On Thursday, June 16, John Bednarowski presented the Jack Berninger Award to Roy Hewitt’s widow, Linda, at the keynote luncheon of the 2022 APSE summer conference in Indianapolis. Here is the speech he delivered. You can watch video of the presentation here.
The Jack Berninger Award is selected each year by the Associated Press Sports Editors officers to recognize an individual who has given exemplary service to APSE. First awarded in 2017, the honor is named after long-time APSE Executive Director Jack Berninger.
This year’s recipient is longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer sports editor Roy Hewitt. With us today to accept the award is his wife Linda, and I’m sure what I am about to say will come as no surprise to her.
Roy was special to APSE. He was the chair of the Olympic committee for years. He championed content sharing many years before it became commonplace, and he had a unique effect on the careers of many of our members.
In one instance, he saved a career. Longtime APSE member Jerry Micco was convinced the 1996 summer convention in Cleveland, the one Roy just finished hosting, was going to be his last.
Jerry was working at the Newport Daily News and had lost his position as sports editor in a newsroom re-organization. On his way to the door, he ran into Roy in one of his favorite states – sitting at a table with an adult beverage and a cigarette in his hand.
“I saw Roy and thanked him for a great convention and for always being a gracious guy when I approached him at APSE.
“For some odd reason, I felt the need to tell him about it being my final APSE gathering. He was tired, had just run an entire convention (any APSE host sports editor who has had to do that will tell you that’s exhausting) and he didn’t know me all that well. And I’m kinda drunk and pretty depressed about my professional life. And I’m talking to Roy the Bear. Three hours later, I knew I hadn’t witnessed my last convention.
“Roy Hewitt saved my career. And I thank God that I told him that on many occasions so it didn’t become a regret for me to carry around the rest of my life that I’d never told him that. He never took me seriously, but it did get him to smile. A little.
“That was Roy. He didn’t flaunt how much he helped people. He cared about journalism and he cared about having a great sports section. He cared about people.
Jerry would go on to be the sports editor at the Contra Costa Times in California and then finally the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, where he is currently a senior assistant managing editor.
While in Pittsburgh he worked with Roy as an assistant on the Olympic committee, and got to watch how it was done. When Roy retired, he recommended him for the job.
“Once I was appointed, Roy didn’t just Fed Ex me all his files. He invited me to his home in suburban Cleveland to go over everything.
“I was lucky. I got to see such a different side of Roy that many people didn’t get a chance to see. Maybe there was a soft spot for some half-drunk guy who lost his way in a hotel in Cleveland and felt he lost his way in his career, too, some 20 years before. So without making a big deal of it, he kept an eye on me. And I will forever be grateful.
“That’s Roy Hewitt and that’s APSE. And we’re all blessed and better for both.
Just as he may have saved a career, Roy knew how to take a blossoming one and put someone on the right path.
Coincidentally, happy hour proved to be a big part of that, too as
Stephanie Kuzydym, the special projects and investigative producer at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati can attest.
“5 p.m. in the Hewitt household began Happy Hour. Roy would grab a rocks glass. He’d put a piece of ice in it and begin to pour Jack Daniels. Two fingers, maybe three. Then he’d walk to the refrigerator, put the glass against the water dispenser and lightly push on it, quicker than a baseball travels from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. Then he’d look at me and say ‘just a splash.’
“Being mentored by Roy Hewitt wasn’t about missing hyphens or job openings in the industry – although we talked about that a lot. It was about living life. Around those glasses of wine and whiskey and water, Roy taught me that sports journalism isn’t about sports. It’s about humans.
“We talked for hours on the phone about life and it made me smile to open my inbox and see an email from him that ranged on advice for journalists to Pulitzer Prize winning pieces to obituaries he thought were compelling and made a person stay alive in our minds. Then there were the trips to France or Seattle or Biloxi or the Beaumont Inn in Kentucky that he and Linda took, and on a couple, I tagged along.
“He taught me life is about truly living: enjoying the company of others and the food, drink and adventure that comes with it.
“This is a long way to say what Roy truly taught me can be summed up in four words. It’s the last text I sent to him. It’s about living life and reporting on sports in a way that is disappearing. It’s about being a wolf among sheep. It’s about digging deep, finding what’s there and reporting on what no one is talking about. It’s four words: zig when others zag.
Finally, Roy also knew how to revitalize a career. Terry Pluto was at the Akron Beacon Journal for years before coming home to the Plain Dealer.
Even though Roy had hired him, Terry wasn’t sure his new boss liked him.
“Roy convinced me to visit his native state of Virginia. My wife and I fell in love with the mountains in the western part. Roy and I loved to talk about the Civil War, various battlefields and generals.
When I first went to work for him, I wondered if he even liked me. He had a gruff exterior. But he is a warm guy when you make a little effort to get to know him…I still can’t believe he’s gone.
The best advice he gave me when I was hired at the PD and they already had 2 other columnists was “Don’t try to fit in with the other guys. Be yourself. That’s who we hired. We brought you in because you are different.”
I was 52 and been in the business a million years, but I still needed reassurance. He sensed I needed it and delivered it at just the right time.
“Once you got to know Roy, he was terrific.”
On a final note, I’d like to share a small story about Roy. I didn’t get to know him as well as Jerry, Stephanie or Terry, but he still made a significant impact on me as someone who would soak up any advice he offered.
During judging in Orlando, he sat on his barstool in hospitality and held court. At one point of the evening, he pulled Tommy Deas, Robert Gagliardi and myself over. All three of us were running for third vice president.
He looked at us and said, “I wish we had as strong a group of candidates running for second vice president.”
It was just those few words that would go to fill me up with confidence. We all served as national officers after that, and I hope the three of us did him proud.
With that, I’m happy to say the 2022 Jack Berninger Award goes to Roy Hewitt, and accepting it is his wife, Linda.