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Richard ‘Dick’ Stone dies at 80; Chicago newsman was respected foreign correspondent and media strategist

When Dick Stone asked Mayor Richard J. Daley about giving millions of dollars in city insurance business to a firm that employed his son John, Daley replied: “My mother used to always say, ‘There’s mistletoe hanging from my coattail.’ ”

Dick Stone
Dick Stone
Provided

Dick Stone was a consummate newsman whose knowledge of history and politics and incisive questioning and graceful writing brought the world to Chicago and Chicago to the world.

He was one of the youngest foreign correspondents hired by UPI, said his wife, Chicago Sun-Times City Hall reporter Fran Spielman.

Working in Japan in 1966, he took dispatches from Vietnam and reported on two major airline disasters within 24 hours — one of them the crash of a plane at Mt. Fuji that was carrying a tour group of approximately 75 people from Thermo King of Minneapolis.

That same year, as UPI bureau chief in Jakarta, “He scored a 24-hour scoop on the world when [Indonesian President] Sukarno was deposed. He commandeered the last phone before they cut the phone lines,” said his wife. “He was so likable. He built such a network of people and sources.”

Newsman Dick Stone (left) greeting Indonesian President Sukarno.
Newsman Dick Stone (left) greeting Indonesian President Sukarno.
Provided

In 1975, as WIND Radio’s City Hall reporter, he landed a rare 30-minute sit-down interview with Mayor Richard J. Daley. When Mr. Stone questioned the mayor about giving millions of dollars in city insurance business to a firm that employed his son John, Daley replied: “My mother used to always say, ‘There’s mistletoe hanging from my coattail.’ ”

Dick Stone (left, with mic) questioning Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Dick Stone (left, with mic) questioning Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Provided

He rose to be news director of WIND and helped build a news team at WCFL Radio before becoming a media strategist who advised politicians, law firms and Fortune 500 companies.

Mr. Stone, 80, of Highland Park, died Jan. 7 after a decline in his health.

He grew up Richard Kahn on the West Side, where his grandparents sold paint on Maxwell Street.

“His grandmother would get one day off on Saturday, so she would take him to the beauty parlor,” his wife said. “They would stop for caramel corn and they would go to a double feature that she chose, and they’d pick up smoked fish because that was the one night his grandmother didn’t have to cook.”

Mr. Stone learned to be self-sufficient because his mother, Gladys, struggled with mental illness, according to his wife. At one point, he spent a week in an orphanage.

His grandparents retrieved him, but he never forgot the pencil box stolen from him at the orphanage.

His mother kept his father, Bernard, from seeing their son by intercepting letters and phone calls, his wife said. As an adult, Mr. Stone tried to locate his dad, only to learn he’d died. She said he learned from his half-siblings “His father had died with his picture in his wallet.”

Before they lost contact, his father showed his son love by taking him on adventures, his wife said: “He would take him to the airport to watch planes take off, take him on train rides, take him to the park to look at the stars.”

When Mr. Stone became a father, his wife said, he re-created adventures like that with their son, Jason, and Craig, his son from a previous marriage.

Young Richard attended Amundsen High School and worked as a short-order cook, which helped him develop gourmet cooking skills.

After his mother remarried and the family moved north — and he changed his surname to that of his stepfather — he graduated from Highland Park High School.

Mr. Stone went to the University of Illinois campus at Navy Pier before joining the City News Bureau of Chicago. Then he worked for UPI in Chicago and was promoted to run the wire service’s Des Moines bureau.

After arriving in Jakarta to cover Indonesia, he spotted wires in the ceiling of his hotel room. “They were bugging the room,” his wife said. “He thought to himself, ‘I could die here and no one will ever know’ ... Then he summoned the courage to do this.”

“He always said to make fear your friend,” Jason Stone said.

Returning to the U.S., he worked for KYW radio in Philadelphia. He covered both 1968 political conventions and the funeral of Robert F. Kennedy.

Back in Chicago, Mr. Stone met Spielman at WIND. He assigned her to replace him as City Hall reporter when no one else wanted the job, she said: “It was like being in the lineup to follow Babe Ruth.”

Dick Stone and his wife, Fran Spielman, City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Dick Stone and his wife, Fran Spielman, City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Provided

After marrying in 1984, “We never went to bed angry,” she said. “We talked everything through. He had this fantastic sense of humor.”

Jason Stone recalled how other fans at Wrigley Field would crack up when his dad called to the roving food vendors, “Hey Tiramisu Man!”

“The whole section would be in an uproar,” he said.

“He had this tremendous sense of humor,” said Robert Boharic, whom Mr. Stone advised when he ran for a seat on the state Supreme Court. “It almost didn’t matter that I lost because he became a lifelong friend.”

“He was always my hero,” Jason Stone said. When he was a Cub Scout, his father helped him build a Pinewood Derby car. Jason was home sick the day of the race but still remembers the excitement in his dad’s voice when he called with the results: “I have the greatest news! We won!”

He loved when his dad would drive him to DePaul University. In the car, Jason would introduce his dad to music by Jay-Z or Kanye West. “He learned to really appreciate that artistry and ask me for copies of their CDs,” his son said. “He had respect for everyone.”

Holidays were important to Mr. Stone, especially Thanksgiving. He’d set out pilgrim salt-and-pepper shakers and turkey napkin rings and cook for hours.

Afterward, “I’d say, ‘Honey, you’re so tired,’ ’’ his wife said. “He said, ‘Yes, but it’s the good tired,’ because it was the Thanksgiving he never had ... He made the family he never had.”

After his first marriage ended, he was granted custody of his son Craig, who died of a heart attack at 53 on Dec. 25. “Now they are together,” his wife said.

“Our business, our democracy, would be so much better off if there were more journalists like Dick Stone — people who understand to their core that journalism is about what matters, and that each and every one of us matters” said Alan Abrahamson, who Mr. Stone hired at WCFL. Abrahamson became a sportswriter, TV analyst and author who’s about to cover his 12th Olympics in Beijing.

At WIND, Mr. Stone hired Bernie Tafoya, now a veteran reporter at WBBM radio. “He was a great boss,” Tafoya said. “He knew what he wanted ... I learned a lot from him just watching him work.”

“He had this encyclopedic knowledge of Chicago,” said another Stone hire — V.J. McAleer — who became longtime executive producer of WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.”

“He had great, great integrity,” said former WLS newscaster Linda Marshall Klein.

“Dick was a wordsmith, who could make you cry with a sad story or laugh so hard that you cried with a good one. He could be very tough in his pursuit of the truth, but warm and gentle in person,” said former Sun-Times managing editor Mary Dedinsky. “He became a highly respected political and media consultant, but he left an indelible memory as a giant among giants in Chicago journalism. He was an extraordinary conversationalist, always warm, witty, smart and informed. He could talk about music, food, sports and culture. And his jambalaya ... simply the best!”

Mr. Stone named their golden retriever Theo for Theo Epstein, former president of the Cubs.

Mr. Stone also is survived by three grandchildren. Shiva is planned from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Weinstein & Piser Funeral Home, Wilmette. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

He’d promised Jason and his soon-to-be fiancee, Haylee, he’d take them to see Tokyo. “I’m going to do it,” his wife said.