FLORENCE, S.C. — Longtime Morning News journalist and columnist Thom Ernest Anderson, 87, died Sunday.
Anderson started in the newspaper business around 1957 as an assistant sports editor and worked his way up to managing editor at the Florence Morning News. He served as managing editor from 1982 to 1986. His newspaper career spanned more than 40 years. He also managed weekly papers in Lake City and Cheraw before finally retiring. After retirement, he started writing a column for the Morning News. His column appeared in Sunday editions.
Anderson’s friends and colleagues referred to him as “an “old-school journalist” who reported with integrity, fairness and truth. For many years, he covered the South Carolina Legislature and was very knowledgeable about Florence’s history.
“He probably knew as much about the history of Florence as anyone,” said Lemon “Dew” James, who worked with Anderson for many years.
“I have known Thom since I first came to Florence in September 1956,” he said. “I came as a reporter.”
He said Anderson knew more about the Morning News and its history than anyone. His father worked there, too. Thom even sold newspapers as a boy, James said.
James remembers him creating a Warren G. Harding shrine in the newsroom, because he was the only newspaperman to become president.
“He was a dear, dear friend,” said Brenda Harrison, retired editor of The News Journal. “He was a great storyteller, an old-time newspaperman. He researched the facts.”
But most of all, she said he was “gentle, quiet and humble.”
“He had a great personality and sense of humor,” she said.
They first met when she was 16 years old and worked part time at the Morning News. She said they worked together for 20 years at the paper.
Throughout her journalism career as a writer and editor, Harrison said he was her “go-to person.”
“He raised me in the newspaper business,” she said. “He was a true friend. We stayed close.”
Harrison fondly remembers the time he rode the train for two weeks across the country and filed stores from every stop.
“He wrote about people on the train and people and places where he stopped,” she said.
She said he would call in his stories every afternoon, and she would take them down and type them up for the paper.
“He enjoyed it tremendously,” she said.
“I worked with Thom for about nine years (in the 80s),” said Jumana Swindler, now the vice president of communications and public information for McLeod Health.
“He taught me a great deal about reporting and great journalism. He was the consummate newspaper professional. He was a brilliant man, historian, mentor and friend. He sought truth and details.
“He loved a great train trip for adventure and capturing stories. He traveled by railroad to all 50 states and told tales from those journeys as part of his ‘Great Amtrak Caper,’ as he called it for the Morning News.”
Swindler said he covered “the good, the bad, the ugly and sweet in state politics for decades.”
“What I will remember most is his ability to articulate the positives in everything that was negative,” she said.
He found the silver lining in every situation.
He was committed to covering the positive and the negative aspects of the stories he wrote about. She said he would approach every story from many different angles so that his readers could make up their own minds about the subject.
He showed courage, she said. His writing sometimes took the path that was not popular.
“I will remember him for his wit and extraordinary character,” she said. “He was a superlative newspaperman, friend and mentor. He will be missed by many of us who called him our friend.
“For him, life was a celebration. I don’t mean with balloons and things, but he always found joy in his work. He taught me to find the joy in the mundane things we covered. He made every day an adventure. That is what he taught me.”
He was a native of Florence and spent most of his life in the Pee Dee, except when he went to college and military service.
He knew the history of Florence and the area, Swindler said. She said he was a vault of information.
“His memory was sharp as a tack,” Swindler said. “Even until the end.”
She said her life was forever changed personally and professionally for having him in it.
“It is hard to talk about what he meant to me,” she said. “Print journalism will always be my passion. I learned that from Thom.”
Swindler said they remained friends after their career paths went in different directions.
“I have consulted with Thom on many things,” she said. “We both loved to chat and reflect on our days at the paper.”
“I considered him like a second father. He truly was extraordinary in a demure way. He was larger than life but demure and even keeled.”
He was a mentor to many.
Anderson met his wife of 60 years, Sandra Nofal, at the Florence Morning News in 1957. They were married on March 15, 1959. They had two sons, Mark and Kyle.
“I started out in 1957 as assistant women’s editor when the paper was on Irby Street,” Sandra said. “We became instant friends. He was such a great writer.”
Sandra said her husband followed in his father’s footsteps.
His father had a 40-year career as linotype machine operator at the newspaper, she said. She said he would follow his father around at the paper.
“Thom grew up at the newspaper,” she said.
One of his favorite memories was that of his 14-day, more than 10,000-mile ride on the rails across the United States, she said.
He authored a book “Remembering Florence: Tales from a Railroad Town” and co-authored a book about World War II called “Heroes of World War II from Florence County.”
Sandra said her husband received several awards for his writing.
He loved politics and covering it, but foremost he loved traveling, she said.
“Our favorite place to visit in the United States was New York City,” she said.
He enjoyed the cultural aspect of New York as well as that of Florence.
She said they traveled together to London, Paris and many other places. She said they had to miss their last planned trip to Vienna in June because of his health.
“He was a wonderful person, and he was smart,” she said. “He loved Florence, especially the arts, the theater and was so proud of the downtown revitalization.”
He was a former member of the Florence Little Theatre board of directors.
What she hopes people will remember most about her husband is that he loved living. He loved life, traveling and his family.
“When he asked me to marry him, he said, ‘I want to travel, and I want you to go with me,’” she said.
“We had such a wonderful marriage. I’m going to miss him so much.”
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian Church in Florence, directed by Walters-Powell Funeral Home. The family will receive friends from 3 to 4 p.m. in the church fellowship hall.