Gates County Index editor succumbs

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

GATESVILLE – For over 15 years, Helene Knight was the eyes, ears and voice of Gates County. That voice fell silent on Saturday.

Knight, a veteran journalist who has spent the past 16 years on her native soil as Editor of the Gates County Index, passed away on Saturday at Louise Obici Hospital in Suffolk, Va. She was 45.

Knight’s funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday at Zion Tabernacle Baptist Church in Corapeake. Burial will follow in the church cemetery.

&uot;My heart is broken; it just won’t be the same without her,&uot; said Sandra Eleanor, librarian at Gates County High School. &uot;She was a Christian lady who had a caring heart. She was a big supporter of education here in Gates County. She was behind us 100 percent. We were all just devastated with the news of her death.&uot;

&uot;She was the biggest and the most wonderful supporter of our school system,&uot; stated Sallie Ryan of the Open Gate Alternative School in Sunbury. &uot;If it was happening with our kids, she was there. She was always so gracious and always supportive of education in Gates County I just can’t imagine anyone with a heart as big as Helene Knight. She will be missed by so many people.&uot;

Knight began her newspaper career with Parker Brothers Inc. in Ahoskie where she came aboard in February of 1982 as a writer and was later responsible for operating the editorial darkroom. She was named Editor of the Gates County Index on Oct. 24, 1988.

&uot;Helene Knight will truly be missed, not just by her family and her co-workers here at the newspaper, but in the community,&uot; said Jay Jenkins, Publisher of Roanoke-Chowan Publications, LLC, the parent company of the Gates County Index.

Jenkins continued, &uot;Over the years, as any good journalist, you make friends and you make enemies. Helene had her share of both, but even those who might not have liked something she wrote in the paper, they were quick to acknowledge the amount of respect they had for her. I think, as a journalist, this is something we all seek… not to have everyone necessarily agree with us, but to respect what we have to say. Helene earned that respect over the years and that says a lot for her and for the work she did. She will be sorely missed.&uot;

Jenkins added that his spirits were lifted when seeing Knight work despite her physical ailments.

&uot;The one thing I believe I admired about her the most was the fact she was certainly a trooper when it came to dealing with her personal problems, especially her fight with cancer,&uot; noted Jenkins. &uot;You never heard her say she couldn’t do something because she was sick. She was the exact opposite… she fought to get the job done even during the worst moments, and she never let you know she was down.&uot;

Jenkins concluded by saying, &uot;I will personally miss seeing her on Mondays, the day of the week she would come to Ahoskie to put together the Gates County Index, but I know she’s in a better place and with that, I take comfort in my memories of one very fine lady.

Knight was also an inspiration to numerous individuals through her personal battle against cancer.

&uot;Helene was the type of person who never, ever let cancer stand in her way or prevent her from doing her job,&uot; stressed Nell Wiggins, Clerk of Court for Gates County. &uot;She was always an inspiration to me. She could always lift my spirits.&uot;

Wiggins also noted Knight’s love of family.

&uot;She would always talk to me about her family and would also tell me of her many exciting trips around our country,&uot; she said.

A graduate of Elizabeth City State (a B.A. in English with concentration in News Media) who trained under the late Ramona Goode, the former News Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald in Ahoskie, Knight knew early on that the key to being successful in a small-market media outlet was to hone in on good news.

&uot;When you read the Index, almost all of it was good news,&uot; said Dr. Robert Hahne, Superintendent of the Gates County Public School system. &uot;From a first-hand standpoint, Helene portrayed our school system in a very positive manner. She celebrated our success and was a wonderful communicator. In many ways she motivated us.&uot;

Dr. Hahne also pointed out her fairness as a journalist.

&uot;If there was something negative that needed reporting, she did so, with accuracy,&uot; he noted. &uot;She was fair and honest.&uot;

In honor of her long and dedicated service to the Gates school system, a rose was placed in her empty &uot;reporter’s chair&uot; when the Gates County Board of Education met on Monday night.

Others in Gates County government were also appreciative of Knight’s style of journalism.

&uot;I admired her; she never quit, despite her health,&uot; said Gates County Manager Mark Biberdorf. &uot;She was very fair, tried to be very thorough and was very easy to talk to.&uot;

What impressed Biberdorf the most about Knight was the fact that she was, in his words, &uot;approachable.&uot;

&uot;In county government, it’s the news reporters who usually approach us about a story,&uot; he said. &uot;But with Helene, she was so gracious about listening to us when we pitched an idea or a story to her. She was so good about getting the word out. She was there for us whenever we needed her to get information out to the citizens of Gates County.&uot;

Born on April 20, 1959 to Minnie and Cleophus Knight of Gates County, Helene Knight graduated from Gates County High School in 1977 and went on to earn her higher education degree from Elizabeth City State and later a Master of Arts in Mass Communication from Norfolk State University.

While at ECSU, Knight served as President of the Student Government Association and Chairman of the Campus Finance Committee. She was also a reporter and business manager for &uot;The Compass&uot; – ECSU’s official student newspaper.

At home, she served many years as secretary of the Zion Tabernacle Sunday School and was president of the Rosa B. Riddick Alumni Association and The Voices of Zion. She was an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

She is survived by two sisters – Emma Hall of Corapeake and Vera Burke of Rochester, N.Y. – and two brothers – Morris D. Cooper of Rochester, N.Y. and Rufus D. Cooper of Corapeake – as well as aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.