Jeff Eason wanted to tell the good stories, and that’s by and large what he did, whether it was in the pages of a newspaper or sitting around a campfire.
The High Country community and the Adams Publishing Group family are mourning the loss of this great storyteller, who, as editor of The Blowing Rocket and a veteran journalist of The Mountain Times and Watauga Democrat , was a champion of musicians and artists, a community-minded leader and, most of all, a true friend.
He was born on April 25, 1960, in Portsmouth, Virginia, but as a military kid, he moved all around the country due to his father’s career in the U.S. Coast Guard. He often shared tales about the various places where he had lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, Alabama, Michigan and Hawaii, and the many different schools he attended (one being the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama.)
He graduated in 1978 from Watauga High School, where he was president of the National Honor Society, chairman of the Art Club and a member of the Drama Club, and then attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he graduated in 1983 with a degree in journalism. When Jeff began freelancing for The Mountain Times in the mid-’90s, all of his experiences in kitchens, radio stations, and bars served as the underpinning for his approach to music writing.
A close friend, Billy Herring, said, “He knew the characters in the back rooms at Murphy’s; he knew the musicians who were getting paid $50 a gig, living on peanut butter and jelly. He really got to know these people and was part of the fabric of it. Once he knew you and knew you were true to your art and true to your music, man, you had a lifelong supporter.”
Jeff became the full-time entertainment editor for The Mountain Times in 1998. There, he quickly integrated into what was a very tight-knit newspaper family.
“Jeff was always much more than a colleague,” says Jamie Goodman, a page designer at The Mountain Times from 1995 to 2003. “He became fast friends and close friends with his coworkers. We pretty much did everything together as a group. Birthday parties, Fourth of July, holidays, we were together. We kind of affectionately called ourselves ‘the gang.’”
After The Mountain Times consolidated offices with The Watauga Democrat in the early 2000s, Frank Ruggiero was excited to work with Jeff. He later joined Jeff on the MT staff as news editor.
Although Jeff’s work garnered multiple awards and he had many opportunities to interview nationally- and internationally- known artists, he never seemed to tire of covering the local community events that would return year after year.
He ended his career as editor of The Blowing Rocket , where he had succeeded longtime Editor Jerry Burns in 2009. “I think everybody would tell you that The Blowing Rocket and Jeff Eason was a match made in heaven,” says Cathy Williamson, a Blowing Rock business owner and close friend, who said Jeff “was like a brother to me.” “He was super respectful of how Jerry did things and how people here liked The Rocket . He did his best to earn everyone’s trust and respect, and he did that.”
“He was a staple around here. Always with his camera,” Cathy says. “I never knew if he was working or if he was playing. I think he approached his job with such an open spirit and such an open sense of community that it felt like more like a friend was taking your picture.”