GREENSBORO — On what would have been his 78th birthday, longtime News & Record reporter Stan Swofford will be celebrated by friends and family on July 26.
Swofford, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, died Tuesday at Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro after a long illness.
“Stan was one of the greatest reporters we ever had — a combination writer and reporter,” former Managing Editor Irwin Smallwood said. “Someone might have been a better writer or a better reporter, but I’m not sure anybody ever did better at both.
“He would have been a star at any newspaper in this country.”
His work spotlighted the misuse of tax dollars, government scandals and people incarcerated unjustly.
“Once Stan grabbed hold of an investigative project, watch out. He kept at it until he got results,” fellow News & Record reporter Jim Schlosser recalled. “Stan’s sense of outrage about wrongdoing in politics, government and life in general knew no limit.”
He came from an era of journalism that was grittier, when newsrooms were filled with cigarette smoke and the sound of typewriters, and reporters like Swofford were real-life characters who were as rich and vivid as their subjects.
“As a reporter, Stan is part stereotype,” wrote Editor John Robinson when Swofford retired in 2006. “He’s fearless and relentless in tracking a story. ... At the same time, he plays against the gruff reporter image; he’s as kind and gracious as anyone I know.”
Swofford showed that softer side in a 1990 column about being a “late in life” father.
“I am certain that it has made me acutely aware of how fleeting and elusive time really is,” he wrote.
Swofford’s brush with Pulitzer fame stemmed from his investigative reporting in 1976 about the unjust convictions of nine black men and one white woman for a deadly firebombing in Wilmington.
His 70-plus articles about the Wilmington 10 prompted Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978 to commute their sentences to time served.
“I became convinced that the Wilmington 10, were, at best, victims of a terrible injustice, or at worst, railroaded following the violent rioting that left many thousands of dollars in property destroyed and two people, a black youth and a white man, dead,” Swofford wrote in 2014.
In 2013, former Gov. Bev Perdue issued a full pardon for the Wilmington 10, and then-N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper approved $1.1 million in compensation for the six surviving members.
Swofford’s series of stories won first place in the N.C. Press Association competition for investigative reporting and helped the Greensboro Daily News win the coveted Public Service award.
But the recognition Swofford said he treasured most was a plaque from the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ. It reads: “For his untiring search for truth and justice for the Wilmington 10 which brought into full light the inconsistency between what is said about justice and what is done.”
Swofford was a helicopter crew chief in the Vietnam War. After he retired, he taught journalism at UNCG and wrote a book, “Rhino Tough.”
He is survived by his wife, Kay; his son, Andrew; his daughter, Katy Moore, her husband, Robert, and two grandsons.
The funeral will be at 3 p.m., July 26, at Congregational United Church of Christ, 400 W. Radiance Drive in Greensboro. The family will greet friends after the service. Memorials may be made in Swofford’s honor to Congregational UCC.