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The Tentacle


December 6, 2006

Go Ask Stuckey

Kevin E. Dayhoff

The Associated Press' Tom Stuckey, one of the venerable and distinguished members of the Maryland Statehouse press newsroom has retired.

Mr. Stuckey, 67, the Associated Press' longest-serving State House bureau chief, started working for the AP in 1962 and began the Maryland government beat the next year, when Gov. J. Millard Tawes resided in the governor's mansion. William S. James was Senate president and Marvin Mandel was House speaker.

In the ensuing four decades, he became a legend, and legions have admired his work.

He came to Maryland shortly after earning a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. He had begun his studies at a community college.

The adjectives describing his life and work are what everyone would want to be said about themselves.

Words like "unassuming; he treats everybody with great respect and courtesy; as nice an individual as I have ever met; thoughtful; gentle demeanor; strong work ethic; honesty; he was fair, balanced, and never hurt anybody - and he always got the story told accurately;" and the one that really makes me envious, "Stuckey wrote, in 30 minutes, 1,000 words."

One of the more definitive tributes to Mr. Stuckey was written by Earl Kelly, for The Annapolis Capital on November 19: "State House press icon retires."

In that article Mr. Kelly cited Doug Tallman's thoughts on Mr. Stuckey's retirement. Mr. Tallman first started with the Carroll County Times a number of years ago, before moving on the Frederick News-Post and eventually to the Montgomery Gazette. He worked with Mr. Stuckey for many years.

Mr. Kelly captured - in Mr. Tallman's words - what many are saying: "Doug Tallman. looked stricken one day recently, as he contemplated having to cover state government without being able to 'go ask Stuckey.' He is the gold standard; there isn't a reporter who has worked with Stuckey who doesn't wish he had his skills.. He's even-tempered, and this business seems to be filled with a lot of folks who are quick with their tempers, and have big egos."

In a recent e-mail Mr. Tallman elaborated: "Tom Stuckey is a human bright line test. If you don't want to be like Tom, there is something wrong with you. If you don't like Tom, there's something wrong with you. And if Tom doesn't like you, there's definitely something wrong with you."

Many will be amused at Mr. Stuckey's insight into former governor and vice president Spiro Agnew: "Everybody thought Agnew wasn't very bright, but was honest. It turned out he was smarter than anybody thought, and wasn't honest at all."

Mr. Kelly explained that Mr. Stuckey covered everything from riding along in jets with vice presidential candidate Agnew; to a racial disturbance in Princes Anne, on the Eastern Shore; to the University of Maryland students rioting on Route 1 in College Park; to covering six national political conventions.

Frederick News-Post reporter, Cliff Cumber, who worked the Maryland State House beat with Mr. Stuckey, wrote in a recent column that Mr. Stuckey was someone he admired and hoped "to emulate in the dignity and integrity he has brought to a career that will end this week. Over 44 years (Mr. Stuckey (became) a legend at the Maryland General Assembly, a statesman covering statesmen."

Matthew Mosk, writing for The Washington Post on November 30, said that among Mr. Stuckey's "first stories in Maryland was a July 5, 1963, report detailing an investigation into whether pesticides were contributing to the demise of the bald eagle."

One fascinating national story that Mr. Stuckey covered is told by longtime Associated Press writer George Zucker, writing for New Partisan on March 1. He shares that Mr. Stuckey was present when presidential candidate and Alabama governor George Wallace was shot in Laurel in 1972. Although Mr. Stuckey just missed the actual shots being fired.

Mr. Zucker wrote: "'Wallace has been shot!" Stuckey was calling from a shoe store.

'How do you know?' I asked.

"I saw him on the ground," Stuckey said. "There's blood and they've called an ambulance!"

In the next 66 minutes, AP reported the nature of the governor's wounds, the tackling and disarming of Arthur Bremer, quotes from eyewitnesses, and a vivid description of Cornelia Wallace cradling her unconscious husband in her arms."

Mr. Mosk also noted in his article that "former Governor Marvin Mandel, who became House Speaker just after Stuckey arrived, recalled fondly the days when reporters and lawmakers shared a suite at the Maryland Inn, where they would unwind after a day's work. 'We were able to talk freely with reporters,' Mandel recalled, 'say what was on our minds without having to worry about how it was going to look in the next morning's paper.' "

A theme echoed in a recent conversation with Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, a former newspaper columnist, editor, and manager with several newspapers. Commissioner Minnich has known Mr. Stuckey since shortly after Mr. Stuckey got started.

Commissioner Minnich elaborated at length that Mr. Stuckey was a "consummate pro and quintessential AP reporter, because they are a different breed," referring to the fact that AP reporters were renown for their speed and the quality, integrity and quantity of their work.

Perhaps the relationship between the press and elected officials would not be as contentious as it is today if more journalists had Mr. Stuckey's approach.

Join me in wishing Mr. Stuckey all the best in his well-deserved retirement. He will be missed.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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