A.C. Snow believed everyone has a story to tell, and over 70 years, he told thousands of them.
Snow, who died Friday, Jan. 14, at the age of 97, spent his career at The Burlington Times-News, The Raleigh Times (of which he was editor-in-chief for 16 years) and The News & Observer.
Much of those stories appeared in his popular column, which started at The Times and continued at The N&O after The Times folded in 1989. While he also retired from daily newspaper work then, he wrote regular columns until Jan. 24, 2020.
At the age of 95, he made the emotional decision to stop writing them.
“While it is hard to turn off my brain — so attuned to finding the next column topic — it is time,” he wrote in his last column.
He was the youngest of 15 kids growing up in Dobson, a rural community in Surry County. And those memories of growing up during tough times permeated his writing, and helped engage readers with his down-to-earth observations.
Through his column, initially called “Sno Foolin,’” he connected with readers over his life experiences and musings on everything profound and routine. He knew his words could have power. The News & Observer published four books of his columns.
Here is a collection of some of his columns and essays published toward the end of his career. More of them are published here.
The role of a newspaper (July 15, 2018)
Now I know how firemen, police officers and others feel when one of theirs is gunned down in a burst of violence from some deranged individual on a rampage of anger and revenge.
A good newspaper has a provocative nature. Its mission is not only to report the news fairly and objectively. Its mission also is to seek out and expose corruption in politics and elsewhere, to report on and promote community responsibility and progress, and to befriend the poor and downtrodden.
In my long tenure of newspapering, as reporter, columnist and editor, I have felt the sting of criticism from time to time and learned some new cuss words along the way via letters, telephone calls and occasional face to face discussions. But never by the threat or exercise of violence.
A relationship with readers (Sept. 16, 2018)
One of the primary joys of my long journalism career has been my relationships with our readers. Their responses via letters, emails or in person have stimulated my thinking, contributed to my education, stirred my emotions, widened my horizons and, not least, provided fodder for comment.
A postcard spurs memories (July 29, 2018)
How strange. A simple post card in the mailbox sets off the wave of homesickness. The card from Levering Orchards in the mountains reminded me that it was cherry picking time. In my mind, I see the ladders stretching into the trees, from whence comes the exchange of conversation among the cherry pickers.
Visiting the cherry and apple orchards has long been a special treat for me. It’s not just the fruit hanging heavily from the branches. It’s also the clean, crisp air, the sweeping views of the deep, sloping valleys and the smoky-blue towering peaks in the distance.
And, certainly, it’s the people: proud, independent and friendly, though seldom gushy.
Saying grace (Aug. 12, 2018)
“Saying the blessing” during my childhood traditionally was the head of the house’s responsibility, i.e., usually a male. I don’t remember the words of Pa’s expression of gratitude. I remember that it was brief and never varied in text. The same could not be said of his Sunday night prayers, when members of our large family knelt by our chairs and bowed our heads while Pa rambled on and on.
A bird’s motives (April 8, 2018)
I don’t know if it’s passion or narcissism. But the one lonely robin roaming our back lawn for a couple of days finally attacked our bedroom window.
Gender reveal parties could be done away with (April 19, 2018)
I’m behind the times. My daughter recently attended a “gender reveal party,” where the sex of a couple’s soon-to-be-born baby was announced.
You see, our first baby lived only a day. And then, three years later, there I was awaiting the birth of baby Katherine Victoria.
“A.C.,” he said. “You’ve got a little girl in there. She looks just like you, ugly as sin. But with God’s help she should outgrow it.”
I share this personal story to remind any expectant father who needs reminding that the sex of your arriving bundle of joy is secondary to what should be your primary prayer, “Please let it be a healthy baby.”
The issue of Silent Sam (Aug. 31, 2018)
I’m not sitting in sack clothes and ashes, mourning the probable relocation of Silent Sam. University officials could have prevented the statue’s humiliation if, as many of us suggested awhile ago, they had persuaded the state legislature to authorize the removal of Sam to a campus museum or other facility.
Feeding your soul (Jan 6, 2019)
Ask yourself. When was the last time you bought hyacinths for your soul? I translate Whittier’s reference to “hyacinths for the soul” to mean something you covet very much but cannot really afford, something you can well do without, but something that keeps returning to your mental want list until it almost becomes an obsession.
The object of my obsession was a car. Not just an ordinary car. A beautiful car that dwelt on the car lot next door to the newspaper. My soul hungered for that car.
What do you say to today’s teenagers? (June 2, 2019)
As you parents know, each teenager is a storehouse of individual possibilities, internal conflicts, ambitions and emotions unfolding and changing day by day. As you guide your teenager to adulthood through turbulent times, may you say at the end of the journey what Michael Jordan’s father once said in an interview after his son scored yet another astronomical number of points for the Chicago Bulls: “This is something I raised!”
A reality check (July 14, 2019)
I can’t remember when our nation was so politically divided. During holiday visiting, families were careful not to bring up politics out of fear of offending someone and creating lasting animosity.
I grew up in a staunch Republican family. Just listening to FDR’s famous “Fireside chats” on the living room Philco was a spanking offense for us children. But to my surprise, when I married, the word went out, not that A.C. was marrying a Democrat, which would have been bad enough, but that he was marrying a Methodist, which, to some, was even worse.
Saying goodbye to The N&O building (Dec. 30, 2017)
At breakfast as I was reading the newspaper account of the sale of The News & Observer building, I felt tears gathering in my eyes.
“Oh come on! Get a grip on yourself!” I told myself. “It’s only a building.”
But I know in my heart, it’s not. It was a home away from home for 32 years. The image of it becoming a pile of rubble, to be replaced by a high rise, is sentimentally troubling.
I’ve always been proud of that building, one of the more handsome in town. But it’s the heart of the building I love: the throbbing, unceasing vitality within its walls. People give a building life. As I write, the faces of the dozens of reporters, editors and administrators who came and went pass before me.
A farewell column (Jan. 24, 2020)
Born with no mechanical ability or other income-earning talent, I turned to words as a conduit for my emotions as my source of survival. … I do believe that a free press is a gift to humanity around the world. … After almost 70 years of newspapering, I have been going through an emotional tsunami as I write this last column.
So, I will let this Irish Blessing speak for me: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be ever at your back. May the rains fall softly on your fields and the sun shine warmly on your face. May the good Lord hold you in the palm of his hand and give you peace until we meet again.”