Dick Feagler Remembered as a Role Model & Inspiration

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A titan of Cleveland journalism has died. In a career that spanned five decades, Dick Feagler was a columnist for the Cleveland Press and the Plain Dealer. On local television he was an anchor, a commentator, and a talk show host.

“Got into this business because I wanted to write,” Feagler explained in 2013. “I wanted to get paid for writing and the only way you could figure out to do that was to work for something like a newspaper. So they’d pay you for writing. But I’ve enjoyed it immensely”

Feagler’s gift with words landed him a job as a reporter and, eventually, as a columnist at the Cleveland Press.  After the Press folded in 1982, Feagler spread his journalistic activities to Cleveland Magazine, the Akron Beacon Journal, and the Plain Dealer.

Over the course of five decades, Feagler built a devoted following among his readers and viewers. Those fans included colleagues like Plain Dealer sportswriter, Bill Livingston.

"He was a national talent, and the fact that he is not better known is just because he was from here, but I always considered him --- although I never met Mike Royko --- I felt that Feagler was Cleveland’s Royko," said Livingston.

Several Feagler fans have drawn similar comparisons to the prolific Chicago writer known for his love of common men and women.   Brent Larkin was a colleague of Feagler’s both at the Press and the Plain Dealer.  He says Feagler was without peer.

"Dick was the last superstar print journalist that Cleveland has ever produced," Larkin said.  "And to use a football analogy, he was a dual threat --- he transitioned into television which made him an even bigger star."

In 1974, Feagler tentatively dipped his toe into the world of television.  But his TV reputation was sealed as the host of Feagler and Friends.   Former ideastream CEO Jerry Wareham said it was a perfect fit.

"At the time, WVIZ was looking for a community affairs program," said Wareham.  "We were looking for a program that people would relate to issues in the community.  And, at the time, there was no more iconic figure than Dick Feagler."

Feagler and Friends attracted a who’s who of local journalists and community leaders who often continued their on-camera conversations into the lobby outside the studio after the program was over.

Patrick Shepherd was a regular panel member on the program.  At the time, he was President of the gay rights group Cleveland Stonewall Democrats.  In 2004, Shepherd says he nominated Dick Feagler, to be Grand Marshall of the annual Gay Pride parade, based on a couple columns Feagler had written on LGBT issues.  In an ideastream interview several years later, Feagler recalled that he hesitated at first, but then agreed to do it after a discussion with his wife Julie.

"And that led to a lot of joy and grief on the part of many who read this," he said.  "And it also led to Julie and me riding down Euclid Avenue in the back of a convertible, and I made a lot of new friends out of that thing."

And it proved to be an inspiration to friends he already had, like Patrick Shepherd.

It goes without saying he was an iconic voice in the city, so it was huge for the LGBT community to get an ally with his voice back then, which was a very, very different time," Shepherd said.  "I will be forever grateful for his advocacy for the LGBT community at a time when our community was more vulnerable.  He certainly enriched my life."

Feagler was also a source of inspiration for former Plain Dealer colleague Connie Schultz.  The two of them were hired at the PD in 1993.  At the time, Feagler was an all-star columnist and Schultz was a young reporter with ambitions to have a column of her own.  It would be almost a decade before she achieved that goal and she said Dick Feagler nurtured those dreams along the way. 

"He left a phone message for me that meant so much to me that I transcribed it," said Schultz.  "And I kept it in the top drawer of my desk for years.  And this was his message: 'Kid, you’ve got it, and they all know it.  They’re not going to take your column away no matter how many times they threaten you.  Ignore the critics, piss off the publisher, and keep going.  I look forward to your Pulitzer prize.'”

Several years later, Schultz won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.  She received congratulatory messages from many of her friends for this notable achievement, but she says one of the most meaningful notes came from a guy named Feagler who had believed in her from the start.

"He left another phone message for me and all he said was, 'Hey kid, told ya.'"

Feagler’s Christmas column was a holiday staple in the Plain Dealer. His recollection of childhood Christmases at Aunt Ida’s house and memories of family long gone, concluded with this line:

We can't see them. But we feel them there, those simple people who loved us and took care of us. They left us blessings we too rarely count. And, if we let them, they come back at Christmas with gifts of everlasting life.

Dick Feagler passed away Sunday at the age of 79.  A public visitation will be held Friday, July 6, 2018, at Busch Funeral and Crematory Services, 163 Avon-Belden Rd., Avon Lake, Ohio from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.

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