He was 82.Bowers died at his home in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he worked in journalism before and after his tenure as editor of The Roanoke Times, which lasted from 1973 to 1982. At the time of his retirement in 1993, he was vice president and executive editor of the Greensboro News and Record.

Those who worked with Bowers in Roanoke recalled him not as a flamboyant or hands-on editor, but rather a strong manager who was committed to expanding and improving the newspaper’s coverage at a time of growth in the industry.

“Back then, it wasn’t a question of going down, it was going up,” said now-retired Forrest “Frosty” Landon, who became editor of The Roanoke Times when Bowers moved on in 1982 to take the editor’s job in Greensboro.

Through his hiring decisions, organizational skills and leadership style, Bowers fostered an attitude of “chasing good, important stories all over the western half of Virginia,” Landon said.

He also realized the importance of community news, beefing up a Neighbors section that was zoned to cover four sections of the city. And he oversaw the transition of what was once called the women’s section to Extra, with a broader emphasis on feature stories and coverage of the arts and popular culture.

“He would be there if you needed him, but he trusted his staff to be professionals and he didn’t hover over them,” said Sandra Kelly, who served as the newspaper’s first Extra editor.

Before coming to Roanoke in 1973, Bowers was the managing editor of what was then the Greensboro Record. At the time, Landmark Communications owned both the Roanoke and Greensboro papers, which are now owned by BH Media Group.

Bowers served as editor of both The Roanoke Times, a morning paper, and The World-News, which was published in the afternoon. During his tenure, the morning and evening newspapers were merged in 1977 to become an all-day newspaper with morning and evening editions, called the Roanoke Times & World-News. The evening edition was eliminated in 1991, and the newspaper’s name reverted to The Roanoke Times in 1995.

A native of Baskerville in Southside Virginia, Bowers graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1954. He also did graduate work at Duke University and completed an advanced management program at Harvard University.

Bowers began his newspaper career at the Farmville Herald in Virginia, following two years of service in the U.S. Army. In 1962, he became editor of The Norfolk Ledger-Star’s weekly Virginia Beach Beacon. He left the Beacon several years later to go to Petersburg, where he was managing editor of the Progress-Index. He then went to Greensboro.

JoAnne Poindexter, a retired Roanoke Times reporter and current freelancer, was working for the paper when Bowers arrived in 1973. She remembered him as a stickler for detail who was not afraid to level criticism — but not in a way that left hard feelings.

“Ben was one of the editors where you could always go in his office and talk to him,” Poindexter said.

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