The ag journalism profession and agriculture lost a good one with the untimely passing of Dan Wilkinson. He was 45.
My first encounter with Dan Wilkinson came in the early 1990s at a Farm Bureau information conference in Knoxville, Tenn. He was with the North Carolina Farm Bureau, where he began his career. I was with the Georgia Farm Bureau.
That night, I ate supper with the contingent of journalism professionals from the North Carolina Farm Bureau and made one of those chance acquaintances that stay with you through the years. About 10 years later, our paths crossed again professionally.
When I arrived for work at the Southeast Farm Press office in Raleigh, there was a message on the answering machine from Dan Wilkinson, WRAL-TV. “Just read where you've got a new job with Southeast Farm Press. Congratulations. If I can ever do anything for you, give me a call.”
From talking with folks who knew Dan, it's easy to see why people enjoyed talking with him. In the relatively short time I've been at the Southeast Farm Press, Dan did help me out and also offered insight about agriculture in North Carolina. He even passed on stories that he felt were appropriate for this publication. I was encouraged to see him reporting from last year's Southeast Cotton Conference. I made it a point to call him and invite his coverage of the event.
Agriculture was in his blood. His father is the legendary, pioneering farm broadcaster Ray Wilkinson. Mention that name among farmers, especially ones who have been in the business for a while, and you'll get a grin. A spokesman at the Farm Bureau pointed out that farm folks have a special place in their hearts for the Wilkinson family.
It comes from doing a job right. In 10 years of reporting on agriculture in North Carolina — and in a career that spanned 20 years — Dan developed a reputation of telling the true story of agriculture to the general public. The news director of WRAL-TV called Wilkinson “our Charles Kuralt.” Agriculture was his beat. He also gave the current corn, tobacco and other market prices each day during the noon newscast.
“My job is to tell the viewer just what I see,” Wilkinson once said. “The story of today's farm is very interesting and a very good window on much of the rest of the world around us… and I think the viewer wants to hear about today's farm.”
You could see the connection he made with people when you talked with him. He talked to you, not at you. That's key to communication and points to a genuineness and sincerity.
“I really like assignments with farmers involved with horticulture or nurseries,” Wilkinson once said. “I learn a great deal about the business and new and exciting plants, as well as enjoying the people in the business, who seem to be very friendly and warm.”
He often was a one-man show out in the field, manning the camera, reporting and editing himself.
Wilkinson is survived by his wife, Babs; two children, Daniel Jr., 13, and Kaisey, 9; three brothers; and his parents, Ray and Emmylou Wilkinson.
WRAL's anchor probably best described Dan Wilkinson when he reflected that Dan was a “humble, decent guy.”
You know those kinds of folks when you meet them and you're glad you did. Agriculture has lost a good one.