By: Connie Lewis Leonard
Dr. Stuart Chilton loved to write newsy stories. He believed “names make news,” and his name brings good news of a job well done and a life well lived.
When he was in the third grade, he fell in love with writing and began publishing his own newspaper, selling it to the many family members who lived within a quarter of a mile. As a young entrepreneur, he decided to buy chickens and sell eggs to accompany the morning newspaper.
His family greatly influenced his work ethic. His great-grandfather served four terms as a US Congressman from Kentucky during Andrew Jackson’s Presidency. His Washington roommates were his first cousin, R. E. B. Baylor, for whom Baylor University is named, and David Crockett. His paternal grandparents, Ida and Lysias Chilton, farmed land around Marlin, Texas, owned several mercantile stores, and co-founded First National Bank, Marlin. His father was a building contractor and his mother was a registered nurse.
Small in stature as a child, he used brains over brawn, befriending bigger boys, ensuring his protection from bullies with Milky Way candy bars. He played in the band and center on the high school football team. Although the program listed his weight as 128 pounds, his actual weight was merely 117. In high school he worked at a grocery store and in the family bank, which led to his duty assignment in the Navy pay dispersal office. When he joined the Navy at age 17, his mother feared she was signing his death warrant. He didn’t serve on the battlefield, but joked that his life was in jeopardy each month when he picked up hundreds of thousands of dollars, carrying a gun without any bullets.
After his discharge in 1946, he attended Baylor University to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist. There he served as Junior Class President, being the first non-religious education major to serve in student government. Following graduation, he worked for the Texarkana Gazette before becoming an English and journalism teacher at Falfurrias, Texas. He met Ann Negy in September 1951, fell in love with the beautiful home economics teacher, married her three months later, and loved her dearly until her death 53 years later.
In September 1952, Stuart accepted a position as English and journalism teacher at Abilene High School. In 1953, the young couple had a son, Brad Chilton. Stuart wrote for the Abilene Reporter News while completing a Master’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University.
In 1954, the family moved to Stephenville, where Stuart taught journalism and served as Director of Public Information for Tarleton State College. This was his favorite job, because he loved working with students and having time to write. In 1957, he was promoted to Registrar and Dean of Students. He worked tirelessly with Tarleton President E. J. Howell and many local businessmen to secure passage of the “Tarleton Bill,” changing the junior college to a four-year university. The bill passed in 1959, marking Stuart’s proudest achievement in being part of this transition.
While completing his doctorate at University of North Texas, he noted most students majored in elementary education. Tarleton’s student body was primarily male until Stuart pursued and secured the elementary education degree and certification, which remains one of the largest major programs at Tarleton.
In 1966, Stuart accepted a professorship in the department of educational administration at East Texas University, (now Texas A & M University-Commerce). During his tenure at ETSU, he was the major advisor for 35 completed doctoral dissertations and served as a member on numerous doctoral and master degree committees.
For 18 years he wrote a weekly column, “Commerce Corner,” for The Commerce Journal. Upon retirement in 1984, ETSU’s Board of Regents conferred upon him the title, “Professor Emeritus of Educational Administration.” He taught Sunday school for 26 years and served as Chair of the Administrative Board of First United Methodist Church in Commerce from 1990-1992. He also served on the Board of Directors for First National Bank, Commerce; United Bankers, Waco; and Bank One, Greenville-Commerce Branch.
He and Mrs. Chilton returned to Stephenville in 1996, where he began writing a weekly column for The Stephenville Empire-Tribune under the pen name “Ye Old Columnist.” He was a member of First United Methodist Church, a member of the Stephenville Masonic Lodge, a 32nd degree Mason in Scottish Rite, a member of Hella Shrine in Dallas, the Stephenville Lions Club and the American Legion. He remained active in Baylor Alumni Association; Sigma Delta Chi, national honorary journalism fraternity; and Phi Delta Kappa, national honorary fraternity in education.
In addition to his many professional and community accomplishments, Dr. Stuart Chilton’s personal relationships warmed the hearts of all who knew him.
Brad, Stuart’s only child, spoke fondly of his father. He said, “The greatest lessons learned from my father were a strong work ethic, how to live life, love family, and help others. He would give students rides, invite them home for dinner, help them secure financial aid, and help them write well.” When Stuart helped Brad with a high school science project on weather, it caught his interest, and he continued the project as “the weatherman” the rest of his life. Stuart was a good tennis player. When Brad asked his father why he hit the ball all over the court, he replied, “The object of the game is to hit where you aren’t. Life is not hit straight at you. You have to make adjustments.”
Bill Horick, a fellow journalism major at Baylor, remained friends with Stuart for 65 years. He said, “We got together for luncheons, homecoming embraces, and e-mailed words of wisdom. We kept our showboat traversing the river of time for many years.” When Coach Art Briles, formerly of Stephenville, went to Baylor, “Stuart and I knew our beloved Bears were about to bask in clover.” In “A Tribute to Mr. J-Blurber,” Mr. Horick said, “He will miss the Reunion Dinner of the Class of 1950 this year at the Baylor Homecoming. But I know he will be with us in spirit. And we’ll salute him for the better Homecoming he now enjoys.” Mr. Horick explained the journalism term J-Blurber as short passages, blurbs of information, for which Dr. Stuart Chilton was so well-known.
Fern Wood first met Stuart when he dated her older sister in high school. Later they were classmates at Baylor. Although she was a business and economics major, Stuart invited her to join the J-Blurbers group. He introduced her to his fiancé at the time, and the two ladies became roommates and life-long friends. She said, “Stuart was wonderful—the nicest person, a perfect gentleman, always upbeat. Even after losing his wife, he never felt sorry for himself.” When his health began to decline, they would text each other every few days.
Dr. Lynn Turner, a fellow professor at TAMU-Commerce, said, “Stuart was a very fine, upstanding man, a man of principles. He was well respected and had a good relationship with students and colleagues. He was a good friend, a good neighbor, and a devoted family man. He had a great sense of humor, writing articles for the Commerce Journal from his dog’s point of view.”
As advisor for the Doctoral program at ETSU-Commerce, Dr. Chilton advised Bob Burns on his dissertation. Dr. Burns said, “He was more than I could ask for in terms of professional help. He was detail oriented but could also see the big picture.”
Eddie Smith, who became friends in 1985 when Dr. Chilton served as a bank director for First National Bank of Commerce, said, “Stuart was well-known for his ability to communicate and work with both the business community and the University. It is a great honor and responsibility to be appointed as a bank director. Stuart served well, and was greatly respected.”
Harold Walker, a member of The Old Goat’s Coffee Club, said, “Stuart was the nicest man I’ve ever known. I can’t say enough good things about him because he did so many good things. I admired the heck out of him.” The Old Goat’s Coffee Club met every day. Stuart brought in speakers, people running for office, people doing things for the betterment of the community. They celebrated birthdays, and when one member died, the others served as pallbearers.
Howard Martin said about a week after becoming pastor of First United Methodist Church in Stephenville, Stuart invited him to the Old Goat’s Coffee Club. Although the Club was an eclectic group politically and religiously, everyone was encouraged to contribute to the conversation and express their opinion. Martin said, “Stuart served on about every board and committee in the church. He was a true gentleman.”
Ethel Chilton Renfro said, “Stuart was about five years older than me. He was my brother and my friend. We could talk about anything. After the deaths of our spouses, we talked on the phone about twice a week. I miss him.” Ethel is now the last of their generation. “I felt better after the funeral. It was so uplifting. They have a treasure in that pastor.” She went on to say that Stuart left a fine legacy through his son and grandson.
Dr. Stuart Chilton lived a good life for 88 years and finished well.
Photos Provided by the Chilton Family