Remembering Rose: She covered county like no other for five decades

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 26, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Rose Post knew everybody, and everybody knew her.
She climbed toward the top of many mountains.
As a mother. As a friend. As a mentor. And she was remembered and celebrated Thursday as a special journalist whose stories seemed to enrich her as much as they touched the people she wrote about.
After a lengthy struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Post died Thursday morning at her Carillon Assisted Living residence.
Over her 56-year career with the Salisbury Post, she became identified closely with the newspaper and her name was attached to so many stories that sometimes readers assumed the Salisbury Post was named for her.
She was 85. Post had retired at the end of September 2007.
“Thinking about Rose and all she has meant to the community is bittersweet,” Post editor Elizabeth Cook said. “Her passing is sad, and our sympathies go out to the family. But Rose was such a wonderful, compassionate person — and a powerful writer. She leaves a great legacy to celebrate and remember.”
Rose Post was a 5-foot-tall dynamo with soulful, penetrating eyes — eyes that would never leave the subjects of her interviews, even as she typed or scribbled notes in her pad.
Friends and co-workers said Post wrote about the human condition within a framework of hope, love and compassion. She often left the people she interviewed feeling as though she were not just a reporter, but a person who loved and cared for them.
Which she did.
“People opened up to her often personal questions, and her stories captured the essence of the person in such an enjoyable manner,” said Phil Kirk, a longtime friend and former chairman of the N.C. Board of Education.
“Readers could not wait to get their copy of the Post to read what Rose had written.”
It was not unusual to see people approach Post, hug her and remind her how she had entered their lives through one of her stories.
“Rose meant so much to so many people, especially those who lived more on hope than resources,” said former Post colleague Ned Cline, retired managing editor of the Greensboro News & Record.
“To me, she was a special and lasting friend who taught by example about life and love for everyone.”
The human touch
Post also never lost a bulldog tenaciousness for pursuing a story.
Photographer James Barringer shared assignments with Post for 45 years.
“I always liked working with Rose,” he once said. “She made me feel like part of a team. Rose was born to be a storyteller, and when she learned of a good story, there was no stopping her. No one could say ‘No’ to Rose.”
Susan Shinn, another former colleague, said her mother gave her the highest compliment Thursday morning.
“She said, ‘Rose Post will live on in you because you’ve got so many of her traits.’ I learned from Rose two main traits: tenacity intertwined with compassion.”
The always modest Post liked to say the best place any story could go was on the refrigerator. And during her decades as education reporter for the Post, many of her school stories ended up there.
Before becoming a full-time columnist and writing human interest pieces, she covered the local school boards so closely that they reserved seats for her at meetings, almost as an ex-officio member.
Cline said, “Journalists who write about schools and governments deal mostly with statistics in stories, but Rose was that rare reporter who saw and understood that there are real and deserving people behind those numbers.
“That’s what made her stories come alive, always written with compassion and caring. She always maintained the human touch that is too often lacking on today’s news pages.”
Post rejoiced daily in having a job at the newspaper.
“I just thought we were the most privileged group of people who ever lived,” she said, “and I pinched myself all the time that I got paid for doing what I did, because I was having such a good time.”
Work ethic
Her work ethic was beyond reproach and always a cause for wonder among new Post reporters.
“Rose was irreplaceable,” former Post Publisher Jim Hurley said. “She could accomplish more in one day than most of us could do in a week.”
Toward the end of her career, many tributes came Post’s way.
In 2005, artists painted her into Salisbury’s downtown mural off West Fisher Street.
Five Salisbury mayors paid tribute to Post with a birthday celebration at City Hall in October 2007. It was officially Rose Post Day in the city.
In December 2007, the newspaper ran a special 16-page Rose Post section, which included readers sharing many of their memories of the writer, reporter and friend. It also reprinted some of her stories.
Some Post subscribers have saved folders of her work.
She wrote two series of articles about her family’s trips back to her mother’s Latvian homeland, telling the history of Russia and the Soviet Union in a personal and profound way.
From her cluttered corner desk in the newsroom, she covered Desert Storm and the war in Iraq through countless stories of soldiers from here.
She bravely did some ground-breaking work on AIDS, when people were just beginning to understand what the disease was.
Other stories penned by Rose Post were just as memorable, such as a piece on a local Vietnamese immigrant accused of killing a Charlotte man, and her consistent reporting on the difficult years of integration, then the merger of city and county schools.
A fearless, aggressive reporter, she seldom backed off any assignment.
Rose and the newspaper were sued in 1984 for invasion of privacy connected to stories of a Wisconsin couple who came to Salisbury seeking to find a daughter they had left behind 17 years earlier when they were carnival workers at the county fair.
Post’s stories ultimately identified the girl and led to the privacy suit, which went all the way to the N.C. Supreme Court. The court declined to accept the tort known as “publication of truthful, embarrassing private fact” as part of the legal fabric of the state. Journalism schools study the law today.
Post is thought to have won more awards from the N.C. Press Association than anyone else. She was a winner of the O Henry Award from the Associated Press several times and was inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame.
‘So-called little people’
In 1990 Post received the prestigious Ernie Pyle Award for human-interest writing.
Judges for the Ernie Pyle Award said, “Rose Post is a splendid writer whose stories ignite deep feelings and understanding for the so-called little people who share our planet. Through Rose Post’s perceptive writing, we share their joys, fears, hopes and victories.”
She found the attention embarrassing and considered any awards she won as flukes.
Post once said, “Working for the newspaper is like having the keys to everyone’s house. People are just so kind, it’s just incredible how many people you get to meet, know and hug.”
It was an amazing aspect of her life that no matter how much time she devoted to the newspaper, Post would have preferred being with her family. She and her late husband, Eddie, raised five high-achieving children and became matriarch and patriarch to all the branches of the family.
She confided once that she never viewed the job as her priority. “I act like this is the No. 1 place,” she said in 1996, “but it isn’t.”
Born in Morganton
Rose Hannah Zimmerman, born in Morganton, moved with her family to Marion, Va., when she was 4. Her father, Sam, was a merchant and Jewish immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His homeland later became Poland. Her mother left Latvia as a young girl during revolutionary times
The Zimmermans came to Salisbury in 1939 when Rose was 12 and lived above the family’s store, Zimmerman’s, on North Main Street.
Post said she knew she wanted to be a writer by the time she was in fourth grade. She was writing her own version of Nancy Drew mysteries as a sixth-grader. Her homeroom teacher, Helen Jenkins, required her students to write something every week and also proved to be an early mentor for her.
Post graduated from Salisbury’s Boyden High School and Woman’s College in Greensboro. She married Eddie Post, lived for a brief time in New York but returned to Salisbury to work at her family’s store before joining the Salisbury Evening Post on June 16, 1951, when she was a young mother of two.
Her starting salary was $35 a week in an all-male newsroom, except for the women in the society department.
Over the years, she covered schools and human services agencies, wrote a popular Sunday column called “The Kibitzer” and settled into columns and feature writing full-time in the 1980s.
Family life
Eddie Post, her mother and housekeepers made it possible for Rose to spend as much time as she did at the newspaper. Eddie often lent an ear to the stories she was working on, while sharing in the child care, cooking and support of her career.
She and Eddie attended 25 consecutive years of PTA meetings and for 17 years had at least one child in college.
Her children said Rose was a mother first and looked on her newspaper work as a way to enrich all of their lives.
Her grandchildren called her “Mac,” a nickname Eddie had given her. Later it became “Bubie Mac.” (The Jewish word for grandmother is “Bubbe.”)
“I remember her telling the story of why she always wears the Star of David,” Post People editor Katie Scarvey wrote once. “When an anti-Semitic remark was made by a prominent citizen in her presence, Rose did not become angry. That’s not her style. Instead she chooses to quietly let people know about her religion by displaying the necklace so there will be no need for bitter words.
“Angry words are divisive. Our Rose is a uniter.”
Former Mayor Paul Bernhardt, a close friend, once called Rose Post the voice of the people and said her writing often was “about getting the community to do things.”
Gordon Hurley, former president of Post Publishing, said whenever Post wrote of anyone’s problems, “help would soon be on the way from her loyal readership.”
“It’s been said the greatest gift you can give someone is the purity of your attention … the purity of her attention is exactly what Rose has given our community,” Scarvey wrote. “How many people have you met — without ulterior motives — who tuned into you so intently, as Rose did, that you felt you were the only person in the world?”
No stopping her
When she worked as an executive assistant for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz learned how to funnel calls away from her boss, then Superintendent Don Martin. But she found out quickly not to divert Post.
“You weren’t going to stop her,” Kluttz said in 2007.
Post and Barringer once rode the length of U.S. 70 in North Carolina — from the mountains to the coast, and recorded stories along the way. They also shared a seven-day trip to the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996, when U.S. Sen. Bob Dole became the GOP nominee for president.
Post was the hands-down authority on Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, a Salisbury native.
Barringer once recalled Post’s learning of an Amish family that had moved to Iredell County. Because the family didn’t have a telephone, she and Barringer meandered through the countryside until finding the farm, where Post explained that she wanted to do a story about the family.
“They politely said no and started to shut the door,” Barringer recalled. “Rose stuck her foot in the door so it couldn’t close and walked in. The people were too polite to throw us out and, in about an hour, Rose had her story and some new friends.”
“It seemed like everywhere we went,” Barringer added, “Rose knew somebody.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.