Home Life Why We Retired in Chapel Hill

Why We Retired in Chapel Hill

12 years ago, acclaimed journalists Walter and Fran Mears retired from the D.C. area to this special slice of North Carolina, and they haven't looked back since.

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Photo by Dick Knapp

Walter Mears

worked for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C., for more than 40 years as a reporter, administrator, bureau chief and columnist, and in New York for five years as executive editor responsible for AP’s worldwide news coverage. He received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the 1976 presidential campaign. He has written and edited several books, including “Deadlines Past,” about the 11 presidential campaigns he covered.

Fran Mears

was an Associated Press reporter and administrator in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Baltimore before becoming managing editor of Gannett Co. Inc.’s Washington, D.C. news bureau. She and Walter have three daughters and seven grandchildren.


We retired to Governors Club in 2005 and consider ourselves fortunate to have found the Chapel Hill area as our home.

After careers in journalism in Washington, D.C. – Walter for more than 40 years, Fran for five after a 20-year news career in other cities – we sought a more relaxed lifestyle and a refuge from the congested traffic of the nation’s capital.

Family visits introduced us to North Carolina and the Triangle, and when we narrowed our search, Chapel Hill was it for us. Golf, fine restaurants without the high prices of metro areas and the fact that we would be six miles from the University of North Carolina and about 11 from Duke University all added to the attraction. And it all has worked as we’d hoped.

We sold our townhouse a mile from the Potomac River at a lucky moment – real estate prices were soaring, and we came away with more than enough money to build the house we wanted here. (One tip for other people looking at retirement in new homes: We invested in an elevator, a luxury at the time we built and a real asset as we age. It will enable us to stay put if climbing stairs becomes a challenge.) Our place overlooks the golf course to the west and a wooded area to the east, so we are very comfortable just being home.

We don’t have to venture far, though, to enjoy performances at UNC’s PlayMakers Repertory Company, movies at the Lumina and concerts and lectures at the university. We’re only a few minutes away from some of our favorite restaurants – Governors Club’s Lakeview Room and Club Room, of course, plus Pazzo! in Southern Village, Tarantini Italian Restaurant and Oakleaf in Chatham County and Kitchen and Jujube in Chapel Hill – a list that continues to grow.

And it’s only a short drive to see a Durham Bulls baseball game, to attend plays or concerts at the performing arts centers in Durham and Raleigh or to take in one of the world-class art, science or history museums.

When the grandkids visit, we all enjoy Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, Durham’s Museum of Life and Science and Duke Lemur Center and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Then there are all of the great parks and outdoor spaces throughout the area.

Walter has spoken to service and educational organizations about his career covering Washington and politics for The Associated Press. He has taught continuing education classes for seniors at OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke.

Fran has chosen to volunteer her time with charities and service groups. She’s worked for more than a decade with the Chatham County Literacy Council, which helps adults reach their full potential; has been involved with service projects through Christ United Methodist Church in Southern Village and has tutored at-risk children at The Learning Trail Collaborative. No matter your interests and talents, you can find a variety of satisfying volunteer opportunities in the Triangle.

Walter is a golfer, and Chapel Hill is the perfect spot for it. He’s a regular at Governors Club and also has played at other courses around the area. With Pinehurst and Southern Pines about an hour away, few places offer more options for golf.

Walter, who retired from the AP in 2001, continues to write when there are opportunities. He has done pieces for the AP – and for Chapel Hill Magazine – among other outlets. For two years after his retirement, he worked on his book “Deadlines Past,” about the presidential campaigns he covered. It was published in 2004. He also organized, edited and wrote chapters of a history of The Associated Press, “Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace, and Everything Else.”