|Obituary of Jeff Stinson, 70, retired Gannett News Service reporter and past LCA president during Mario Cuomo era.|
|JEFFREY STINSON OBITUARY|
Jeffrey Stinson, an esteemed journalist with bylines from four continents and devoted family man, died on October 19, 2022, at his home in Basye, Virginia.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer in August, he lived his final days reminiscing and rejoicing with family and close friends. Before receiving the news, he was training for the Tour du Mont Blanc, a challenging hike through the French, Italian, and Swiss Alps.
Jeffrey Stephen Stinson was born November 18, 1951, in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to Melva Mayes Stinson and Dale Bernard Stinson, Jr. He married Christine Stevens on June 24, 1978, in Wichita, Kansas. They had two sons: Zachary Stevens Stinson and Ian Christian Stinson.
Jeff was raised in Wichita, where he first sought adventure, much of it in the outdoors as an Eagle Scout and accomplished swimmer. He graduated from the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas in 1974, where he had been a top editor at the University Daily Kansan, the award-winning student newspaper. As a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, he wrote and performed in the Rock Chalk Revue, a student musical variety show. An ardent fan of Jayhawks athletics, he reveled in the prestigious basketball program and endured through football season. The basketball program won its sixth national championship in April 2022; in his final weeks, Jeff watched Jayhawk football climb to its first national ranking since 2008.
Jeff's career as a newsman ran through state capitals and capitals of the world. He started as an intern at the Pioneer in Johnson City, Kansas, and often said that small-town reporting, where journalists faced those they wrote about every day on the street or in the coffee shop, was essential preparation for a meaningful journalism career on any stage. In his first job after college at the Wichita Eagle in 1975, Jeff covered police, courts, and city hall, and then the Kansas statehouse. When at a crime scene, he would dress like the detectives and carry cigars. Thinking him a detective, the cops often gave him unfettered access to get the story.
In 1978, he took a job as statehouse correspondent for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader in Pierre, the capital of South Dakota. There, Jeff covered the mercurial Governor William "Wild Bill" Janklow, a press basher, and their high-volume repartee became the grist of legend. When promoted to managing editor of the paper, Jeff led a once-sleepy afternoon newspaper into a biting morning edition with passion. The Argus grew in vigor and sophistication with the rapidly expanding Sioux Falls, and the newspaper became one of the best in Gannett's national network.
Jeff's leadership style-to charge ahead and then charge some more-was tempered with whimsical surprise and comic self-effacement. He showed up in Pierre in well-tailored suits with silk pocket squares and introduced himself as a "simple Kansas farm boy." He was known to inspire colleagues on deadline by standing on his desk and singing in exaggerated operatic voice, then sitting back down at his keyboard to finish his own work. A longtime colleague said Jeff perfected the art of slamming down the telephone after frustrating interviews. Once, when editing a story on deadline, he stood up, danced the Macarena, then sat down to resume his edits without saying a word.
Throughout his career, he unapologetically believed in an independent press to check the ambitions of the powerful over the lives of average people. He challenged politicians at all levels of government, reporting on their strengths and weaknesses, and did so with history and context. He challenged editors above him and reporters below him. He did not suffer well those who aspired to cover the present without knowing the past. He often remarked late in life that he was grateful to have lived through the halcyon years of newspapers, equally grateful that he did not have to maneuver the trivialities of social media, which he avoided to his end.
After Sioux Falls, Jeff was chief of Gannett bureaus in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Albany, New York. In the latter assignment, he covered the nationally ascendant Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Jeff traveled several times abroad, including to the Soviet Union. In 1989, Gannett sent him to cover the fall of the Berlin Wall; he returned home with shards of that symbol of communist oppression, which he kept the rest of his life. During his time reporting in Albany, Jeff served as president of the Albany Legislative Correspondents Association and wrote and performed in the LCA's variety shows, lampooning state politicians.
Jeff moved to Washington, D.C., in 1989 as the bureau chief for the Arkansas Gazette. While he reported on the nation's capital, he traveled to Little Rock to cover Governor Bill Clinton, who would run for president in 1992 and win. Jeff returned to Gannett News Service to cover politics from the nation's capital, including as a White House reporter. One of his early assignments was covering Delaware's congressional delegation, including then-Senator Joe Biden.
Jeff then directed national and regional coverage for Gannett through several elections and political conventions until 2000. Gannett was one of the largest newspaper bureaus in the capital, had won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of unexplained child deaths, and excelled under his leadership. Gannett won several national awards for investigative coverage of ongoing health problems of Iraq War veterans, and under Jeff's direction it dug deeply into the escalating intertwinement of money and politics.
After Gannett, Jeff reported and edited for USA Today, Gannett's flagship newspaper, then at the height of its readership and influence. As a senior national editor, he directed everything from politics to terrorism and natural disasters, including leading coverage of Hurricane Katrina. From 2006-2008, he was European correspondent and London bureau chief-assignments that took him from wars in Lebanon and Georgia, to covering celebrity actors in Spain, poisonings of former Russian agents, the ongoing drama of the English royals, and many places and matters in between. He regretted having to decline his opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth II at a press function to catch a flight to Beirut to cover the Israel-Hezbollah War. Upon returning stateside during the Global Financial Crisis of 2009, he directed business and transportation coverage for the paper. Jeff's last byline in USA Today, a co-authored obituary of Queen Elizabeth II that he began more than a decade ago, appeared in the paper 41 days before he died.
Jeff left USA Today in 2013 and directed coverage of state politics and policies at Pew Charitable Trust's Stateline news service until his retirement in 2017. He and Christine traveled extensively during retirement; their around-the-world cruise in 2020 was interrupted in Indonesia by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jeff's pencil drawings, landscapes, and still-life paintings became deeper and more insightful. He finished his last painting weeks before his death. Jeff, Christine, and Ian competed in the U.S. Masters Swimming National Championship in Richmond, Virginia, 10 weeks before he died. He delighted in describing, often in theatrical terms, the daily exploits of his toddler grandson, Henry Howard.
Jeff is survived by his wife, Christine, of Basye; his mother, Melva, of Wichita; his son Zachary and his wife, Emily MacDougall, and their son, Henry, of Fairfax, Virginia; his son Ian of San Francisco, California; a sister, Melissa Stinson Lichtenheld, and her husband, Mathias Lichtenheld, of Key Biscayne, Florida.; a brother, Dale Bernard Stinson III of Wiesbaden, Germany; and a brother, Bradford Charles Stinson of Wichita. Jeff is also survived by his niece, Tosca Ann Lichtenheld, of Arlington, Virginia.; his nephew, Samuel Georg Lichtenheld of Seattle, Washington; and many lifelong friends. He was preceded in death by his father, Dale.
Jeff's memorial service, which will be in Shenandoah County, Virginia, is pending. In remembrance of Jeff, the family asks that any charitable donations be made to Reporters Without Borders or the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation's humanitarian assistance programs.
Published by Legacy Remembers from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3, 2022.