Anne Rowell Worrell, one of Virginia’s newspaper pioneers — and former co-owner of the Bristol Herald Courier — died Thursday in Charlottesville at the age of 99.
The widow of the late T. Eugene Worrell, she attended Virginia Intermont College in Bristol and was part of the class of 1939. She married Worrell in 1941, and the couple relocated to Bristol, Virginia when they founded their first newspaper, the Virginia Tennessean in 1949, an afternoon competitor with the morning Bristol Herald Courier. They began to grow their Worrell Newspapers chain, which became one of the largest groups of small daily newspapers in the nation.
They later acquired the Herald Courier and merged operations in 1989. She wrote a regular column for the Bristol paper from 1952-1976.
“Despite stunning obstacles, [Gene Worrell] was able to create a credible newspaper from scratch, acquire his rival and then go on to build a thriving newspaper chain that has been described as one of the most successful in United States history,” wrote Edward Crews, who put together a book about Worrell Newspapers Inc.
The couple later purchased the Charlottesville Daily Progress and relocated to Charlottesville in 1970. In 1975, they acquired the Pantops Farm estate once owned by Thomas Jefferson and established their corporate headquarters there. The family ultimately sold most of its holdings but retained the Bristol operations, before selling to Media General in 1998.
Anne Worrell remained a staunch supporter of Virginia Intermont and was a longtime member of its board of trustees. In 1991, she and her husband made a $5 million gift to establish the college’s Worrell Honors program.
“Mrs. Worrell was a very fine lady, very generous to the college and also very generous to numerous other causes,” former VI President Gary Poulton said Monday. “She was always interested in what was going on at the school and did a lot for us.”
Poulton said they shared a fascination with former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Worrell was proud to show him a drawing that Churchill’s daughter did of her father.
Poulton said the honors program, which enabled VI students to study abroad, was perhaps her greatest contribution to the school.
In 1991, the college honored her with a doctorate of letters degree, which she described as her “greatest honor.” The private college closed in 2014 due to lost accreditation, declining enrollment and significant debt. The school’s former Worrell Fine Arts Center bore the couple’s name.
“I just remember Anne’s love for VI College,” said Kevin France, a former Bristol Virginia City Council member. “The city and VI did something together when I was on Council and Anne was the speaker. She was a leader; that is what I remember,” he said.
She was appointed to serve on the Virginia Landmarks Commission and reappointed by three other governors and served as its chairwoman. She also served on the state review board of the Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Historic Preservation Foundation.
She served as honorary vice chairwoman of both the Virginia Historical Society and Preservation Virginia. She was instrumental in helping acquire and restore Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and served as lead board member in that project. She also served on the Governing Council at the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, where she was awarded the Elizabeth Scott Award for Exemplary Leadership in 2011. Additionally, she was a member of First Families of Virginia, Christ Episcopal Church, the Contemporary Club of Albemarle and Farmington Country Club, according to her obituary.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Christ Episcopal Church. A private family service will be held prior to the memorial service. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her honor can be made to Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, 1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, VA 24551; The Miller Center, 2201 Old Ivy Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903; or the Virginia Historical Society.
The Daily Progress contributed to this report.