A colossal journalist who blazed trail, then led others

Apr. 10, 2014 @ 12:35 PM

Chuck Stone had this cologne that wouldn’t quit.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill used to be located on campus in Howell Hall, and the second floor where Stone’s office was smelled like him.

The guy had a way of owning a room like that.

Stone smelled so good that you wanted to find a reason to hug the man or shake his hand. That way, some of his cologne would rub off on you.

Stone died Sunday. He was 89.

My birthday was Sunday. So that means I showed up in this world on what ended up being the calendar day of the death of the person who more or less birthed me into journalism.
It had been a while since I’d sat with Stone in his room at an assisted-living facility in Chapel Hill.

Something clearly was different during the visit. It was his cologne. I didn’t smell it.

Father Time was in the room, though, hanging out with Stone until the pioneering newspaperman enunciated and punctuated his last sentence, the period on his life arriving over the weekend.

I'm typing this during a class I’m teaching on media writing in UNC’s Carroll Hall, where the journalism school was relocated.

My students are taking an exam, so they’re OK — I think.

You see, I’m no Charles Sumner “Chuck” Stone Jr., who was my journalism professor at UNC. He kept students on the edge of their seats.

I put my kids to sleep.

And it’s not just because my class is at 8 o’clock in the morning. I don’t have the harrowing tales of negotiating a hostage situation at a prison yard or of having criminals surrender to me instead of the police.

That was Stone, a Tuskegee Airman during World War II who would go on to co-found the National Association of Black Journalists. He did so to hold the media industry accountable for both its coverage and employment of minorities, and it ultimately ended up giving me a fighting chance to carve out a little space in the business.

Here’s what’s killing me, though: I don’t remember a single grade Stone gave me. I don’t know what I ended up with in his class.

“It’s all about style,” Stone said.

Now, I do remember him saying that. But I was so clueless back then that I probably thought he was talking about looking the part of a journalist, which he did with his trademark bow ties. It was after I graduated that I realized Stone was referring to Associated Press style.

You know those Dos Equis beer commercials that feature The Most Interesting Man In the World? Stone was more interesting than he was.

Stone has a lot to do with why I’m in journalism, and it’s not so much about his work with NABJ, as important as that has been. I mean, I halfway wonder if the pens with brown ink with which he wrote had something to do with his championing the cause of black people.

“Think big, think black and think like a child of God,” Stone would say.

But three words in particular from Stone changed my life. Not “I love you,” although Stone might as well have said that when one day in class he uttered, “You can write.”

Stone was talking to me. This colossal figure in journalism approved of something I'd written.

Now, whether I really was able to write well is suspect, but Stone said I could, and that made all the difference.

John McCann is @johntmccann on Twitter, or email him at jmccann@heraldsun.com.