Remembering Lew Cuyler: Journalist and dedicated Berkshire rowing enthusiast

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PITTSFIELD — Lew C. Cuyler loved newspapers, writing, cared passionately about his community, and loved to be out on the water rowing. And he mentored a young reporter, Daniel Pearl.

Cuyler, who wrote for both The Berkshire Eagle and The North Adams Transcript, founded the Berkshire Rowing Association, and was nominated for a master coaches award by U.S. Rowing, the sport's governing body, died peacefully at his home on Friday from end-stage Alzheimer's Disease. He was 84.

Cuyler, who also spent many years as a senior director of the Lake Onota Preservation Association, served as business editor of The Eagle from 1987 until his retirement in 1995. Prior to The Eagle, Cuyler spent 22 years at the North Adams Transcript, including several as executive editor, before leaving in 1980.

He was also the author of several books, including a spiral-bound memoir, "On Being a Human Verb and a Newspaper Animal." A copy of that book is on file at the Berkshire Athenaeum, according to Cuyler's widow, Harriet.

Former colleagues and friends remember Cuyler as an energetic, enthusiastic and collegial sort, who loved working for newspapers, and threw himself into every task he got involved with.

"The thing I remember is that he always had a lot to say," said former Eagle colleague Debra DiMassimo. "He was a kind person. He would speak up loudly if he saw something wrong, but he was just a sweetheart. He never lost his enthusiasm.

"He wasn't the stereotypical crusty old newsman," she said. "He would bound into the newsroom as if it were his first day on the job.

"So many people are jaded in this business," DiMassimo added, "but Lew was not one of them. He was such a joy to work with."

Former colleagues also remember Cuyler riding either a bicycle or a motor scooter to work when the weather was warm. During the winter, Cuyler would often ski early in the mornings before arriving at the newsroom.

Former Eagle Managing Editor Grier Horner shared an apartment with Cuyler in Adams when they both worked for The Transcript in the early 1960s.

"He was very organized," Horner remembered. "He kept our grocery money in an old cigar box. When we shopped at the Adams Supermarket he carried the cigar box with him.

"He was the fastest typist I've ever seen," Horner added, referring to the days when reporters wrote their stories on typewriters. "Remember those carriages that typewriters used to have? He would give that thing such a slam that I thought it was going to hit me."

"Lew was Lew," said former Eagle Editor Mark Miller. "He was just terribly enthusiastic about what he was doing, and did a great job."

Cuyler was born in New York City in 1933, the eldest of five children. His mother, Margery Merrill Cuyler, was originally from Stockbridge. He attended the South Kent School in Connecticut and Amherst College, where he graduated in 1955. Cuyler had two children, Juliana and Alexander, with his first wife, Jayne Warren Cuyler, whom he married in 1960. After they divorced, Cuyler married his second wife, Harriet Buechner Cuyler, in 1975.

He began his newspaper career at The Transcript in 1958 covering the town of Adams. He rose through the ranks and eventually became the paper's executive editor. One of the founders of the Hoosac Tunnel Museum, Cuyler also taught journalism classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the former North Adams State College, now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

But in 1980, Cuyler resigned from The Transcript following a disagreement with its new management which wanted him to reduce the number of employees.

"He said he couldn't do it, and that cost him his job," Horner said.

Cuyler then ran his own business, Cuyler Ink, which provided freelance writing services and sound slide shows.

In 1987, Cuyler was offered and accepted the position of The Eagle's business editor. It was around the time The Eagle first first began publishing a Sunday edition, and went from being an evening to a morning paper.

"We were working on setting up a Sunday paper, and wanted to have a great business section," said Miller, whose family owned The Eagle before it was sold to Media News Group in 1995.

"It was really a subject that was not well emphasized at all," said Miller, referring to the Eagle's business coverage at the time. "When we went to mornings, we were going up against the Springfield Union, and we wanted to have a business section daily. It was supposed to be something special, and Lew was part of it."

Cuyler lived up to the Eagle's expectations.

"He was very prolific," Horner said. "He could write a lot of stories and he did."

Cuyler was known for getting along with the people he covered, and writing long, in-depth stories that wove so many facts together in so much detail that they were hard for the editors to trim.

"Sometimes this would result in the production of the 'Cuyler yard,'" said former Eagle colleague D.R. Bahlman. "It was a story that was literally a yard long. The editors found it very difficult to cut because it hung together so well. It was difficult to do it without creating damage."

Due to his previous experience at The Transcript, Cuyler also brought a knowledge of Northern Berkshire to the newsroom, which was lacking at the time, said Eagle columnist and former Sunday editor Ruth Bass.

"The fact that he came here from North Adams gave him a different perspective," Bass said. "That was a big bonus for the newsroom."

As business editor, Cuyler also befriended a young reporter named Daniel Pearl. Pearl had taken a job at the North Adams Transcript, then moved to The Eagle newsroom. He would go on to the Wall Street Journal. Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for the Journal when he was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in February 2002.

"Lew went to Danny's wedding, I think it was in Paris," Horner said. "He took Danny's death very hard."

After retiring from The Eagle, Cuyler rediscovered his love for rowing, which he had first taken up in prep school and college.

In 1999, Cuyler established the Berkshire Sculling Association's board of trustees, which gave a voice to the club's members and allowed them to explore the club's future.

Shortly after, Cuyler discovered an abandoned lifeguard shack on Onota Lake, and with the city's permission and some friend's help rebuilt it into a boathouse.

"It ought to be called the Lew Cuyler Rowing Center, as far as I'm concerned," said Bob Race, a long time board member and former president of the Lake Onota Preservation Association.

A series of articles that Cuyler wrote while working for The Eagle on Eurasian milfoil caused the city of Pittsfield to launch a full-scale cleanup of those weeds from the lake.

"The publicity raised public awareness," Race said.

In 2014, Lake Onota Preservation Association made Cuyler one of the first recipients of its Devoted Service Award. In retirement, Cuyler continued to write for The Guardian, the association's quarterly newsletter.

"He was the chairman of the public relations and education committee," Race said. "We needed a newsletter and he ended up making it a real publication. He turned it out as a little mini-newspaper.

"I haven't been able to find anyone to pick up the cudgel since he stopped four or five years ago."

Contact Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski cat 413 496-6224 or at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com.


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