Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 24
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
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Jeb Stuart, Former Town Topics Editor and Publisher, Dies at 66

Barbara L. Johnson

Craig C. Stuart

Donald C. (Jeb) Stuart III, co-owner, editor and publisher of Town Topics until 2001, died June 4 at home of complications from a decade-long battle with prostate cancer. He would have been 67 on June 13.

Mr. Stuart started his career at the weekly town newspaper before he was 10, pressed into odd jobs stacking papers and emptying waste baskets in his parents’ basement, where the paper his father and uncle founded was first produced. He later guided the paper through several transitions to more modern production technology, and oversaw a period of substantial increase in advertising as the town of Princeton grew. Along the way he took great pleasure in covering local sports for the paper, and in becoming a master of minor details of the teams’ histories.

Born in Princeton in 1941, Mr. Stuart was the son of Donald C. Stuart Jr. and Emily Cowenhoven Stuart, themselves longtime Princeton residents. Mr. Stuart was known as Jeb throughout his life, a nickname given after his parents’ landlord bet and won on a horse named Jeb Stuart on the day Jeb was born. He attended Princeton public elementary school and Princeton Country Day School, Class of 1956. He went on to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, graduating Class of 1959.

He entered Princeton University with the Class of 1963 and played freshman soccer but left after one year. He then served in the Army for two years, including a posting in Korea. Mustered out of the Army in the fall of 1962, he enrolled in Columbia University’s School of General Studies. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history in 1966 and was a member of the Alpha Chapter of St. Anthony Hall fraternity. In 1966 Mr. Stuart and fellow student Sheila Field Murphy were married, between their respective graduations.

His interest in journalism was kindled by helping with the family job of putting out Town Topics, founded in 1946 by his father and uncle, Dan D. Coyle. Following Columbia, Jeb did post-graduate study at University of Missouri’s School of Journalism in Columbia, Mo. At the core of the school’s well-regarded program was the hands-on job of publishing The Missourian, a daily newspaper for the city, giving students direct experience in all facets of local journalism.

Returning to Princeton in 1967 he went right to work at Town Topics, answering phones, taking ads and getting the paper ready for delivery each week. He also wrote high school sports and directed the paper’s production, which meant spending two days a week at the printer in Trenton, helping to turn copy into metal type for the press.

In 1973 he helped lead what was arguably the most important development in the paper’s history, changing the printing process from “hot type” to cold. The older process used large, rattling linotype machines to forge molten lead into words. New computer typesetting machines printed story or ad copy on special paper that was pasted up on page layout sheets ready for offset printing. Jeb and his father prepared for the new system in tandem with the old, but managed the actual transition in a week’s time between two issues, essentially learning the new process on the fly. Thereafter his main job was not at a desk, but walking around the office’s composing room coordinating the production ballet of typesetting and paste up of anywhere from 40 to 96 pages, depending on the season.

Jeb moved to the role of editor and publisher in 1981, when his father died of leukemia. He took on the responsibilities of story assignments and ad layout, carefully placing ads to meet the requests of local businesses. And he continued to keep a calm hand on the weekly cycle that quickened as each Tuesday night press deadline approached. On those Tuesdays with municipal elections or important school board meetings, he would deliver most of the paper to the press early, while holding open a spot for the late breaking news, the final pages to be delivered just in time to make the press run for the Wednesday paper.

He tracked key details of each issue, such as page count, advertising inches, and press run in a production journal, with notes on which parts of Princeton business showed strong advertising, a chronicle of the town’s economic growth over the years. Jeb’s wife Sheila joined him in the early 1980s to help manage the paper’s finances, and in the 1990s guided the transition to a new generation of technology, employing Apple computers and page layout software to replace some of the paste-up process.

Jeb still took a hands-on approach to the paper’s most basic aspects, particularly the logistics of getting the printed copies addressed, sorted and delivered to the post office each Wednesday morning. “I just like being in there and I want to make sure it’s all done as well as it can be,” he told the Princeton Day School alumni journal for a story in 1998. “I love that part of it, seeing the paper all the way through to the end.”

Each week he personally oversaw the affixing of thousands of address labels, a Rube Goldberg process involving a Wing mailer and several hands stacking and bundling papers and fueled by a box of donuts. On occasion he would slip a note or dollar bill into a paper addressed to his children or close friends to check if they were reading it.

The weather was a key factor to anticipate, as rain or snow brought the threat of wet papers or delayed deliveries. By each Saturday Jeb was attuned to the forecast, and post publication would note success in outmaneuvering any storms in his production journal. He regarded the paper’s closing and next day’s distribution as so important that for years he scheduled vacations so they would not take him away for consecutive Wednesdays.

His family found it particularly amusing that twice, during longer overseas vacations he eventually did take, the East Coast was hit with major blizzards and widespread road closings that Jeb watched in disbelief on CNN International. He was never more impressed than when he learned the staff back in Princeton had not missed a beat during these storms and brought the paper out on time.

Working with the staff to get the paper out was one of the things Jeb loved about the job, often sharing a wry comment about the week’s news as they put the pages together. Even with the weekly deadlines and sometimes hectic pace, he knew running a town newspaper was a terrific job. “I gauge it by one thing,” he told the PDS Journal in 1998. “When I get up in the morning, I’m looking forward to going to work. That’s the best gauge I have. I know that some days are going to be hard, but overall, each day I really enjoy going in and putting out the best paper we can.”

Jeb never stopped writing sports stories on local high school and university teams, a job that reflected a broader love for sports that began at a young age. He became a fan of Princeton football at age six when he was taken to the press box at the top of Palmer Stadium by his father, who announced the game in progress over the stadium’s public address system. For many years after college Jeb worked beside his father in the announcer’s box as a spotter, following each play through binoculars to feed his father the players’ names and numbers for play-by-play descriptions.

He took over covering university sports for Town Topics when his father died, and the weekly stories he wrote during the Tigers’ football season became the most enjoyable part of his job. These were known not just for covering the previous week’s games but for his analysis that looked ahead to the coming Saturday’s game. He similarly covered basketball, hockey and lacrosse, always happy to be watching the action on a Friday night in Baker Rink or Jadwin Gym. Local alumni often thanked him for his honest but fair treatment of the teams.

After the Stuart family sold Town Topics in 2001, he became a volunteer in the Princeton University Sports Information Department. Continuing his love for Tiger football, he had the opportunity to write for the game programs, highlighting an historic game or profiling a legendary player or coach. With his prodigious memory and deep understanding of Princeton sports, he was a font of information and answers to staff and alumni about past football, basketball and hockey teams.

Jeb served as a trustee of the university student paper, The Daily Princetonian, for many years. He wrote the Class Notes for Princeton Country Day School Class of 1956, and served on the PDS Alumni Council. He was also a member of Bedens Brook Club.

In addition to his wife, Sheila M. Stuart, he is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Craig C. Stuart and Susan Kim-Stuart of San Francisco; a daughter and son-in-law, Lauren S. and Richard Downs, also of San Francisco; four grandchildren, Halleran and Regan Downs and Marlowe and Cormac Stuart; a brother, Charles Stuart of Concord, Mass.; two aunts, Margaretta Cowenhoven and Mary C. Coyle of Chestertown, Md.; and two cousins Georgie Evans of Fort Lee, N.J., and Margaretta Kildebeck of San Francisco.

A Memorial Service will be held Wednesday, June 18, at 3 p.m. in the Princeton University Chapel. Gifts may be made in memory to Princeton Healthcare System Foundation, Radiation Oncology Department, 253 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, N.J., 08540.

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