Irene Clare Nolan, 70, of Frisco, NC, formerly of Louisville, died Friday, March 3, 2017, at Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia after a respiratory illness.
Irene was a distinguished American journalist who rose to the top ranks as managing editor of The Courier-Journal in Louisville, where she and her staff won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989. After her retirement to Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1991, she began a new career as editor of The Island Breeze, a monthly publication on the islands. For 16 years she helped build the paper into a popular community publication. In 2007, she and her business partner Donna Barnett of Hatteras, launched The Island Free Press, the first and only online newspaper to cover the southern Outer Banks.
From 1987 to 1992, Nolan was managing editor of the Courier-Journal. The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for covering the 1988 Carrollton bus crash that killed 27 people.
She became one of the first women to manage a major American newspaper’s newsroom, though she wasn’t the first woman to become managing editor at the Courier-Journal. The late Carol Sutton, Nolan’s mentor, claimed that title a few years earlier.
David Hawpe, former Courier-Journal executive editor, said Nolan entered journalism at a time when women were overlooked for leadership roles, but finished there as a strong, energetic managing editor.
Stephen Ford, Nolan’s successor as Courier-Journal managing editor, said Nolan had “had admirable qualities and temperament for those tasks” as the newspaper underwent ownership changes.
“She was fiercely determined to preserve the long-standing commitment of the newspapers to hard-nosed, public-service journalism, but at the same time she could be decidedly unsentimental and open to change,” Ford said.