This is the 10th in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
When Chuck Stone received our Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, he said he had worked as a reporter, editorial writer, and editor, but “being a columnist is the most fun.”
Stone (1924-2014) also told NSNC conference attendees in Pittsburgh: “Columnists are on the cutting edge of the First Amendment because they can write anything they want.”
Well, maybe not quite everything…
Stone — a founder and first president (1975-77) of the National Association of Black Journalists — was
perhaps best known for his 1972-91 tenure as a Philadelphia Daily News columnist and senior editor.
He was so trusted that approximately 75 Philadelphia-area criminal suspects surrendered to him rather than to the police — which obviously put the courageous Stone in some dangerous situations. Many of the suspects were afraid of being beaten by the cops without Stone’s presence.
Reached for this article last month, Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky said Stone “was Philadelphia’s best-known columnist of his time, and probably any time. His concern was mostly for the downtrodden and he wrote about them in eloquent, formal English, often mixed with street jive. He had a commanding vocabulary and a broad sense of humor.”
Stu added: “Stone always had time for people, the everyday folks who stopped him on the street because they recognized him. No print person was as recognizable as Stone, with his flattop haircut, Brooks Brothers/Ivy League attire, and trademark cologne [Pour Homme]. Stone had an eye for the ladies and vice versa and we’ll leave that there. The enemies he had were mostly political, and always earned.”
At that 2002 NSNC meeting in Pittsburgh, Stu presented Stone with a Daily News Page One mockup created by his friends at the paper. And there was a memorable scenario at the conference’s scholarship-fund auction: “One item up for bid was a Hawaiian shirt with a San Diego Union-Tribune logo,” recalled Bykofsky. “I bid $20, thinking it high enough to ward off any bidders. I was in the front of the room. From the rear of the room, I heard ‘$30.’ Hmm. OK, I went to $40 and then it was $50, $60, $70, at which point I dropped out.
“That’s when Stone came forward to claim the shirt, unaware I was the other bidder. He was bidding on the shirt because he knew I loved Hawaiian shirts, and he presented it to me as a gift. It was kind of an O. Henry touch and did result in extra bucks for the scholarship fund.”
Born in St. Louis and raised in Hartford, Conn., Stone served in World War II as a member of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. He had been admitted to Harvard University, but instead chose to attend Wesleyan University after the war — becoming the first African-American undergraduate there in several decades. Stone then earned a master’s in sociology from the University of Chicago.
He went on to become an editor at Harlem’s New York Age, Washington, DC’s Afro-American, and Chicago’s Daily Defender, and served three years as a special assistant and speechwriter for Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY). The ever-bow-tied Stone also authored four books.
Stone was teaching at the University of North Carolina at the time he received the Lifetime award.
The NSNC’s 2002 conference had some indirect connections to this summer’s conference in Los Angeles. Leonard Pitts, Jr., winner of our Lifetime honor in LA, received the NSNC’s first “Columnist of the Year” award in Pittsburgh 14 years ago. And iconic advice columnist Ann Landers — aunt of our LA keynote speaker Jeanne Phillips (“Dear Abby”) — died in Chicago while the Pittsburgh conference was going on.
Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.