NAPLES — He was considered a home-grown editor at the Naples Daily News, an old-school newsman who ended an era of community journalism before the newspaper was sold to E.W. Scripps Co.
George Wallace Cecil, executive editor from 1981-87, died Sunday at his home in Kalispell, Mont., after a battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 74.
He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Darlene; his children, Laurie Thompson, Ken Cecil, and Allison Jordan; his brothers, Marvin of Naples and Jon of Fort Myers, four grandchildren; and 22 nieces and nephews.
"He cared deeply about the community and the people, as reflected in his career as editor and his career as a partner with his wife in her marketing firm," Corbin Wyant, who retired as publisher in 2002, said of Image Marketing Associates.
Cecil, a Navy veteran, graduated from the University of Florida and was elected to Kappa Tau Alpha, the equivalent of Phi Beta Kappa for top journalism students.
He was a reporter and editor at several newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, the Coeur de A'lene Press in Idaho, Elizabeth Daily Journal in New Jersey, and the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Mont., where he was executive editor and met his second wife, a business editor. He was hired as city editor at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale in 1980 before he was recruited here.
"He came back to Naples, where his family has roots and was well-known," said Daily News Editor Phil Lewis, the city editor under Cecil. "It was truly a community paper. It wasn't a daily metro paper yet."
During his tenure, the Monday-Saturday afternoon paper expanded its plant on Central Avenue and opened bureaus in Bonita Springs and Marco Island.
"Given his family roots here, he was ideally positioned," said Editorial Page Editor Jeff Lytle, referring to his brothers, Marvin, who was the spokesman for then- Naples Community Hospital, and Jon, chief human resources officer for the Lee Memorial Health System.
"He was a real meat-and-potatoes local news guy," Lytle said.
The Daily News tracked him down after he'd accepted a job seven months earlier at the Sun Sentinel. He wasn't interested at first, according to his wife, Darlene, 59.
"They said, 'Why not come and talk to us?' " she said, adding that he received the call while visiting his brother here. "He went to the interview in shorts and flip-flops. The following week, they asked to interview him again. He came in wearing a suit and a tie and was hired."
He started in February 1981 and asked her to come to Naples. They married that August and she got a job at Bank Florida.
"He was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "He was brilliant … I learned so much from him."
In 1986, the Collier family sold the Daily News to Scripps and Cecil remained until the next year before joining his wife's marketing firm as vice president.
In 2002, they returned to Montana and worked with authors on two books. He was the copy editor and she designed the books and got them published and printed.
"After 32 plus years of being with him, he was still my best friend. We still held hands. He still opened the door for me," she said.