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Public access pioneer dies; George Stoney was 96

Professor Stoney
Professor Stoney

I learned the other day one of my mentors died. Professor George C. Stoney was 96 years old when he left the living last week in New York City. George was my teacher at NYU. As much as anybody I’ve ever known, he lived a life dedicated to using film and television for positive purposes. As a teacher, filmmaker, and visionary who saw the power of visual media as a tool for community improvement, George lived a life that mattered. He and other activists worked to make sure that cable television systems devoted public access channels for amateur producers to present community based program. This was decades before You Tube and other web based services allowed individuals to post their work. The lead obituary in Sunday’s New York Times explains George’s accomplishments and impact.

On a personal level, I cannot adequately express how much George meant to me. He helped me get my first job at ABC News; he believed in my abilities and me as a producer when I had personal doubts; he taught thousands of students that telling stories about real life-–not today’s so called reality TV—could make a difference and improve the world.

In the mid 1990s I contacted George and sent him a copy of a documentary KNSD-TV produced while I was news director. Not That San Diego, followed community activist Stan Hay as he explored the poorer parts of the place that calls itself “America’s Finest City.” George sent me back a note thanking me for sending the documentary to him. His comments were mostly positive. He pointed out that perhaps the most noteworthy achievement was getting such a documentary on a commercial televisions station. As usual, he was right. That was the last time I had any communication with him but not the last time I saw him.

When my daughter graduated from NYU in 2006, Professor Stoney was part of the procession. As one of the oldest active teachers at the university—he was 89 at the time—it was his privilege to carry the torch, NYU’s symbol. When I saw George on the big screen in Washington Square Park, I smiled. Last week, when I learned of his death, I shed a few tears.

Tom Brokaw famously called the men and women who lived through and fought in World War II, “The Greatest Generation.” George was part of that group. He served during the war and continued to serve the world in other ways the rest of his life. He will be missed. And even though he preferred to be called George, I want to publicly say thank you, Professor Stoney, for what you did for me personally and for everything you did for the rest of those whose lives you touched.