Editor, Grove Sun
“We don’t have any obits today, guess I need to go out and kill some people.”
That is a direct quote from the illustrious M. Gerald Stone, whose obit I had the unlucky task of writing Monday.
Obviously he was joking. He never actually killed anyone to fill the obit page, but that was the kind of single-minded dedication he had for the paper.
You can say what you want about Gerald Stone. Lord knows he would say what he wanted to about you – in print – slander and libel be damned.
But the truth of the matter is that, despite his flamboyant attire and outrageous editorial commentary, Gerald was one of the finest people I have ever known.
Beneath his plaid shirts and outlandish paisley ties beat the heart of a true gentleman. He had humility, grace and kindness.
I first met Gerald when I came to work for the Sun in 1997.
I expected to not like him because I had read his column and we were diametrically opposed on almost every issue.
But Gerald was nothing if not unexpected. And the longer I worked for him, the more I admired and enjoyed him.
He was my first real newspaper mentor. He taught me the value of a shocking headline (newsstand sales) and the importance of establishing presence in the community (newsstand sales).
He may not have been the best business manager, but he was a dynamic and effective leader.
He knew how things worked, and he knew how to delegate and encourage the paper to print every day.
He was always moving – always in the thick of things with his camera slung around his neck and his wild tie waving in the breeze. He was always sloshing coffee everywhere because he liked to gesticulate with the hand he always had his cup in.
The thing he knew best was how to stir the pot.
And he always knew where the stories were.
I couldn’t count how many times people in the community approached me and said, “How can you stand working for that jerk?”
My answer always was, “He’s not a jerk. He’s a peach. I love working for him.”
Even though he was not always popular with the public, he was popular around the office.
His employees knew that if they did a good job he would find a way to reward them.
He was one of the most serious newspapermen I have ever known, but joking and laughter were part of the job. He made the newspaper fun. And he incited his staff to work hard in the process.
Practical jokes were appreciated and encouraged.
Not a single staff member’s birthday went by without a special box ad in the paper with the most embarrassing photo possible of the birthday boy or girl. If we couldn’t find an embarrassing photo, we made one in Photoshop.
Once the entire staff wore crazy ties on the same day as a special homage to our illustrious leader.
We took a group photo with the ties and put it in the newspaper.
A year or two later, in 2000, Gerald presented me with one of his famous ties at the going away party the staff threw for me when I moved to New Mexico.
It was the tie I had told him was my favorite – green paisley with Looney Toons on it, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, Bugs Bunny, Tweety and Sylvester.
To this day that tie hangs in my study.
Gerald seemed like a grandstander to some – a disagreeable attention hound with radical views and a mean disposition – but he was merely a man doing his job to the best of his unusual and amazing abilities.
And below that exterior there wasn’t a mean bone in his body.
He may have garnered a large share of the community’s attention, but he always gave credit to his staff members, even at his own expense.
I will never forget the day he took me to a very important meeting with a group of prominent Grove citizens.
Someone turned to him to explain what the meeting was about and Gerald said, loud enough for the whole group to hear, “Talk to Kirsten. She’s the smart one who can write – I’m just an idiot with a camera.”
He was far from being just an “idiot with a camera,” but that small statement was one of the best compliments I ever received, because it came from Gerald, and he chose to say it at precisely the moment when it had the most impact.
He was uncanny that way. He knew what to say and when to say it. He could ferret information out of a clam. And he could make anyone like or dislike him instantly.
Pete Crow called him a seer, and I think that’s a fair assessment. He had a sixth sense about people.
It was my privilege and honor to count Gerald Stone as a mentor and a friend. He was a great blessing in my life, and I will never forget him.