In his 20-year ownership of the Seven Lakes Times, Greg Hankins’ formal titles of editor and publisher were only the tip of the iceberg.
The death Sunday of the newspaper’s proprietor — and lead reporter, ad salesman and delivery man — leaves a void in the Seven Lakes community that those who knew Hankins suspect may never be filled.
“He was just a great guy who’s going to be sorely missed in the Seven Lakes community,” said John Whelan, owner of Whelan Realty. “People for the last three months have been wondering if we’re ever going to have the Seven Lakes Times again.”
In April, Hankins and his wife Marcy — his high school sweetheart and right hand in the myriad tasks, from photography to proofreading, involved in producing the biweekly paper — suspended publication while he received treatment for acute myeloid leukemia at Duke University Hospital.
He died at his home on Sunday at the age of 59.
Seven Lakes business owners and civic leaders have commended the Hankinses’ dedication to covering the gamut of local happenings: Kiwanis pancake sales, Easter egg hunts, homeowners’ meetings and county government. Over the years, the couple became as much a part of the Seven Lakes landscape as the water features from which it takes its name.
“You’d see them walking quietly through the crowd, getting information, taking photographs, getting names,” said Pat Weber of the Women of Seven Lakes. “We miss his overalls, we miss his hat, we miss his smile, we miss his beard, we miss everything there is about Greg Hankins.”
Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, appreciated the even-handed approach to journalism that was Hankins’ trademark.
“I knew that politically we were not on the same page; he was one one side and I was sort of on the other, but I trusted Greg,” he said. “I’d always enjoyed reading the Seven Lakes Times because it always seemed to have a lot of factual knowledge. You didn’t see a lot of spin.”
Hankins bought the Seven Lakes Times from Ruth Sullivan in the late 1990s after moving to Mount Gilead a few years earlier to run the Montgomery Herald with his father. Though he studied religion in college and even earned a master’s degree in divinity at Harvard University, the native of Virginia coal-mining country followed family tradition to spend his entire career in news.
“He just really enjoyed going by and seeing his dad as a kid,” said Marcy Hankins.
During summer breaks in high school and college, Hankins fell into the fold writing for one of his father’s newspapers in New Mexico, where he won awards for feature writing and photography. After stints at television stations in Nebraska and Tennessee, Hankins moved to North Carolina and returned to print news.
“He just had a very big interest in newspapers from the beginning,” said Marcy. “We basically moved around so he could work. He’d always been really great with marketing and numbers and helping people understand what their markets were about.
“We just really enjoyed being part of Seven Lakes — it was kind of like we melded together.”
Stepping in at the Seven Lakes Times, where he changed the publication schedule from monthly to every other week, was Hankins’ first experience as a publisher in his own right. The paper was essentially a two-man show, with Hankins and Marcy enlisting only part-time help and regularly putting in 60- and 70-hour weeks. To fulfill Hankins’ commitment to accuracy and fairness, nothing less was possible.
Ellen Marcus, who began writing for Hankins in 2012, learned quickly that there was no room for sensation or opinion in the Seven Lakes Times.
“He would tell me to go write for a magazine,” was Marcus’ affectionate recollection. “He was one of the most intelligent, hardworking, unbiased people I have ever known. He didn’t run any national news at all. He said that with a local paper we had the opportunity to make a difference. And he did that.”
On the rare occasion Hankins could not personally attend a county or school board meeting, he would dispatch Marcy to tape it in full and take notes. He had no qualms about calling officials to clarify statements before printing them.
“He felt it was very important that people were informed of what was going on the meetings,” Marcy said. “He reported both sides of the story so that people would know what they had to make a decision on.”
Over 20 years of controversies like dam closures and the fate of land abutting a popular putting green, Hankins issued a sole editorial opinion during his tenure in Seven Lakes: in favor of lifeguards at the Seven Lakes North swimming pool to enhance the safety of children and elderly adults.
Hankins disdained ambulance-chasing, deferring to victims’ families before publishing coverage of tragic accidents and printing obituaries free of charge.
“I have so much respect for him; he was a man of integrity,” said Marcus. “I’ve never worked with anyone like him before; he was encouraging, he was honest, he just was a funny guy.”
Their differences of opinion aside, Picerno frequently conferred with Hankins as someone in touch with a large number of Moore County residents.
“We could sit down and have a good conversation and lay everything on that table and have some good ideas come of that,” he said. “Sometimes you need someone that you trust to be honest with you, and Greg was that kind of guy.”
Marcy is unsure of the fate of the Seven Lakes Times, but for now the institution will be missed almost as sorely as the man behind it. Hankins made the rounds every other Thursday, delivering to newsstands as well as the post office for Friday mailbox delivery.
“Whenever he delivered the paper he would always be here laughing and chatting about what was going on in the community,” Whelan said.
Hankins also harbored an interest in vintage technology and owned an antique printing press. His country roots left him with a love of nature manifested as he picked blackberries for homemade jam, raised chickens and grew vegetables. To unwind, he would pick up a banjo or accordion.
Despite his antiquarian pursuits, the avid follower of the New York Times and National Public Radio was never caught off-guard when it came to current events.
That love of information extended to Seven Lakes residents, who the Hankinses kept well-informed through a bookstore they ran in the Seven Lakes Business Village.
“We feel like we’ve lost a member of our family,” said Weber. “We discovered once the paper stopped that they were truly the heartbeat of this community. We’re all kind of lost without the paper and without them.”
The women’s group has established a fund to help Hankins’ family with medical costs, which will continue to accept contributions in his memory. Donations can be sent to the Women of Seven Lakes at 850 Seven Lakes North, Seven Lakes, NC 27376 with checks payable to the Women of Seven Lakes Hankins Account.