Connie Walker, a longtime leader in public radio and GM of WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., died Wednesday. She was 59.
Walker had been on medical leave since February, according to a WUNC obituary.
Her family has not shared specifics about the cause of death.
Walker worked in public radio for more than three decades. She had worked for 16 years at WUNC, where got her start as news director.
During her time at WUNC, Walker “played a vital role in our station’s growth and many successes,” Nora Casper, acting President and GM, said in a statement Thursday.
“Under Connie’s accomplished leadership, WUNC further strengthened its commitment to producing and airing high-quality news programming, serving North Carolinians, and remaining one of the nation’s most high-performing and respected public radio stations,” Casper said.
Jeff Tiberii, WUNC’s capitol bureau chief and host of the WUNC Politics podcast, pointed out in a tweet Thursday that Walker led the station through the Great Recession without layoffs.
“Her death is undeniably premature,” Tiberii wrote. “For this I am quite sad. What is also undeniable is that she left this radio station much improved and in better shape than she found it.”
During her career, Walker took on national roles within the public radio system. She served four years as president of Public Radio News Directors Inc. (now the Public Media Journalists Association). She also served as a board member for NPR and Greater Public.
She entered public radio in 1988 at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she worked various jobs before becoming news director in 1996.
“I think that Connie loved public radio to her core, and her personal mission was to extend it and high-quality news to as many people as possible,” WUNC Board Chairwoman Hannah Gage said in the WUNC obituary.
Under her leadership, the station grew its revenue, extended its reach with the purchase of WFSS and added a Triple A music service.
When Walker joined WUNC, it was “struggling,” Gage said in the obituary. “It was not the successful, respected radio station we have today and we all know today.”
Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) said in a tweet Friday that Walker “was a true champion of journalism and storytelling in our state.”
I am greatly saddened by Connie Walker’s premature death. I admired her and her many outstanding accomplishments. However, one line that rings hollow in this story and elsewhere is the comment that prior to Connie’s tenure, the station was “struggling” and “not the successful, respected radio station we have today.” WUNC has long been a nationally-admired public radio station in an area that is very supportive of public radio. Yes, Connie contributed much and helped to “right” a financially-overextended station. But to suggest that prior to Connie, the station was weak and/or a failure … besmirches the reputation of many fine leaders who preceded her.