Former Sanford Herald writers and editors share their memories of R.V. Hight, who is ending 35 years at the Herald and 40-plus years in the newspaper industry today.
By now you’ve heard of the R.V. Hight Election Night Dance. It was a choreography that involved every daughter’s worst fears of the Father-Daughter banquet, multiplied by a hundred. Actually, make that a thousand. Things move in a way things aren’t supposed to move. Fred Astaire would’ve shuddered. Ginger Rogers might’ve cried.
We laughed. We rejoiced. We relaxed a little. Just like R.V. hoped.
The R.V. Hight Election Night Dance was reserved only for the tail end of the newspaper’s busiest night of the year. (Or, as we Sports guys always referred to it, Tuesday.) I can’t say the R.V. Hight Election Night Dance was exactly out of character for him, but it wasn’t like he broke it out after lunch at Ron’s Barn. (Even though he probably wanted to.)
R.V., though, understood what the R.V. Hight Election Night Dance meant to the newsroom. Cranky, overworked, stressed and running on pure adrenaline, reporters need some sort of release on Election Night. It’s chaos, and not always the controlled variety. The endorphins from the NEWSROOM PIZZA before polls closed had waned long before.
The R.V. Hight Election Night Dance picked us all back up again. Always lost in the moment was why R.V. was so willing to subject himself to the One-Man Newsroom Soul Train Line. He did it because he could sense those around him needed it. He did it because he knew he would bring joy. He did it because, in a way, it would make the day’s accomplishments feel a little better even before they were pressed to newsprint. The R.V. Hight Election Night Dance showed that R.V. cared. About us. About his town. About his newspaper.
R.V. listened to all of us. He gave all of us advice. When I had a job offer from another paper, out of state, or another job, out of the profession, I could go to R.V. before, during and after the interview process. He would listen. Hear me out. Sometimes, to question, but other times, to inspire. He did that for everybody. He loved everyone near his office, but he also wanted the absolute best for everyone near his office, even – and perhaps especially – if that meant one of us moving OUT of the office altogether.
Now, it is R.V. Hight moving out – and into a new office. I hope, when he gets home tonight after putting another paper to bed, he dances. But this time, I hope he dances not for us, but for him.
A lot of people are going to say a lot of nice things about R.V. Hight over the next few days as he leaves what has been an amazing run at The Sanford Herald. Indeed, I spent the better part of eight years with the man. Almost every day I saw how beloved he was by every Herald staffer and every community member who walked in and out of those doors in the 30-plus years he was there.
But there’s a darker side to the man. A side I am not afraid to talk about. I’ve only seen it once. One afternoon I had just returned from “lunch,” which comes about 5 p.m. when you work on the sports desk all night, and met R.V. in the elevator. Without thinking, I casually mentioned something like “You know R.V., Cook-Out’s barbecue ain’t half bad. In fact, it’s pretty good.”
If I had been R.V.’s son, he would’ve disowned me right then and there. He took a moment to let the anger subside from his face, composed himself and said, tactfully, something like “Jon, I’m really disappointed in you for saying that.”
Then he went to his office. I knew I had let the man down. In a few minutes, though, he was fine and back in the newsroom to talk about the Tar Heels.
This column is more than a little tongue-in-cheek, because in truth there’s nothing bad anyone can say about R.V. I guess if, in eight years of working with someone, the worst thing you can say about him is that he is a barbecue snob, he must be pretty great. R.V is a great man, and I wish everyone got to have at least one coworker like him in their career. His election night dances are legendary. His love of the Tar Heels is only matched by his love for “Miss Bunny,” whom he talked about seemingly every day, along with his son Chris and daughter Holly.
I don’t want this to sound like a eulogy, though, because his life is just beginning. Hopefully he has a long career ahead of him at Central Carolina Community College. I know he’ll definitely have something he hasn’t in quite a while – free time – which I hope he uses to fulfill his dream of being a barbecue judge or writing that book he always talked about or whatever else Miss Bunny will let him do.
Congratulations, R.V., on a great first career, and good luck in the next one. Everyone who has ever worked with you loves you. Thanks for everything you have meant to me personally and professionally.
My first week at the Sanford Herald, I was fresh out of journalism school, I didn’t know anybody in the whole state of North Carolina and the work was turning out to be way harder than I expected. But every morning, this editor who I’d been told was a Lee County legend would take the time to come over to my desk and ask me how I slept the night before.
It was a small thing, but he was quite possibly the only person in the world ever besides my mom to ask me that question and listen sincerely for the answer. Being far away from home, it meant a lot. It was the best question he could have asked.
During my year at the Herald, I saw that R.V.’s ability to listen and care (and find just the right question) made him a beloved member of the Lee County community (and beyond – seems like half the state knows him), as well as a huge asset to the paper. There was no mistaking that his love of his community informed every word he wrote as a journalist. R.V., thank you for teaching such important lessons about journalism by example. I know you’ll be much missed in the newsroom.
For mere mortals, a newsroom is a stressful place. For R.V. Hight, it’s a place for pizza parties, infectious shimmying, and relentless positive energy. For a time, I assumed R.V. could not possibly be as cheerful as he seemed to be.
When his home was hit hard by Sanford’s infamous tornado, I realized it was no mask. He may have been sad, almost tearful, but R.V. was still smiling. R.V. chose to be happy, and that takes strength. R.V. is a wonderful coworker, editor and friend. No doubt he will be missed in the newsroom.
RV vouched for me to help me get my first journalism job and he was always there to lend me advice. Plus, I think any good story I ever wrote at the Herald was because he heard something around town and gave me the idea. Hope you and the family are doing great!
During my time at the Herald, I can’t recall seeing R.V. Hight without a smile. I’m sure there were times he wasn’t grinning from ear to ear, but he was such a jolly, positive and genuinely nice person that when I think of him, I think of his infectious smile and big heart.
He was one of those journalists who truly cared about his community, and he taught me that having a heart is just as important as knowing AP Style. He also taught me equally valuable things like the regional differences of barbecue and why Chapel Hill is magical. Wise words R.V. once shared with me: “Life is a constant adjustment. Just remember to enjoy the ride — no matter where you’re at. Life is too short to not do otherwise.”
Good luck with whatever lies ahead, R.V.!
RV Hight is a man who loves to tell a story. Probably the one that stands out to me the most, was the one about the Herald reporter who went to cover the county fair and didn’t come back. She saw the hoochie coochie show, RV said, and decided right away that she wanted to join up.
Next time you see RV around, ask him about that one. It cracks him up and it’ll crack you up too.
RV’s easy hand at storytelling is what made him a great newspaper man. He didn’t just tell funny stories, either. He could fascinate you with little-remembered details about things like Frank Wetzel’s infamous 1950s killing spree, and the subsequent trial which was apparently a spectacle of national proportions.
He’d make you think about life by telling you about his late father, a state trooper tragically killed in the line of duty. So it’s good for him, and for readers, that he’ll get to keep telling stories in his new job. It’s been more than four years since I worked with RV. The news of his departure from the Herald brought me back to his mad dashes through the newsroom on election night, sharing returns and dancing like a maniac.
It made me remember the endless number of sources he could point me toward in pursuit of a story. Thinking about RV makes you smile. So I’m glad to join everyone here in congratulating him and wishing him well in his new pursuit.
RV was more than just another colleague when I was at the Herald. He was a mentor and a friend. He knew everything about everything and he knew and loved everyone. He always had an entertaining story to tell. He always seemed to know the different local connections to coaches and athletes at either the collegiate and professional level and that helped make my job easier when fishing for a decent feature story.
The thing I’ll remember the most about him is his love for the city of Sanford and his love for everyone in the community. He never met a stranger. The Herald is losing a great, great man. Not that he needs it, but I certainly wish him nothing but the best of luck in his new career opportunity.
“You always brought a lot of joy to those working with/around you. Congratulations on a great 35 years, R.V.”
There’s not a cynical bone in R.V. Hight’s body. That he’s this way after 40-plus years as a journalist is simply astounding. It’s a rewarding profession, but one that also carries with it a great deal of stress, far too many encounters with people who take delight in your misery and countless late nights. R.V. survived it with grace and humility.
He’s the most caring, nicest and positive person you’ll probably ever meet. This isn’t a sensationalized statement. Find somebody who thinks otherwise about him … we can wait. It’s a happy day for R.V. because he gets to continue his career writing about people [now at CCCC], but with hours that will allow him to eat dinners at home, go to bed at a decent hour and not fret about that night’s deadline. After nearly four decades, he deserves it. He’s going to miss newspapers and The Herald … but take it from us, R.V. … the grass is indeed greener.
Good luck, Mr. Hight. I learned a lot from you, sir.