I would have expected nothing less

“Big results require big ambitions.”

— Heraclitus, ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher.

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“Good afternoon, I hope you remember me from the early 1980s before I moved to Hemphill,” the message in my inbox from Gary Stewart began. “You were a helpful boss and advocate, and I appreciated your advice.”

“Certainly, I remember you,” I responded as soon as I saw Gary’s words. In fact, I shared with him that his name came up in many of the best newspaper war stories from the Jim Chionsini era at The East Texas Light. Beginning with the day I interviewed him for the job.

The words of “Auld Lang Syne” notwithstanding, the lead up to a new year has always been a time of thinking about friends from years past. That made the message from Gary last week most timely.

In that interview, I learned that Gary was from upstate New York, a native of Finger Lakes. As best as I recall, he told me about seeing my ad in The Dallas Morning News while visiting family in the DFW area and drove to Center for the interview.

We went through the usual interview conversation about background, education, etc. Then I started wrapping up by asking my common closing question: “What would you like to be doing five years from now?”

Leaning back in the chair in which he was sitting, Gary smiled, rubbed his beard, and said, “I kind of like that chair you’re sitting in.”

Ambition. He got the job.

Gary’s ambition was evident in everything he did. He arrived early, stayed late, and never missed a story. Always had a smile, and he blended ambition with humor working to combine New York upbringing with some East Texas culture. “I was invited to go hunting,” he wrote in one of his columns for The East Texas Light. “I thought that sounded like fun, so I asked, where do we hunt, at the city park? Swell— I’ll meet you there about noon.’”

And cowboy boots. One morning after he was promoted to the top position at the newspaper in Hemphill, Gary arrived at a publisher’s meeting in Center sporting newly acquired traditional Texas footwear. His presentation on The Sabine County Reporter was going really well when he casually assumed that favorite signature posture again, leaning back in his chair. However, the result differed a little from the day of the interview in my office. Apparently, the chair at the meeting didn’t lean back as gracefully as the one in my office. Everyone in the room watched as he leaned back … and we continued watching as his cowboy boots went straight up in the air when the chair turned over with him.

“I worked at some papers after Center and Hemphill,” Gary’s email to me last week continued. “And was eventually the first managing editor of The Moscow Times, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.”  

Gary currently serves as director of Cornell University’s Office of Community Relations, where he has been on staff for more than 20 years. That followed a newspaper career in Center, Hemphill, Ithaca, N.Y., and abroad. According to the Cornell University website, in 2007, he created the award-winning weekly radio show “All Things Equal.” He is also the lead editor of a twice-monthly newspaper column, “East Hill Notes,” published in newspapers since 2002. In 2011, Gary and his colleagues launched Cornell’s annual Town-Gown Awards, recognizing community-campus partnerships, and retiring local leaders. In 2014, he received the Key Member of the Year award from the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce. The dinner program noted “… in recognition of Gary’s enduring support and leadership. His advice is always absolutely on-point and utterly reliable.”

The president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce added, “Gary’s wit, energy, and hard work makes him an invaluable member of the Tompkins Chamber.”

That’s the Gary Stewart I remember.

“It was a long ways from Shelby County, but there were many lessons I learned at The East Texas Light that served me well in Russia,” his email message ended. “Best to you, and thanks, Gary.”

Well done, Gary. And you’re right. It is a long way from Shelby County down the paths you took to get to where you are. But I would have expected nothing less of the young man fresh out of college 40 years ago who looked at me with ambition and said, “I like the looks of that chair you’re sitting in.”

I told him I still had a photo on my office wall of him and Mattie Dellinger together on my motorcycle spoofing the Sidewalk Survey feature for the paper; dated 1980.

But I didn’t ask him if he still wears cowboy boots.

— Leon Aldridge

– – – – – – –

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

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