Frank Clemence Barrows
1946 - 2019
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Frank Barrows, 72, journalist and former managing editor of The Charlotte Observer, died at his Charlotte home Wednesday, June 12, 2019. A memorial service and reception will be at 2 p.m. June 30 at LaCa Projects, 1429 Bryant St., Charlotte.

Frank spent most of his life working at The Observer as sportswriter, columnist and in various editing positions. He championed the vital role newspapers play in our democracy: to connect people to their community and offer accurate and reliable information, and to do those things in a fair-minded and thoughtful way with craftsmanship so high it becomes art.

He cared deeply about the people he worked with and would have relished the multiple, heart-felt tributes that have flowed freely since his death. He was enormously proud of the many former Observerites who won national success and was similarly proud that more than a dozen Observer journalists he mentored became newsroom leaders in cities such as Raleigh, Columbia, Fort Worth and Norfolk.

Frank Clemence Barrows was born in Lewes, Del., on Nov. 2, 1946, son of the late John and Myra Barrows, and grew up in Martinsville, Va., where he began his newspaper career by phoning high school box scores to the Martinsville Bulletin. His attention to detail landed him a summer job there, where his talent blossomed. The first column he wrote while in high school was so well-done, the Martinsville editors told him later, they thought it was plagiarism until they failed to find anywhere he could have copied the work.

He graduated from St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C., and began a master's degree in political science at the University of Virginia but realized his heart was in newspapers, not academia. He worked for a short time at the Greensboro Daily News and moved to The Charlotte Observer in 1969, where he worked until 2005, with a 1970s interlude as a freelance writer.

While at The Observer, he covered ACC basketball and was a sports columnist and special projects reporter until going into newsroom management in 1981. As a writer he was known for brilliance, diligence, a fondness for Tab cola and some eccentricity that led him to belt himself into his chair to avoid procrastination and wear noise-canceling earphones to avoid distraction. In 1980 he started wearing a pin-striped suit, tie and white shirt to work and within months was courted for his management potential. He always believed those two things were not coincidental.

Among his editing jobs in Sports, Features and Metro, Frank was one of two city-desk editors directing the investigation into televangelist Jim Bakker in 1987, which won the Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service.

In 1992 Frank became managing editor of The Charlotte Observer, a job he loved intensely.

He left the paper in 2005.

He was co-founder, first president and executive director of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, which advocates for improved access to public records and meetings for journalists and any member of the public. After leaving The Observer, he was editor of Business North Carolina but left to accompany his wife, fellow journalist Mary Newsom, on a year-long Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, where his studies were exponentially more diligent and purposeful than hers, auditing courses at Harvard Business School and studying emerging civic media at MIT.

Back home in Charlotte he co-founded and was president of the Charlotte Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and for a time was a regular columnist for Charlotte Magazine. For most of 2012 he was interim adviser to the student newspaper at East Carolina University, a job he thoroughly enjoyed, despite the four-hour commute to Greenville, N.C. In recent years complications from diabetes kept him from much writing and editing.

Frank is survived by his wife, Mary Newsom; daughter, Maggie Barrows of New York; sister Lyn Barrows Boone (Keith) of Granville, Ohio; brother Michael Barrows (Lynn Coburn) of Mineral, Va., and was preceded in death by his brother Kevin Barrows.

Memorials may be sent to: Society of Professional Journalists, or at Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208; the Sunshine Center of the North Carolina Open Government Coalition, 2850 Campus Box, Elon, NC 27244-2010; or to St. Andrews University, 1700 Dogwood Mile, Laurinburg, NC 28352.

Those hoping to honor his memory and his belief in American democracy may consider offering support for the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 and the Democratic nominees for U.S. Senate in N.C. and Kentucky - or subscribing to and buying ads in your local newspaper.

Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, Charlotte. 704-641-7606. Online condolences may be left at

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Charlotte Observer on Jun. 16, 2019.
Memorial service
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June 17, 2019
My deepest sympathy to the family and friends. May you find comfort and support from Psalms 94:18, 19.
June 17, 2019
Our heavenly father has given us a life span of 70-80 years if we are especially strong. May you celebrate a life well lived and loved by many. May the words of Psalm 90:10,14 and 94:19 bring comfort to the family.
Pamela Johnson
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