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Dick Feagler


Dick Feagler viewed life with a bemused scowl as Cleveland's curmudgeonly columnist and commentator for 50 years.

In Feagler's world he was always the little kid of 1948 -- listening to his trusty Philco radio as the Indians battled in the World Series, shopping the downtown department and five-and-dime stores, or tossing a battered baseball wrapped in friction tape around the neighborhood sandlot.

Feagler’s world began with his birth in the front bedroom of his grandmother's house on Anderson Avenue. His family later moved to the Harvard-Lee area where Feagler grew up as a self-described "book nerd" at school in the days when teachers could wing an eraser at student stupidity without fear of legal reprisal.

After graduating from John Adams High School in 1956, Feagler attended Ohio University, majoring in English, where he met a fellow student and concert violinist who would become his wife, Grace. They wed in 1960, and raised twin daughters and two sons before divorcing in 1983.

Feagler once recalled that when he graduated from college in 1960, "I knew I wanted to write something, the great American novel or something. But with kids and a wife to support, I wanted to write something that brought in a paycheck."

Feagler served three years in the Army, briefly worked for the Sandusky Register, then was hired as a general assignment reporter for the Cleveland Press in 1963. Seven years later, he was given a column -- the result, he would later say, of an irrepressible urge to mix ranting with reporting.

He set out to "talk to people the way you would talk to a friend,". After the Press folded in 1982, he continued writing for several publications including Cleveland Magazine, the Akron Beacon Journal and The Plain Dealer (starting in 1993).

A temporary job as a TV commentator that Feagler took during a newspaper strike in 1974 turned into a regular presence on the airwaves -- first on Channel 3, and then with his own talk show, "Feagler and Friends" on WVIZ Channel 25.

To a graduate of the old smoke-filled newsrooms -- who'd longingly remember the staccato "clack-clack-clack-rip" song of his battered Royal typewriter -- the advent of computers, voice mail, the internet and other technological advances were causes for column consternation.

As Feagler once wrote, "When radio became television, we left the front porch, which pined away in our absence and grew smaller and became a stoop. We moved indoors and switched off the imagination projectors in our brains. We stopped talking to each other and stared at a screen, waiting for something to happen."

He likewise disdained those who embraced these innovations, Baby Boomers -- a generation Feagler often blasted as one where "principles are negotiable and standards of decency are merely cosmetic artifices of repression." And the same went double for their movies and music.

Feagler could be particularly incensed by such buzzword trends as political correctness. He railed at the apparent decline of personal responsibility, writing: "The great promise of today's America is that anybody who tries real hard can grow up to be some kind of victim. Ours is one nation, increasingly divisible, with excuses and victimhood for all."

He could laud former Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes as "a man who, near the end of a harsh and cynical decade full of death, can kindle hope and enthusiasm in the eyes of young people by talking about the system."

Or, on another former mayor's political resurrection in Congress, remark: "The patent leather hair. The shoe button eyes. The slightly mad, 'What-me-worry?' grin. It was him, all right. Dennis the Undead."

Feagler also took his notebook to war zones, foreign and domestic, including Vietnam, Chicago during the riots at the 1968 Democratic national convention, and Kent State University the night after the students were shot on May 4, 1970.

His honors included a George Foster Peabody Award, the Alfred I. DuPont Award, more than 20 local Emmys and induction into the Press Club of Cleveland's Journalism Hall of Fame.

Over the years, Feagler described himself as basically a shy person who has to overcompensate; who worried that whatever talent he had would depart as mysteriously as it arrived; who could never shake the anxiety of facing a blank column space that had to be filled -- but who always put off that task until the last possible minute because anything sooner wouldn't be as good.

"You start writing and something occurs," he once said.

He wrote of a columnist's lot in life: "Armed with one firm opinion a month, we grind out three columns a week. It ain't easy but it's certainly strange. I try not to think about it."

Still, he scoffed at the thought of retiring his column. "I don't know what I'd do, so I just keep plugging away," he once said.

To those who look back on Feagler's lingering legacy of words, perhaps the most fitting epitaph was provided in his farewell column to readers in the Press:

"Each of these columns has been, really, a letter to you . . . There has been pain and some sweat. Fear, a couple of times. But more joy than any man has a right to expect."

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