Volume 13, Issue 33 ~ August 18 - 24, 2005

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Backstory: Vol. Xiii, No. 33

Gene Stoneman died too soon. He’s been working with us all summer, after being scouted for a Bay Weekly profile by reader Nancy Bauer, one of the artists who drew his portrait at the Anne Arundel County Senior Center in Edgewater. The 75-year-old scion of a musical family was looking forward to his profile, so much so that he and his wife Peggie Lue called a few times wanting to know when it would run.

Now mourners will read his profile as they celebrate his life and take him to his grave.

If death had sent us an early warning, we’d have run “Last Son of a Country-Western Legacy” sooner, so Gene could have enjoyed it.

As death gives no such warning, no particular time demanded Gene’s profile. It broke no news; as far as we know, no Stoneman Family retrospective CD is about to be issued. It linked to no anniversary, occasions newspapers value disproportionately. Unlike heat waves, hurricanes or ice storms, it had no season to call its own.

No, “Last Son of a Country-Western Legacy” was another kind of story, one that invites you to marvel at the hidden lives and genius of our Chesapeake neighbors.

For both those reasons, Gene Stoneman caught our interest. He’d made history, and he had genius. As he told profiler Carrie Steele “Guitar playing is something that you’re born with. You’ve got to have it in you.”

Usually the best reason to run such stories is that the writer has finished them. Steele finished Gene’s profile last week. If the dice had rolled differently, we might have run it a week earlier. But that week time-sensitive story came in at the last minute, and, anyway, we’d hatched a nice plan about when to run Gene Stoneman’s story.

Writer Paula Phillips was finishing another piece on musical genius, homing in on the issue of August 18. Looking at the two stories taking shape, editor Sandra Martin liked the contrast: two roots musicians, one looking ahead to his career, the other looking back. Comparison multiplies the insight you get on a subject, so the conjunction of these stories together not only spotlighted two individual geniuses but also illuminated a nice stretch of musical history. We thought the two stories made good music together.

Steele and Phillips are both writers of their word; if they said they’d have their stories done in time to be edited and revised for the August 18 paper, they would.

And they did.

Production of Bay Weekly Vol. xiii, No. 33 was smooth, which is how newspaper people like it. Stories were popping up in editor Martin’s electronic in-box. Ads were sold, designed and approved. General manager Alex Knoll, wearing his hat as issue designer, was solving his weekly Sudoku puzzle of how to fit each story, ad and photo into its allotted space.

We were dancing like waterspiders — until Nancy Bauer called with the news that had roughened the waters of the South County Senior Center: Gene Stoneman had died August 15 of heart failure.

A miracle we’ve come to understand over our writing lifetimes is the power of words to heal and comfort. If this backstory of Vol. xiii, No. 33 needs any higher meaning, there it is.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.