Finding appeal and the powerful
For many across the country, Charlie Rose represents the best of TV journalism.
The Henderson native has talked to plenty of the world’s greats — from American presidents and foreign ministers to award-winning actors and scientists — often sitting around that familiar round oak table.
And Rose credits his ability to speak to anyone, anywhere with his upbringing here in Vance County.
“I think I was able to handle those kinds of experiences because I was comfortable in my own skin,” he said. “I got that way because of the kind of experience I got in Henderson growing up in a small town. I’ve been able to do everything from going to Russia to China to Libya to having an apartment in Paris to all of the life experiences that I’ve been able to meet head on because I knew who I was and because I was comfortable with my own self.
“That’s what a small town does for you. I want to say small towns are important to America both because of the communities they are and because they provide a great place to grow up.”
His ability to find a story in anyone and to draw it out is one of the many reasons Rose is being honored this week with the N.C. Press Association’s North Carolinian of the Year award.
But the man known as one of the world’s great interviewers almost didn’t become a journalist. When Rose started his undergrad years at Duke University, he wanted to be a doctor. He walked out several years later with both a bachelor’s in history and a law degree but eventually found himself surrounded by journalists telling him to turn his curiosity and his love of asking questions into a career.
Rose freelanced for awhile before getting a break: Bill Moyers hired him as managing editor and producer of the PBS series “Bill Moyers’ International Report” in 1974.
Little by little, he began contributing on-air pieces that eventually led him to where he is today: anchor and executive editor of “Charlie Rose” and “Charlie Rose: The Week.” He also appears on “CBS This Morning” and “60 Minutes.”
As a result, the newsman has interviewed many. He counted among the highlights sitting down with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; James Watson, who along with Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA; and North Carolina native James Taylor. And though there are still those he’d like to talk with on air, including Pope Francis, Rose said it was often those ignored by history who have the most interesting things to say. People like Sam Watkins, a friend who died unexpectedly last week.
“It’s the Sam Watkinses of the world that have an incredible story to tell because of their passion and integrity,” Rose said. “My work is highly visible, so you get a lot of compliments or criticism, but it’s highly visible. … My admiration for those people who, I think, selflessly, selflessly live for something greater than themselves. My father was one of those, I think. I think all that I am and the confidence that I have in part came from my mother who showered me with love and who made me feel I could compete on any stage in the world, and I believe that.
“You could drop me in any capital in the world and say, ‘Go talk to their most famous politician, their most famous writer or their most famous religious leader, and have a conversation that is engaging and interesting.’ But it’s the smallest stories of people that don’t get attention, I think, that are most powerful.”
Rose’s ability to talk to people regardless of their age or background comes from a surprising source. When he was young, he worked in his father’s general store, Rose Gin and Supply. Since everyone knew who he and his parents — the late Margaret and Charles Rose, a former city councilman — were, Rose had to be sure to act appropriately.
And that meant talking to people.
“Since I was living in an adult environment, I had to learn to talk to adults, and I did that by asking questions,” he said. “And so I would talk to people about the community and about high school football and about UNC and Duke and some about politics and certainly about agriculture, but I would have to be able to have a conversation, and the best way to have a conversation is to know something so you can ask questions. I think that, early on, made me enormously curious about everything, and I think everything since then has been a product of that experience or those experiences.”
It’s for all these reasons and many more that Rose was unanimously selected by the board of the NCPA as its North Carolinian of the Year. The Dispatch and press association president Les High nominated Rose.
NCPA Executive Director Beth Grace said they chose Rose for two main reasons: his obvious love of North Carolina and as an example of the caliber of reporters and editors the state produces.
“Mostly Charlie is a real and a true journalist,” she said. “He is the closest thing on TV to a newspaper person you can find. He is an excellent interviewer. What I find the most intriguing about what he does is he never gets in the way of his own interview. He asks the question and steps back.”
The award celebrates someone who has brought honor and recognition to the state and who has pride in his or her ties to North Carolina. The person doesn’t have to be a journalist or even a native Tar Heel but must be someone closely associated with the best the state has to offer.
For his part, Rose said though he could think of many more deserving of the award, he was thrilled.
“I’m honored to be selected for this,” he said. “I’m proud to be even considered to be the North Carolinian of the Year, proud to tell everybody around the world that I’m from Henderson, N.C.; that’s where my parents rest in peace. I believe that I — through some combination of work and luck and friends — got to, over the last 25 years, have the best job in the world, to know the most interesting people in the world, to have the most phenomenal experiences, to go everywhere I wanted to go. It makes me a very, very, very lucky man.”
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @herding_stets.