File under quality of life—yours and mine

A wave of sadness passed through the disparate community of Western North Carolina activists at the news of Chick Squire’s death Jan. 4. A lot of us knew Chick, who died at age 88 of natural causes, as well as from what I call the miracle of life.

Chick Squire

Chick was the last of the old guard who stood by and believed in this publication, all the way from its inception as Green Line many years ago to the current weekly print and online avatars of Mountain Xpress. The first guardsman was my father, John E. Fobes; Chick was the second; and Julian Price was the third. Each in his own way offered key support for the project, keeping me focused on its mission and urging, “Don’t quit” at the right moments. All three are now gone.

Chick knew print media like the back of his hand, but evidence of his vision and ideas is spread across the local landscape. For starters, ask the folks at the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Pisgah Legal Services, the North Carolina Writers’ Network, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, who have all benefited from his wisdom and encouragement. Chick cared deeply about social justice and protecting the environment—things he considered key elements of any community’s quality of life.

Back in 1989, Chick urged Green Line, which was then all news and little fun (leading some to dub it “Grim Line”), to add arts coverage to its insistent drumbeat for the environment and social justice. Broadening the publication’s focus was a key step in its eventual evolution into Mountain Xpress.

And in 1994, Green Line‘s last year—when it had become clear that we simply couldn’t continue as we were—one quirky solution was to dig in even deeper, switching from a monthly to a weekly format and aiming for a broader audience. In a particularly dark moment, I remember asking Chick if it might not be best just to cease publication altogether. Scratching his chin thoughtfully, he said: “I wouldn’t do that; it’ll turn around. Just keep at it. I think it’ll be OK.”

Thanks, Chick.

Before coming to WNC in 1972, Chick had been a stringer, reporter, editor, author and publisher. Beginning in 1940, he worked for such varied media outlets as Newsweek, CBS News, The New York Times, several Connecticut newspapers, McGraw-Hill Publications, the Chicago Tribune and Platts Oilgram. He was also the founding editor of The Daily Star, Dar al-Hayat, still the major English-language newspaper in Beirut, Lebanon.

During World War II, Chick was a volunteer ambulance driver for the American Field Service with the British Eighth and 14th armies in the Middle East, North Africa, Italy and India. He was awarded medals for various British and Allied army campaigns and was instrumental in securing official recognition as veterans for AFS volunteers who served with Allied forces in the war. One of his proudest achievements was helping to found the AFS Student Exchange Program, which continues to this day.

In North Carolina, Chick served as a trustee or board member for a host of organizations, including the North Carolina and Western Carolina chapters of the ACLU, the Asheville-Buncombe Library System, the Fund for Investigative Reporting & Editing, the News & Observer Publishing Co., and the Gordon H. Greenwood Foundation.

A staunch defender of the electoral process, Chick was a longtime Democratic Precinct Committee member, a registrar of voters and, on Election Day, a volunteer elections judge.

We can all learn from our elders. I learned a lot from Chick and his well-lived life—and, perhaps without knowing it, you, dear reader, have benefited too. And now, as one more enhancement to our collective quality of life, Chick would probably suggest that we honor our hopes and efforts with a good bottle of pinot grigio.

[Jeff Fobes is the publisher of Mountain Xpress]

The News & Observer published “Author, Editor ‘Chick’ Squire Dies at 88” on Jan. 10. It can be found on the Internet at www.newsobserver.com/news/story/1361214.html

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About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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