So Long, Bubba -- Pilot's Bryant Retires
Tom Bryant's first job was bagging groceries at the A&P in downtown Southern Pines.
Now, he's come full-circle and is retiring from a job in the same building. Bryant spent 10 years as advertising director for The Pilot. The paper's circulation, classified advertising and production departments are now located where the old grocery store used to be.
"He started out as a bagboy 50 years ago and now he's leaving as a decorated executive," says David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot.
Bryant says it's "just kind of hard to believe that all these years later I would be working in the same building."
Bryant has been one of a few key department heads who helped reshape The Pilot when new owners, including Woronoff, purchased it in 1996. In fact, Bryant urged Woronoff to make the purchase and was Woronoff's first hire.
Bryant retired Tuesday. He'll still be with The Pilot as an outdoor columnist and as a consultant.
"He'll always have a place here," Woronoff says.
Over the past 10 years, Bryant has become well known around Moore County as The Pilot's outdoor-loving, good-ol'-boy ad director.
His habit of calling everyone "bubba" couldn't hide his keen intellect. He recently gave up his position as the first-ever nondaily advertising director to head the Mid-Atlantic Newspaper Advertising and Marketing Executives, a trade association.
Through the years, Bryant almost always had a smile on his face.
"Tom grew up here," Woronoff says. "He has that folksy, homespun demeanor. The newspaper industry is inherently stressful, but Tom was always great about cracking a joke at the right time."
Now that he's retired, Bryant plans on spending a lot of his time doing what he learned to love as a child: hunting and fishing.
He remembers fishing with his grandfather on the shore of the Pee Dee River near Mars Bluff, S.C., where the family farm still lies. He was born to Monroe and Evelyn Bryant. His father was in the Navy in World War II and then worked in an ice plant.
Hunting and fishing were Tom's favorite things to do.
"I had a rifle when I was 9 years old," he says. "It was then a way of life."
When Bryant was in the first grade, the company transferred his father to the City Products plant in Aberdeen. He became superintendent for the plant, overseeing the icing of peach cars.
Bryant grew up in Pinebluff during the idyllic 1950s.
"It was different growing up," he says. "A lot of the streets were not paved. Everybody knew everybody. It was a great place to grow up. We even knew each other's dogs. You couldn't get in trouble, because everybody knew you."
He went to Aberdeen High School, where he played six-man football. He graduated in 1959 and went to Brevard College, which was then a junior college, where he played baseball.
After two years there, he went into the Marine Corps and fought in the Vietnam War. He was in the Marines for four years. When he came back, he went to Elon College and majored in history.
He met his wife, Linda, on a blind date. The two dated for seven months, then got married.
"It was the smartest thing I've ever done," he says. "We all marry up."
The Bryants have one son, Tommy, who works as a contractor in Banner Elk.
As a way to pay his way through school, Bryant got a job at The Daily Times News in Burlington. He went in to apply, met the circulation manager and started working immediately.
"He carried me right back, and I started catching the press," he says. "That's how I got into the newspaper business."
Bryant says the newspaper industry has been good to him. He rode the job at The Daily Times News until he eventually became the advertising director. After 10 years, he left to start his own newspaper in Burlington. He called it the City County.
He started shopper publications in Burlington; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Spartanburg, S.C.; and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The first two were highly successful, and the other two made money as well.
"Those were my money days," Bryant says. "It went away as quickly as it came."
Eventually, too many outlets opened and "the bloom was off the rose," he says.
He started the City County Magazine, which is still in publication. After 17 years, he sold his publications and went to work at Business North Carolina Magazine, owned by prominent North Carolina newspaper publisher Frank Daniels Jr. -- now one of the shareholders of The Pilot.
"I always wanted to work for the Daniels family," he says. "Those were fun days."
It was at the magazine that he met Woronoff, who is Daniels' nephew. He helped persuade Woronoff to buy The Pilot and came along as ad director.
'Close the Sale'
Johnsie Tipton, longtime advertising representative at The Pilot, says Bryant brought a joy to the job.
"He made sales fun and exciting and effortless," she says. "The man had magic. I looked forward to coming in and working with him every day. When I sold an ad, I was on top of the world."
He also brought his outdoor sensibilities to the job, telling sales representatives that "you can't catch a fish unless you bait the hook," says advertising representative Kit McKinley.
Woronoff believes that Bryant helped change the perception about community newspapers. It used to be that national companies refused to advertise in what they considered "journalistic backwaters," Woronoff said.
But with Bryant at the helm, advertising in The Pilot didn't have that problem. Woronoff said that he remembers being at conferences and constantly fielding questions about how the paper got so many regional and national. He would simply say that he had a good ad director.
"(Bryant) could navigate the bureaucracy of the big corporations and close the sale," Woronoff says.
Many at The Pilot are sorry to see Bryant go. New Circulation Director Darlene Stark worked under Bryant for several years. She called him a mentor and said he was one of the best bosses she ever had.
Besides writing the weekly outdoor column, Bryant will probably be working with The Pilot on different projects that come along. Woronoff says Bryant has been a fun person to work with and has had a major impact.
"He's my friend, he's been my mentor, he's been my confidant and he's been a first-rate ad director," Woronoff says. "I consider myself very fortunate to have worked here with him for 10 years."
Matthew Moriarty can be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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