Van Hecke, former Charlotte Observer biz editor, dies at 89
M.S. Van Hecke, a longtime business editor and business columnist at the Charlotte Observer, died on Saturday at the age of 89.
Van Hecke graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1948 and then began his career with the New Bern Sun-Journal and Kinston Daily Free Press, both North Carolina newspapers, before joining the Observer.
“He really told the story of Charlotte’s growth,” said Ken Gepfert, who worked on the Observer business news desk from 1982 to 1989. “His column was a must read.”
His 34 years with The Observer earned him the respect of North Carolina’s business leaders, journalists and newspaper readers. He covered Charlotte’s rise from a state banking center to one of the South’s most important business hubs.
“Van was an expert on Charlotte as a growing city,” said Cheryl Carpenter, who worked with Van Hecke at the Observer. “He earned the trust of the people who were building it because he understood development and he was a good man anyone could trust. And he was an extraordinary coach to me as well as others he worked with. He made a difference in many journalists’ lives because he was generous and believed in our meaningful work.”
In addition to his work as a business editor, he served as city editor, state editor and news editor at the Observer.
He retired from writing a business column for the paper in July 1991, shortly after suffering a heart attack that he later wrote about for the paper.
In his last column, Van Hecke wrote, “Retirement. Leaving this newsroom, where I’ve spent a good hunk of my life. Leaving the business where I’ve spent most of the past 43 years. Not writing more of the 1,000 or so Sunday and weekday columns that have so preoccupied me for 12 years.”
Doug Smith, who replaced Van Hecke as the Observer’s business columnist, called him a great mentor.
“When I was named to follow him as business and development columnist he eagerly introduced me to his sources and gave me his endorsement in their presence his seal of approval: ‘Doug is a pro who understands business and will always treat you fairly. He will be just like me,”” said Smith.
“That opened the door me, but I was nervous about living up to the high expectations that came with it,” added Smith. “I was fortunate to spend several months as his understudy. With his non-threatening style, he was master at putting his interview subjects at ease even when he had to ask tough questions. People respected him for that. The greatest compliment for me was to hear someone say, ‘He reminds me of Van.'”
After retiring, Van Hecke wrote “A Region Awakens,” a short history chronicling the rise in environmental interest in the 14-county area around Charlotte in the last decade of the 20th century.
He was inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame in 1992.
Van Hecke’s passion for newspapers was instrumental in founding an annual scholarship and internship awarded to more than 40 UNC-CH students with an interest in business reporting since 1993.
So his legacy may live on, in lieu of flowers the family suggests a memorial gift to the M.S. Van Hecke Award #242490, UNC-Chapel Hill, P.O. Box 309, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.