By Dwight Woodward

For 23 years, D.L. Stewart has been doing what many journalists dream of -- writing his own nationally syndicated column.

D.L. Stewart at son Eric's 1994 graduation from Ohio University.
Stewart, BSJ '64, writes for The Dayton Daily News, and Tribune Media Services distributes his witty thoughts on modern life to about 50 newspapers nationwide.

While Stewart looks back on his college years in Athens with fondness, he encountered some obs tacles early in his writing career.

Like many young male reporters, Stewart's interest in journalism stemmed from his passion for sports. He got his first taste of daily journalism at The Athens Messenger, where he covered the Nelsonville Greyhounds high school football team as part of a reporting practice class.

"An editor there told me I'd never make it as a sports writer," Stewart says. "My sophomore English teacher also told me I'd never be a writer."

Ignoring that expert advice, Stewart persevered and got a job at the Orrville Courier-Crescent after graduation in June. By November, he'd moved on to The Mansfield News-Journal, where he covered sports for two years before moving to Dayton. Sports was still his beat, and he covered -- among other things, of course -- the birth of the Cincinnati Bengals.

After several years on the sports beat, Stewart was offered a column by an editor who liked his wit. Reluctant to give u p sports, Stewart initially declined the offer. He finally acquiesced, taking on a column that still appears three times a week.

Stewart with his family
"I loved sports and thought someday I'd die in a press box," Stewart says. "But after seven or eight Super Bowls, you get bored and wonder what all the hoopla is about."

At first, Stewart exp erimented as a columnist.

"I thought I'd be like Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin," Stewart says. "I tried to find the wino with the tragic story and the hooker with the heart of gold. But Dayton only had one hooker and she spent some of her time in Columbus and was hard to find. The wino I tried to interview barfed on me."

Stewart found his niche writing about family life from a father's perspective.

"This was long before the Bill Cosby show," Stewart says. "With fo ur children and two stepchildren, there was always something to write about."

The McNaught Syndicate began distributing the column in 1980. Tribune Media Services picked it up when McNaught folded about 1988.

Stewart has written about his son's marriage to a black woman and, more recently, the birth of his biracial grandchild. Strangely, what generates the most letters are his columns about his "stepcat," which he barely tolerates.

With children grown and gone, Stewart still writes from his own experience -- he claims he has never gotten a column idea from a reader -- examining the perils of modern technology, androgyny, the generation gap and other issues in the witty style of a male Erma Bombeck. In fact, Stewart met Bombeck and became friends with her as his columnist career blossomed. He served as a pallbearer at her funeral in Dayton.

"She was an inspiration. I asked her, 'What am I going to do when I run dry?' and she said, 'Something wil l always come along.' And it has," Stewart says. "I liken it to giving birth. Its in there, but how do you get it out?"

Stewart has written four books: "Fathers are People Too," "Father Knows Best -- Sometimes," "Stepfathers are People Too" and "The Man in the Blue Flannel Pajamas: The Least Bad of D.L. Stewart."

"Never again on the books," Stewart confides. "You go to a book signing and sit in a bookstore and people come up to you and ask you where the bathroom is or they hand you a Dave Barry book and ask you to sign it."

Growing up on the west side of Cleveland, Stewart may have chosen a different career path had he not heard about Ohio University's journalism school and decided to visit Athens.

"Back then in my neighborhood, you either joined the Army, worked at a gas station or went to college," Stewart says.

At 56, Stewart advises aspiring columnists to carefully weigh their options.

"I haven't regretted it, but it is nothing you a re going to get rich at," Stewart says. "Too many people want to write and have no idea what writing is like."

While Stewart is generous with advice for would-be journalists, hes not so free with information concerning his first name.

"There was this girl in high school I wanted to impress and she suggested I change my name," Stewart says. "I had it changed legally. It doesn't exist anymore."

Dwight Woodward i s national media liaison for University News Services and Periodicals.


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Ohio University Today Fall/Winter 199
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