I know it’s tough to convince anyone younger to listen to what I have to say. I was once young – a long, long time ago. And I’m certain I was as hesitant as they are to listen.
It’s equally tough to realize that maybe I was wrong about someone. Maybe that person I initially thought was more or less a jerk was really a good person.
I learned that lesson as a 19-year-old while working as a copyboy at the Philadelphia Daily News.
Way back when at the Daily News they had people like me to run around doing errands like picking up newspapers, dropping off paychecks, getting company cars gassed up and picking up an occasional lunch for someone.
When I was hired at the DN it was like I was dropped into a movie set. There were all these famous Philly journalists, reporters, editors and photographers. The men and women whose work I read all the time were actually sitting and standing in front of me.
There was Pete Dexter, Larry Fields, Larry McMullen, Ray Didinger, Sam Psoras, Will Everly, Gil Spencer, Zack Stalberg. And then there was Chuck Stone.
Stone was the first black columnist ever hired by the Daily News. And in a city like Philadelphia where in the day minorities had trouble with proper representation, someone like Chuck Stone was the best thing to happen.
At the time, however, I didn’t think so. At least when I first met Chuck.
At first I thought Stone was rude, arrogant and a person just looking to stir the pot. I remember one evening working on an election night when he came downstairs in the Municipal Services Building where a bunch of us from the paper were working, collecting data and phoning it back to the DN editors.
Chuck came flying into the room, bowtie, weird looking glasses, looking around and just gawking. I wondered what the heck he was doing. His answer was that he wanted to make sure that there were minorities represented as elections were sacred and that it was the right thing to do. Yeh, whatever, I thought. Who did this guy think he was?
Over the next year or so I got to know Stone a little more. When he would come into the newsroom I would engage him in small talk. I tried to see what kind of guy he really was. What I found out was that he was smart, really, really smart. He also cared about the people of Philadelphia and not just the minorities of the city. He cared for anyone he felt was getting a raw deal.
There was the time he negotiated the release of hostages taken at Graterford Prison. Soon after people sought by the Philadelphia police would seek Stone out to secure their safe arrest. At that time the Philly police were having an issue with some rogue cops who felt that brutality was an OK thing.
I recall a Sunday night working at the paper. It was around 10 or so at night when the elevator doors opened and three men walked in. Two were in suits, one not. I asked if I could help them and one of the “suits” replied that they were looking for Stone. The less than well-dressed man was there to surrender to Stone. I led them to a couple of chairs just inside the newsroom and not 10 minutes later, Stone emerged from the elevator. That was just the way he was. Never mind that it was late on a Sunday night when other people were at home. Chuck was there to do what he thought was right and that was making sure the guy the cops were looking for made it to the police administration building in one piece.
Stone was 89 when he died Sunday at an assisted-living facility in North Carolina.
People like Chuck Stone don’t seem to be in large numbers these days. In our news world we are all caught up in getting the news out quicker than ever. There are tighter budgets, fewer people, less time to think about the greater work, the greater good.
It’s hard to imagine someone taking the time to make sure some guy they never met gets treated with a little respect, regardless of any crime he committed or alleged wrongdoing he was suspected of.
Chuck Stone was more than just a journalist. He was a splendid human being, someone who combined his writing and journalism skills with that of contributing something of value to the human race.
That’s missing nowadays. And that’s too bad.
– Andy Hachadorian