Phil Gurkin, a loving family man and friend, passed away after a brave, but rapid, fight with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He was born on his mother’s birthday of August 28, 1950 in Plymouth, NC to Charles T. Gurkin and Marie H. Gurkin. He is survived by his wife, Marie K. Gurkin of Sanford; a son, Chip Gurkin and wife Chelsa, and grandchildren, Clementine, Emmett, and Eli of Arlington, VA; brother Donald Gurkin and wife Sandra of Jamesville, NC; and brother Charles Gurkin and wife Katie of Blowing Rock, NC. Phil was a lifelong and faithful member of the Methodist church. He was very proud of family’s long history in eastern North Carolina, which fostered his affection for the state’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, and, especially, its Outer Banks. His career and life were informed by his deep love for, and knowledge of, the great state of North Carolina and its history.
Phil graduated from Plymouth High School in 1968, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972 with a degree in Journalism, and he earned a Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies from Duke University in 1995 which created great tension with his Tar Heel-loving family. After college and stints working in Durham and Statesville, he returned to Plymouth to write for his hometown newspaper, The Roanoke Beacon. At the Beacon, Phil worked on many issues of regional significance, including winning a NC Press Association award for environmental journalism for his reporting on the illegal channelization of wetlands in eastern NC. In 1980, he began working at the Dunn Daily Record where he became the managing editor. Phil was dogged in his journalistic pursuit of the facts, telling a good story, and speaking truth to power.
Phil remained active in his community throughout his life, with a particular interest in the environment and social justice. In 1987, Phil transitioned to a second career in education, first teaching writing at the Harnett County Correctional Institution and later at the Wake Juvenile Detention Center in Raleigh until his retirement in 2008. He was an active member of the Democratic Party, earning Lee County Democrat of the Year in 2010, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lee County Democrats in 2017, and proudly being arrested as part of the Moral Monday protests in 2013. Phil was also a leader in the Dunn and Sanford Lions Clubs, servicing various years as President and Vice President, acting as publicity chairman for several years, and tirelessly working on their community service projects. He served for years as an Assistant Scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 711 in Dunn, helping shepherd many young men, including his son, through meetings, camping trips, service projects, and summer camp to the rank of Eagle Scout, earning his own Wood Badge certificate in the process.
Funeral arrangements are with Rogers-Pickard Funeral Home, 509 Carthage St., Sanford. Services will be held at Jonesboro United Methodist Church on Saturday, 1/13 – visitation at 10 am and funeral at 11.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the North Carolina Chapter of the ALS Association at webnc.alsa.org.