Goodnight Neighbor

June 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Edit

Houston says goodbye to news icon Ron Stone

He brought us the news with a unique blend of professionalism and humor, concluding each broadcast with a friendly, “Good night, neighbors.” Last month Houston mourned the passing of one of our favorite neighbors, Ron Stone, whose comforting presence was a fixture on Houston television for more than 30 years.

“He was the best of the best, and Houston will never see his equal,” says Bill Balleza, the current co-anchor at the KPRC news desk, who worked with Stone for much of his career.

Stone was born in Hanna, Okla., in1936. After graduating from East Central State Teachers College in Ada, Okla., he began his broadcasting career at small Oklahoma radio and television stations. He moved to Houston in 1961, when he was hired by Dan Rather to work for KHOU-TV. Stone took over as lead anchor when Rather left to begin his network news career at CBS. Stone also was briefly lured away by a network opportunity. In 1967 he moved to New York to work as a writer for NBC, but he returned to Houston after 10 months.

Stone remained at KHOU until 1972, when he moved to KPRC-TV. There he and weatherman Doug Johnson made The Scene at Five a Houston institution for the next 20 years. The friendly banter between Stone and Franklin was not staged; the two men had a deep, lifelong friendship. Stone’s quick wit often caught Johnson off guard, making it difficult for the weatherman to keep his composure during the newscast.

Stone formed close relationships with his colleagues. “He served as friend and mentor to all of us who had the honor to work with him over the many years,” Balleza says. Although viewers might remember Stone as the man reading the news from behind a desk, Balleza remembers him as a reporter who liked to be on the scene while the news was happening in order to bring a personal touch to the story.

“Ron was a tireless worker and masterful storyteller,” Balleza says. “Ron was happiest when he was out in the field, both at home and abroad, telling the stories of interesting people and events. He was there when the Berlin Wall fell and when Houston veterans returned to Normandy to commemorate the anniversary of the Longest Day. But he was also there when a little girl was too sick to attend the Jerry Lewis telethon and needed to be interviewed at her bedside.”

The Muscular Dystrophy Association was a charity that Stone cared about deeply. For years he served as master of ceremonies for the local segments of the MDA’s annual Labor Day telethon, and he often visited young patients in hospitals. He formed close ties with some patients and delivered eulogies at several of their funerals.

Stone lent his efforts to other charities as well. “He would start the day with speaking engagements, come to the studio, and frequently attend other community events between the six and 10 evening newscasts,” Balleza recalls. “He couldn’t say ‘no’ to anyone who asked for his time and talents.”

Another contribution Stone made to the community was to establish the Ron Stone Foundation, which provides funds for the upkeep of Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site and donates materials to help schools teach Texas history. Although he grew up north of the Red River, Stone had a fascination with Texas history. He has written three books on the subject, and as host of KPRC’s The Eyes of Texas, he took viewers to some of the state’s most fascinating places.

Stone stepped down from the KPRC news desk in 1992, but he did not disappear from public life. Along with his wife, Pat, and sons, Billy and Ron Jr., he founded Stonefilms of Texas, a production company that makes documentary, marketing and training films. The company’s list of clients includes hospitals, major oil companies, government agencies, law firms, universities and charitable organizations. Stig Daniels, who has been an editor at Stonefilms since 1995, says about half the company’s work is done for nonprofit groups like the Boy Scouts and the YMCA.

Stone approached his work at Stonefilms with the same enthusiasm he had shown during his journalism career. “He was involved on a daily basis, until he got ill [last September],” Daniels says, adding that Stone narrated all of Stonefilms’ projects and wrote much of the material. Daniels notes that Stone’s skills as a writer were widely known and respected by his colleagues in the news media. “He was also a pretty damn good narrator.”

Daniels says he was impressed by Stone’s work ethic and he learned quite a bit by observing the veteran broadcaster. “I guess the biggest thing would be caring about projects and putting a lot of hard work and effort into everything he did to make it the best it could be,” says Daniels.

One reason Stone enjoyed his work at Stonefilms was that he could oversee a project from start to finish. “He enjoyed crafting words and then seeing images and music married to them,” Daniels says. “It was just a pleasure and a joy to sit with him in what would sometimes be a challenging environment of working on a project four or five days in a row and still having a good time doing it. He made the hard work fun.”

Just as he did at KPRC, Stone took time from his busy schedule at Stonefilms to speak to just about any group who asked. “Even when had set up his own company, he would still do a ton of speeches,” Daniels says, adding that Stone would seldom accept an honorarium for a speaking engagement. “He didn’t make a lot of money at it, but he could have if he’d wanted to.”

Shortly after Stone’s death, Stonefilms received notice that one of the last projects Ron and Billy Stone had worked on together, “The Memorial Park Conservancy,” had won three Telly awards. “It was nice closure that one of the last things he worked on, other people saw the merits and gave an award for it,” Daniels says.

Stone, who had previously survived kidney cancer, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September. When it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his brain, Stone spent his last days with his family. He died May 13.

Balleza remembers his friend as “a man who cared deeply for his craft and for the city he loved.”

That love was mutual. In the days following Stone’s death, the phones at Stonefilms were flooded with calls expressing sympathy. Some were from clients and co-workers, but many were from people who didn’t know Stone personally. “They were just expressing the loss to the community at large,” Daniels says. And so we say good night, one last time, to a good neighbor.

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