Please note: Stone Phillips left Dateline in June, 2007. Click here for more information about his departure.
I am often asked about my name, so let me begin there. My parents named me Stone Stockton Phillips. An avalanche of nicknames has followed ever since: rock, pebble, stoney, stone man, and the recently coined (by Al Roker) stonelator. It could have been worse. There are three generations of men in my family with the middle name Duzerah. We still haven’t figured that one out.
I was born in Texas City, Texas. My parents, both natives of Texas, moved there a few years after the 1947 industrial explosion that put Texas City on the map. Barefoot summers, backyard baseball, bike riding, tree climbing, catching “crawdads” and “horn toads” in the drainage ditch, flat top haircuts, piano lessons, Sundays at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Monopoly marathons with my brother and sister, trips to the beach in nearby Galveston—all wonderful memories to this day. Though our home was damaged by Hurricane Carla in 1961, the storm never dampened our love for Texas City.
My family left the Lone Star state in 1965. A job transfer for my father, a chemical engineer, took us to St. Louis, Missouri. The uprooting was difficult, but St. Louis turned out to be another wonderful place to live. Khoury League sports, acolyte duties at St. Martin’s Church, mowing lawns, making friends, Cardinal games, car dates—I loved it all.
The move to St. Louis led to one of the great blessings of my life: Parkway schools. I have often described Parkway West High School as Camelot in St. Louis County. It was public school at its best. The great (and scary) Mrs. Kennedy taught us the joy and discipline of writing. The brilliant (and wacky) Mr. Bus made us love calculus and Sir Isaac Newton. Coach Wells and Coach Pratt focused on fundamentals and made high school football and basketball really fun. And the principal, Al Burr, remains one of the most amazing people I have ever known. I still say Al should run for president. Another remarkable “Pillar of Parkway” is retired elementary school teacher, Grace Phillips, my mother.
Next stop: New Haven, Connecticut. I arrived at Yale University in the fall of 1973 and entered an intensive program for freshmen called Directed Studies in the Humanities. The courses were rigorous, taught in small seminar settings and included a course in political philosophy that was so interesting I chose philosophy as my major. Over the next three years, I grappled with everyone from Socrates to Sartre, grinded away and got a lot out of it. I also played football at Yale and was fortunate enough to start at quarterback on the 1975 and 1976 teams. I loved Ivy League football. Playing in the Yale Bowl for Carm Cozza and his coaching staff remains one of the great experiences of my life.
I graduated in May 1977. Our commencement speaker was B.B. King. Twenty-five years later, backstage at Radio City Music Hall, I met B.B. and reminisced with him about that day and how excited and nervous we both had been. Speaking at Yale was a little out of his comfort zone. And leaving Yale with no immediate job prospects was certainly out of mine. That spring, however, I managed to secure a small grant, which took me to Atlanta, Georgia and my first job out of college. I taught remedial reading and math to teenagers on probation at the Fulton County Juvenile Court. A few months later, after the grant ran out, I approached a local television station for a job and that’s when my career in the news business began. Over the next year-and-a-half, I worked my way up from a newsroom assistant to a broadcast producer (noon and weekend newscasts) and occasional on-air reporter. My big jump to network news came in 1979. I was hired by ABC News as an assignment editor in its Washington D.C. Bureau. In 1981, I moved to New York to work as an associate producer at ABC’s documentary unit. One year later, I returned to daily news as a network correspondent reporting for Good Morning America and World News Tonight. Among my assignments that first year (1982) were the war in Beirut, Lebanon and the NFL Players strike. In 1986, ABC News President Roone Arledge called to offer me a correspondent’s position at 20/20. That marked the beginning of a twenty-year career in news magazine reporting.
In January 1992, I joined NBC News. Jane Pauley and I were tapped as co-anchors for NBC’s seventeenth attempt at a news magazine program. Dateline broke the curse. In the years to come, a remarkable team of producers, editors, and correspondents turned Dateline into the most watched news magazine in America. We expanded to five nights a week at one point, and today remain a major component of NBC News coverage when big stories break. Over the past 14 years, I have had many memorable assignments, among them my interviews with President George H.W. Bush, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, New York subway gunman Bernhardt Goetz, the firefighters of Ladder Company Six who were trapped inside the World Trade Center on 9-11, the nine miners rescued from Pennsylvania’s Coal Creek mine, and Private Lynndie England who went to prison for her role in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. Other stories that have left a lasting impression on me include Yankee Manager Joe Torre’s account of the domestic violence he witnessed as a child, Melissa Etheridge’s comeback from breast cancer, and perhaps my all-time favorite story, the reunion of George Warstler with his family three decades after he disappeared during the Vietnam War. Personally, the most rewarding assignment was my 1995 interview with my father about the wound he suffered in World War Two, how he coped with a paralyzed right arm, and how that injury influenced our relationship.