For 30 years, Ron Stone anchored the nightly news in Houston, Texas, where I grew up; he died of cancer yesterday, at the age of 72. Even though I hadn’t heard his voice in a good 15 years, my hunt for YouTube videos brought childhood rushing back: our old house with its brown shag carpet, my dad’s ratty chair and the pipes he used to smoke, my mom making dinner in the kitchen, and how Stone’s traditional signoff of "Good night, neighbors" meant it was almost time to eat. Of course, this was in the days before we were brainwashed with the corneal-spasm graphics and screechy transition sounds that have come to define modern "news." All Stone needed was good writing, a lack of condescension, and his round, friendly face to hold court for half an hour. I was captivated by him.
Stone may have been born in Oklahoma, but became a Texan through and through when a news director by the name of Dan Rather — yes, that Dan Rather — brought him to the local CBS affiliate in 1961. Stone fit perfectly into the folksy-yet-wry rhythms of Houstonian life, and in 1972, he moved to the NBC affiliate where he’d work until his retirement in 1992. He brought us the Berlin Wall collapsing and made the conflicts in the Middle East seem right next door; he traveled around the state and kept Texas history and heritage a regular part of our big-city lives. Most of all, his rapport with weatherman Doug Johnson (another Houston legend) was the kind of relationship every news anchor in this country is trying to fake with their coworkers right now: affection with a light dusting of mockery, and just wacky enough to keep a kid like me watching.
This morning, my mother reminded me of something I’d forgotten, though now it’s come rushing back, too: The summer before fourth grade, I broke both of my arms at the same time by jumping a little too enthusiastically off a swingset. I was not happy. And one sweltering evening, as I lay immobile on the sofa with my casts heavy across my chest, Ron Stone used the end of his Channel 2 News broadcast to tell me to get well soon. Me! He was talking to me! Why? Because my dad had met him at the mall or something, and asked him to. If that’s not being in touch with the community you serve — all four million people, even the stupid klutzy tomboy from Bunker Hill — I don’t know what is. So RIP, Ron. They say Texas means "friend," and you were one of its best.
PopWatchers, I hope you’ll read this obit, complete with condolences from President Bush — yes, that President Bush — watch some of the tributes from his colleagues here, and check out these YouTube clips of Stone’s work. Meanwhile, why not use the comment section to pay tribute to Stone (if you’re from Houston) or share memories of your own favorite local newscasters?