The OPC is saddened to learn that OPC Past President Richard Stolley, who worked for LIFE and TIME magazines in roles ranging from reporter to bureau chief and managing editor, died on June 16 of heart complications in Evanston, Illinois at the age of 92. Stolley was OPC President from 2004 to 2006 and participated in many of the club’s events.
His career with Time Inc. spanned six decades. Highlights include obtaining a copy of the Abraham Zapruder film footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination for LIFE magazine in 1963, and serving as People magazine’s managing editor when it launched in 1974. In an obituary in People, the magazine’s current editor-in-chief, Dan Wakeford, said in a statement that Stolley was “an amazing journalist whose work and magazine craft we still refer to every day at People as it’s still so relevant.”
A Washington Post article memorializing Stolley quoted him saying that “to sophisticates who thumbed their noses at [People magazine’s] friendly interviews with stars, Mr. Stolley defended his publication as one that ‘covers humankind in a way no other magazine does.’”
In an email to the OPC, club member Bob Dowling, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico where Stolley lived for many years, said Stolley was “always accessible to anyone in town who had a question. He had the curiosity of a real shoe leather journalist.” Dowling wrote a piece for the Bulletin in 2013 at the conclusion of Stolley’s national tour to promote TIME’s 50th anniversary photo book of the Kennedy assassination.
Former OPC Governor and longtime member Bill Collins wrote that he “got to know Dick Stolley personally in 2006 when he was OPC President and I arranged radio and newspaper interviews for the OPC Awards. Putting aside Dick’s legendary accomplishments, I found a generous man who talked eloquently for hours about the craft of journalism and its importance in our lives. I loved that about him.”
Retired OPC director Sonya Fry wrote in a remembrance that Stolley “is the only President who took me to the Rainbow Room for lunch several times. Needless to say, that impressed me.”
“One time we were in a crowded area where David Rockefeller was seated with a group of friends. Dick introduced me in his most gentlemanly fashion and once again I was impressed with the famous people that Dick knew. George Clooney made the film Good Night and Good Luck about the clash between Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy. Murrow was an important fund-raiser for the OPC in its early days. He was a living icon to generations of journalists and is memorialized with an OPC award in his name so I pursued the idea of Clooney coming to the OPC to speak about the film. Well, after a summer of bugging the PR people in Hollywood they agreed to have the entire cast come to an OPC event in December. Dick Stolley was President and he was so great at taking Clooney and other cast members around TIME magazine showing them important photographs, explaining about the Zapruder film and generally being a gracious and knowledgeable host. It was a most memorable evening.”
In this OPC archival video memoir with Stolley from 2015, Collins asked Stolley about his life and storied career. He called journalism “the best field in the world” for young people to pursue. “That’s why I’m in it. It’s got everything. It’s got fun, it’s got risk, it’s got interesting personalities. The people I’ve met in my life – I couldn’t have imagined this when I was living in Pekin, Illinois,” he said, referring to his birthplace, where he started his long career as editor of his high school paper and then as sports editor for Pekin’s newspaper.
Stolley spoke at a memorial service for OPC Past President Roy Rowan in February 2017, saying that Rowan has helped shape his style of writing that he later established at People. “He taught me to write short,” Stolley said. “Anyone can write long. But it takes courage to write short.” In a Bulletin news item in January this year, OPC Past President Bill Holstein wrote that he had gotten an update from Stolley saying he had sold his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico and has moved to Evanston, Illinois, where two of his four adult daughters live.
OPC Past President Michael Serrill: “Dick was always gracious and humble, despite his exalted titles at Time Inc. In recent years he lived in Santa Fe, where my wife and I had dinner with him twice while visiting a friend who lives there. He loved the laid back lifestyle of New Mexico; it suited his gentle personality.”
The OPC is collecting remembrances from club members that we will share here as they come in. If you have thoughts or stories to add, please send them to email@example.com.