A champion of fairness, charities, and Dearborn

FRANK BEWICK
1926-2008
By RAAD ALAWAN

 

From paper boy to publisher, Frank Bewick used his 45 years at the Dearborn Times-Herald to tell the great stories of the city he loved and to stand up for the regular people.

 

He was, at heart, a storyteller – a gifted one – and a fighter to the end.

 

As a journalist, he extended his gift to champion many charitable causes while persevering through hard times.

 

He loved the Times-Herald so much, he never retired – until he had no other choice.

 

On Wednesday evening, Dec. 24, 2008, Bewick, 82, died at Oakwood Heritage Hospital in Taylor from heart failure. He was with his family. He is survived by his three children: Mike, Laurie and Scott. (His second son, Mark, died in 2001.) He is also survived by three grandchildren (Dr. Janis Bewick, Dr. Kerri Bewick and Sean Bewick), and three sisters (Barb Fachie, Joan Fieweger and Janet Holzer) and one brother (David).

 

Bewick started the Times-Herald in 1963, a week before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He started with three partners, none of them working partners, however. So, Bewick carried several different titles, including reporter, editor, managing editor, senior managing editor, columnist and publisher.

 

Bewick, who spent a career informing the public, also spent a career smoking. His smoking habit eventually led to triple bypass surgery in 1986. And over the last decade, he suffered congestive heart failure, and had a pacemaker implanted following two open heart surgeries in 1997. 

 

He also had recently battled pneumonia. But Bewick came back from it all, until Christmas Eve, when he was done in by the very organ that defined him: his heart.

 

Bewick was a passionate metro Detroiter who graduated from Grosse Pointe High School. He never stopped urging Dearborn and its people forward.

 

“It’s not too late to help for next year,” he wrote in his final Goodfellows column in October. “If you want to help … and this involves but a few hours on one day … call your city hall and they’ll give you information on how you can help.”

 

Bewick was always helping to feed and clothe the poor, whether it was promoting Goodfellows or selling thousand of dollars in peanuts for the Kiwanis Club, which also does for others less fortunate.

 

Fellow Kiwanis member and friend Skip Armstrong of Dearborn hailed Bewick as a fundraising icon.

 

“Frank was always a master at fundraising,” Anderson said. “He had a list of who’s who. He got money from the governor, (U.S. Rep John) Dingell, even (Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman) Bill Ford Jr. And that money went back into the community for people who needed it.”

 

Added friend and fellow Kiwanian Jack Demmer: “He spent years supporting our Kiwanis television program, which takes a lot of time. He was easy to work with. I’m going to miss him.”

 

Glenn Guzzo, a former reporter and editor of the Times-Herald from 1968 to 1975, said he is reminded of lessons he taught about journalism and life.

 

“The Bewicks didn’t have a lot of extra money, but they treated us all like family,” he said. “Frank would hand out presents to everyone on the staff before Christmas. Above all, he was a decent man.”

 

And his affection didn’t stop at the Kiwanis Club, Goodfellows or with his employees.

 

In the early ’80s, a former Dearborn police officer struck a thief in the head with his revolver while subduing him, and the man later died. The officer was put on trial and found guilty and spent several years in prison. Bewick oversaw a series of articles covering the events from beginning to end. He was even instrumental in arranging a huge police and fire rally at Ford Field supporting the officer.

 

It didn’t take long before dozens of officers and firefighters and their vehicles from throughout Michigan packed the park.

 

His list of honors bestowed by city and regional organizations ranged from the Rotary Club of Dearborn and the Kiwanis Club of Dearborn to the Dearborn Chamber of Commerce, the Dearborn Centurions Inc., and the Dearborn Goodfellows.

 

Bewick’s Times-Herald career spanned the transition from soft-lead copy pencils and paste pots to computers and the Internet.

 

As a columnist, Bewick penned his popular column called “thirty plus one.”

 

“Back in the day,” explained his son Scott, “the proof mark for the end of a story was ‘30.’ So (Dad) came up with ‘plus one’ to add his two cents.”

 

He was a man of great passions: for his family, the needy, his craft and Dearborn.

 

“He was a great citizen of Dearborn,” Guzzo said. “He cared deeply about public events. He was always interested in sponsoring things to improve the quality of life in town. He was always trying to reach out and connect the paper to the community.”

 

Raised in rough times

 

Bewick knew hard times at an early age.

 

Francis Harry Bewick was born just before the Great Depression in Grosse Pointe on Sept. 16, 1926, the son of a chemist, and a mother who abandoned him.

 

“The only memory I have of my mother was when I was 16 or 17, working after school in a gas station,” Bewick wrote in one of his final columns. “She invited me to dinner … and I never saw her after that.”

 

Frank lived for years with his father and grandparents in Grosse Pointe Park. He was 12 when he had a morning Detroit Free Press route. After graduating from high school, he served in the Navy during World War II. 

 

Three years out of the Navy and working as a night order clerk at Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., Bewick fell in love and married Ann Fisher.

 

“She was attractive, had a sense of humor, and was smarter than the average bear,” Bewick once wrote. 

 

Becoming a Publisher: A Family Affair

 

A few years later, in 1955, Frank and Ann published their first tabloid newspaper, the Riverview Review. They worked out of their home. In November 1963, they started Your Suburban Shopper. The next year, Bewick changed the name to the Times-Herald and began carrying a limited amount of news, mostly news releases. The daily newspaper strike of 1964 did wonders for Bewick’s profits “as it did for everybody who printed,” he wrote.

 

In 1966, his first son, Mike, came to work with him while attending high school. He became full-time after graduating form Wayne State University. His second son, Mark, also worked part-time during high-school until he went away to college. Bewick’s wife, Ann, who passed in August 2008, joined the family paper in early 1966. A few years later, their daughter, Laurie, and youngest son, Scott, joined the team. 

 

It was a family-owned newspaper, a dying breed these days with large companies on the move, buying up newspapers.

 

His son Mike spoke about his unique relationship with his father.

 

“It was the best thing to work with your father because we’d always bounce ideas off each other,” Mike said. His face had the sad look of someone who lost his best friend. That’s because he did. “I miss it already, not to see him or talk to him.”

 

But Mike will see him anyhow – in his mind and heart. In Mike’s mind and heart, Frank will be kidding with him, talking football, trading comments and quips. He will be going out to dinner on Wednesday nights, like he always did with his family. He will not truly be gone – he’ll just take up new residence, inside Mike’s mind.

 

Opportunity

 

In 1974, the publisher of the Dearborn Press died and his paper was put up for sale. Bewick bid $160,000, but another man bid higher.

 

“On a Friday afternoon,” Bewick once wrote, “I was advised I had until nine the following morning to top this new bid. I was not able to make the proper contacts to do this. Hindsight has shown me the error in my ways but…”

 

But the Times-Herald continued to be very successful over the next few years. In 1978, Bewick started three newspapers in the Downriver area.

 

“Things were getting better all the time,” Bewick wrote.

 

He expanded again Downriver and added two more papers. Bewick then bought the Allen Park and Taylor Journal from striking workers only to have the worst recession since the great depression hit the area. He folded all his Downriver papers. That event almost put the Bewicks out of business, “but sheer determination and understanding from friends and creditors were enough to keep us going,” Frank later wrote.

 

In 1992, Bewick began publishing the Sunday Times, which is still publishing today.

 

He worked long hours to support his family.

 

“Frank really lived and breathed newspapers,” Guzzo said. 

 

In between 1997 and 2008, his health started declining. He had too many surgeries, procedures, EKGs, a pacemaker, too many scary trips to the hospital with everyone thinking, “Is this it?” But Bewick came back from them all. Sooner or later, there he was, sitting behind his desk in his office, in a white button-down shirt overseeing editorial and production meetings, and coming up with new ideas.

 

In early 2004, Bewick was passionate about producing a tabloid that showed the good side of Arab Americans in Dearborn.

 

“He called me up and said, ‘We need to meet,’” said long-time friend Michael Berry, who epitomized the magazine’s mission of how Arabs can overcome life’s hardships and tragedies to achieve their American dreams. “We sat together and he said, ‘I think we should do something for the Arab community.’ I made a few suggestions.”

 

And Your Community Voice was born, in September 2004.

 

“(Frank’s was) the only newspaper that wanted to put the Arab community in a better light,” Berry said. 

 

Shortly after his wife, Ann, died, Frank was in and out of the hospital to treat his failing heart. At the end of October, he checked into Oakwood one last time.

 

But he never quit. Always a publisher to the last, he continued writing down notes, and trumpeted the organizations that helped others who couldn’t help themselves. His Kiwanis peanuts were selling while he lay in his hospital bed.

 

“Goodfellows make certain that there is no child without a Christmas,” he wrote in his 2007 column. “So, please … you don’t have to know any children who need help. You must know that there are such children out there. These children need your help. And … believe it or not … you’ll feel better about yourself knowing you helped others.”

 

To the end, it was clear Bewick’s gift was giving back to the community.

 

So, Frank Bewick has passed away. I never wanted to write that sentence. Mostly because “passed away” is a terrible phrase for a guy who much preferred to never give up. And passed away implies gone, and Frank rarely has been as front and center as he has been in the last few weeks. His stories are on everyone’s lips. His acts of kindness and cherished conversations – some of which, for years, have been kept private – are suddenly gushing forth.

 

It seems everyone has a Frank story.

 

Today and tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that would be the best time to tell them.

 

He will be missed. He will be missed.