The people behind The Oxford EAGLE — and why we do what we do
Publisher Emeritus Jesse Phillips began his newspaper career as a boy with a paper route in Grenada, where he also learned to operate a linotype machine. While a student at Holes Community College, he hitchhiked back and forth to Lexington, where he worked in a print shop. He joined The EAGLE part-time in 1952 as a student at Ole Miss, where he studied journalism. He received a master’s degree in 1955 and with W.S. Featherston purchased Rebel Press, an office supply and commercial print shop, when it split from The EAGLE. He purchased The EAGLE with W.S. Featherston and Nina Goolsby in 1961 and served as its publisher until 2005.
Mr. Phillips’ reason: “Although the ownership of The Oxford EAGLE has been entrusted to us for a time, I’ve always felt that it truly belongs to the people of Oxford, Lafayette County and the University of Mississippi. Our role has been that of stewards as we work to provide the best service we can to this community.”
Co-Publisher Rita Vasilyev practically grew up at The Oxford EAGLE helping to insert the then-weekly paper while still in her single digits. A graduate of the University of Mississippi with a degree in Music Education and a native Oxonian, Rita has very deep roots in our community and the newspaper business. She served in varying part-time capacities, working in the front office, serving as the society editor and handling general bookkeeping, until her graduation from Ole Miss in 1969. After spending a couple of years in Europe, she returned to The EAGLE in 1972 and assumed the duties of office manager. Since then her role has expanded to include managing all business-related activities for The EAGLE and its day-to-day operation. In 1990, she assumed control of her mother’s (Nina Goolsby) interest in the paper. She has held the titles or Society Editor, Office Manager, Assistant Publisher and her current role as Co-Publisher.
Rita’s reason: “The EAGLE has been a part of my and my family’s life for as long as I can remember, and I take pride in continuing the work my mother started so many years ago. I, like my mother, have a deep love for Oxford, Lafayette County and Ole Miss and am grateful to have the opportunity to keep our community’s newspaper locally owned and operated.”
Co-Publisher Tim Phillips, a lifelong resident of Oxford, was privileged to work alongside his father and brother as partners in the family business. He grew up selling papers around the Square for 10 cents back when The EAGLE was a weekly, and worked in the darkroom and circulation departments during high school and college. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ole Miss and began working at The EAGLE full-time in 1983. He’s since worked in just about every aspect of the newspaper, from selling advertising to managing circulation to working in the pressroom. He has held leadership positions in a number of community organizations, and for more than two decades, he has served as Sunday School teacher for the Sunflower Class of North Mississippi Regional Center clients at First Baptist Church, serving also as their bus driver to and from church. NMRC honored him as the first recipient of the Carole B. Haney Spirit of Volunteerism Award.
Tim’s reason: “Every day is different at the paper. Some are good and some are bad, but you know that, every day the paper comes off the press, someone is going to be happy to see their name in print and read a story about something they’ve done. Plus, there is no greater place to live and raise a family than Oxford.”
Editor Don Whitten, a graduate of the University of Mississippi, joined The EAGLE as sports editor in 1977. He became editor in January 2006. His responsibilities include overseeing all aspects of the daily routine of the newspaper, helping the various department heads to coordinate the team effort to publish the paper, and putting together each day’s Opinions page. He is married to Laura Ueleke Whitten and has a step-son, Matthew.
Don’s reason: “I was raised in a newspaper-reading family, and I can’t seem to get away from it. I enjoy the work because it’s different every day. The highlights are when people call and send e-mails and letters letting us know they like the things we’ve done.”
Editor Nina Goolsby (1920-2008) was editor and co-owner of The Oxford EAGLE from 1961 to 2006, when she assumed the honorary title of editor emeritus. She began her career with The EAGLE as a bookkeeper under editor Curtis Mullin, soon becoming the society editor and later moving into advertising. She purchased The EAGLE in 1961 with partners Jesse Phillips and W.S. Featherston, and continued to write her popular “Nina’s Notebook” column through the mid-1990s. Her folksy writings and persuasive sales approach defined Oxford’s community newspaper for half a century. Obituary/Story
Assistant Publisher Dan Phillips (1958-2005) was a leader in the state and national newspaper industry as well as in his hometown community of Oxford. A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he began his career at The Natchez Democrat and returned to his family’s newspaper as assistant publisher in 1983. He served as president of the National Newspaper Association and the Mississippi Press Association, and was instrumental in forming the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, headquartered at Ole Miss. After his death, he was honored posthumously as Oxford-Lafayette County Citizen of the Year and received UM Journalism’s highest honor, the Silver Em award. Obituary/Story