State House institution retiring

Longtime reporter for Associated Press, 67, calling it quits

November 25, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

If ever there was a State House institution, a walking history of all the here and there of Annapolis politics, it is Tom Stuckey.

He has been the chronicler of the day (the hour, really), the Associated Press correspondent who has seen the good, bad and ugly of Maryland governors and lawmakers since the day he arrived in 1963.

He is as much a part of the place as the marble corridors and floors. Always there. Seemingly everywhere, dashing from the House chambers to a Senate committee hearing and then back to his cramped office in the basement of the State House to furiously pound out his first (or second or third) breaking news story of the day.

But on Thursday, the 67-year-old will walk out of his office and never come back. Stuckey - a man who recalls events in legislative years and gubernatorial administrations - is finally retiring.

"I have mixed feelings," says the slight, gentle man as he relaxes in his office during his final week. "There's a new governor coming in, a new legislature. And I won't be around to see it."

Always mild-mannered and diplomatic, Stuckey is respected and revered by politicians and fellow reporters alike. He is prolific and speedy, a reporter who has covered 43 legislative sessions and seven governors, going back to the day when stories were written on typewriters and over pay phones - and politicians were accessible.

"He really is an institution," says former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who recalls sharing drinks with Stuckey at the Maryland Inn when he was governor.

"I'm almost hesitant to say great things about him because I know elected officials aren't supposed to like reporters, but I - and I think many others - actually love the guy. He was just absolutely fantastic all those years."

By those he covered, he is unequivocally described as fair and balanced, a reporter so well-versed in legislation and politics that trying to "spin" him wasn't an option. His private views always remained unknown. (Even now, when asked to elaborate on his personal politics, he demurs.)

"He is clearly more knowledgeable than a lot of lawmakers," said D. Bruce Poole, a former House of Delegates member who served as majority leader. "He had just so much more depth of experience. Tom would come around the corner with a pad and pen in hand and his eyes fixed on you and a smile, but it was a smile that said, `I already know most of this story, so why don't you tell me the real deal?'"

The annual party he used to throw at his Bay Ridge home was famous for its high-profile attendees (former Govs. Harry Hughes and Marvin Mandel frequently attended when they were in office), and he became known for his penchant for banging out Broadway show tunes on his piano as those around him sang.

Mike Morrill, Glendening's former chief spokesman, remembers Stuckey as "a classic reporter of the old school."

"He had heard every type of spin there was, so if ever there was a `no-spin zone,' it was Tom Stuckey's office," says Morrill. "What you knew with Tom is that you were going to get a chance to represent your side."

Most miraculous, those who know him say, was Stuckey's ability to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He was as quiet and stealthy as a cat at times, but was always there to ask a tough question. He would attend an event, and then make it back to the State House and put a story on the wires before the governor had returned, Morrill remembers. "You never knew, one, how he got there faster than you; and two, how he'd have a story done."

Among the press corps, Stuckey is a legend, a walking encyclopedia always willing to answer a question, demystify a relationship or dredge up a historical fact.

This year, the legislature anointed him "dean of the press corps," renaming the press quarters in the basement the "Tom Stuckey Memorial Press Room."

"He's a wonderful source for every reporter down there," says Lou Davis, the retired WMAR-TV State House reporter who now works part time for Maryland Public Television. "As much as goes on down there, he knows where all the balls are. Always. He keeps track of everything."

John W. Frece worked in Annapolis for 17 years starting in 1978, first for UPI and then for The Sun. "There was a time when I was clearly second to Stuckey in longevity, yet it feels like some of the guys these days who are second to Cal Ripken. ... I was second, but I wasn't even close, and I wasn't likely to be close. Tom not only knew all of these people, but he knew where they came from, he knew their histories."

Born in rural eastern Texas, Stuckey grew up in a town with one stoplight and one grocery store, the youngest of four children.

He was a news junkie from the beginning, reading newspapers (the family didn't have a TV until he was 12). As a teenager, he watched the political conventions on television. "I was just fascinated by it," he recalls.

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