Daily Egyptian

Daily Egyptian editor who helped create Gus Bode dies at 80

By Michael Mayo, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Gene Cryer, who was the Daily Egyptian’s editor-in-chief during the creation of Gus Bode in 1956, died Saturday at 80 after complications from a stroke.

Cryer went on to become editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. With his booming voice, steely eyes and a red pencil that would mark up the daily newspaper with withering critiques, Cryer cast an intimidating presence over the Sun Sentinel newsroom he led in the 1980s and 1990s. 

Fictitious character Gus Bode, a short, shaggy-haired undergraduate, was first referenced in the April 13, 1956 issue of the Daily Egyptian when the newspaper was still called “The Egyptian.” Under the bolded subhead, “Gus Bode Says–” read, “We hear the recruiting officers had slim pickings here last term. The grades must have been better than expected.”

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At first, SIU student Jim Stumpf and his friends would write “Gus Bode was here” all over campus. But during Cryer’s time as the paper’s top editor, the Egyptian decided to use Gus as a way to add editorial comments to the paper.

At that point, Gus was not a drawn cartoon. Then in 1963, the same year the paper became the “Daily Egyptian,” Gus was illustrated by the late Dee Alexander.

Morris native Cryer, who graduated from SIU with a degree in journalism, was fondly remembered by those who worked with him as the consummate editor, journalist and community leader.

“He expected and demanded perfection,” said Earl Maucker, who served as managing editor under Cryer for 14 years until he succeeded him as editor in 1994. “He used to say, ‘We’re not a writer’s paper, we’re not an editor’s paper, we’re a reader’s paper.’ Everything he did was with the readers’ best interests in mind.”

Cryer guided the Sun Sentinel from a sleepy Fort Lauderdale newspaper into a regional media force.

He came to the Fort Lauderdale News in 1979 from Rockford. In 1982, the two newspapers merged and Cryer was tapped to lead the combined newsroom.

He oversaw a period of explosive growth in the region, expanding the newspaper with bureaus in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami and West Palm Beach. He also hired young, ambitious reporters who would go on to become renowned authors and novelists, including Mitch Albom, Michael Connelly and John Grogan.

Since his 1994 retirement as Sun Sentinel editor and vice president, Cryer lived in Plantation and wrote eight books. He remained active by riding, exhibiting and breeding Appaloosa show horses, mentoring writers and recording audiobooks for Insight for the Blind.

“That deep, bellowing voice could command a room,” said his son, Scott Cryer, of Reston, Va. “In his final years he put it to good use by working with Insight for the Blind. It gave him a sense of purpose.”

Scott Cryer was bedside in his father’s hospital room in his final days, talking sports and sharing emails from friends and former colleagues.

“In a way, he got to hear his own eulogy,” Scott Cryer said.

“He was a self-made man,” said his daughter, Patty Shepherd Korchak. “He came from humble beginnings — his father was an auto mechanic during the Great Depression in Illinois — and with hard work he made himself a great career.”

Cryer started as a reporter and editor for small Illinois newspapers.

Maucker, now a Lighthouse Point city commissioner after retiring as Sun Sentinel editor, was hired by Cryer at the Rockford, paper in 1973. They worked together 21 years, expanding the depth and breadth of the Sun Sentinel’s coverage and circulation area.

“His philosophy was not only that the paper needed to expand, but that it had to focus on local news,” Maucker said. “He was never one to suffer fools and he could be tough to work for, but he could be quite charming. He had a brilliant journalistic mind.”

Cryer was meticulous and well-prepared, even to the end. On Saturday, Scott found an envelope in his father’s home office marked “For my obits.” It contained his resume, the biography he used for his books and a photocopy of his entry in “Who’s Who In America.”

“I’ve heard the stories about him in the newsroom — a lot of tough love and compliments could be hard to come by,” Scott Cryer said. “He was the same way as a dad. You knew he was proud of you, but he rarely stated it.”

Besides Scott and Patty, Cryer is survived by son Michael and daughter Cathleen Cryer Steines, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He is predeceased by grandson Brant Shepherd. Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Daily Egyptian’s Luke Nozicka contributed to this report. He can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected]

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(c) 2016 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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