March 7, 2017

A Tribute to Irene from Island Free Press
Photographer and Friend, Donnie Bowers


Like many of our readers, friends and family, I was shocked and saddened by the passing of Irene Nolen. I have had the honor and pleasure of working with Irene since 1999. We met during the lighthouse move when she was the editor of the Island Breeze.

The first couple of press conferences during the lighthouse move were small, but she stood out as the true professional among us. She was quick to ask all the important questions and often led the discussion, while others jotted down the answers to her questions.

I got to know her over the months of the move, and was asked if I would like to come aboard, which was a no brainer for me. She wanted a writer for her windsurfing column and some photos. I was impressed by her vision, and open minded to look at all the aspects the islands had to offer. She didn't know much about water sports, but she understood that a lot of locals and visitors would enjoy the stories and news

What she probably never realized was that many of her contributors gravitated to her, wanting to be part of a quality product.

Over the years, my role with her expanded to shooting more photos, and those years really allowed me to grow and learn and shoot better, for which I am eternally grateful.

When she parted ways with the Breeze and started the Island Free Press, she didn't have to look far for help as most of the team stayed with her.

It took a lot of guts in that day to start up and sell the public on internet news after generations of print news, but that was Irene - never afraid to tackle a challenge. Her desire and leadership made it happen even when she had to lean on her support team during the transition.

Every now and then you get lucky and meet someone that you're willing to hitch your wagon to. I always loved going on assignment with her. She showed me how to push without being pushy, and how to get your answers and photos while being respectful and professional to others. She treated everyone fair, whether she was trying to correct my surfing slang or going head-to-head with the big boys. She allowed us to be creative, knowing that we wouldn't let her down. She took a lot of pride in going the extra yard to make sure the facts were accurate, and she led by example.

I was paid the ultimate compliment from her when she nominated me for a Pulitzer for photography. It didn't matter that I was a long shot to win, but the fact that I was nominated by her made me feel like a winner.

Since its beginning, the IFP has covered several major stories on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. Hurricanes, bridges, and beach access issues led the way, and without Irene and Donna the islands had virtually no voice. Many of these issues were critical in shaping the present and future of our home and our way of life.

It's impossible to sum up Irene's life in a few paragraphs, but I will help continue Irene's legacy with Donna and the rest of this great team with the same professionalism that would make her proud.

I know she doesn't want us to be sad, she just wants us to meet our deadlines.

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