Newspaper entrepreneur Gene Worrell, former owner of the Bristol Herald Courier and Charlottesville Daily Progress, died Thursday. He was 86.
Worrell’s newspaper empire, which once included more than 30 newspapers, began when he founded the Bristol Virginia-Tennessean in 1949.
The afternoon daily later formed a joint operating agreement with the competing Herald Courier. Worrell acquired the Herald Courier in 1961, and merged the two papers as the Herald Courier in 1986.
Among his Virginia holdings were newspapers in Woodbridge, Suffolk, Pulaski and Marion.
Art Powers, former publisher of the Herald Courier under Worrell, recalled him as a great mentor and friend.
“He loved people but he really loved newspaper people,” Powers, now publisher of the Johnson City (Tenn.) Press, said Friday. “He respected newspaper people for what they did every day.”
Worrell eventually sold all of his newspapers, except for the Bristol-area operations, to his son Tom. Worrell sold the Herald Courier and two affiliated weeklies to Media General Inc. in 1998.
A graduate of Wake Forest University and George Washington University School of Law in Washington, Worrell started a private law practice in Bristol in 1941. He later served as a special agent with the FBI before returning to his law practice later that decade.
He also established and operated the Worrell Land and Cattle Co.
Worrell was named a life member of the Wake Forest University’s board of trustees in 1987. He and his wife Anne also were involved with Virginia Intermont College, which she attended.
In 1975, Worrell bought the 36-acre Pantops Estate in Charlottesville, which once was owned by Thomas Jefferson. The property became home to the Worrell Newspaper chain’s corporate offices and Worrell’s herds of bison, Scottish Highlander longhaired cattle and Texas Longhorns.