Stephen Steed — a veteran journalist known for his accuracy and ability to notice unique details, a prolific themed party host and a friend to many — died on Monday at his Little Rock home. He was 62.
His cause of death is unknown. He was found deceased in his home by a friend after he did not respond to calls or messages.
He worked for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at the time of his death.
“We were stunned to hear of Stephen’s passing,” Managing Editor Alyson Hoge said. “His legacy will be that he was a great agriculture reporter who understood the issues faced by farmers.”
Steed had just been promoted to business wire editor, Hoge said. He started working for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2016 as the agriculture reporter.
“Stephen was honest in his work. Accuracy and fairness in his reporting were important to him,” Business Editor Jim Kordsmeier said. “He had a tendency to catch editors off guard, turning in his work well before deadline, hardly a comma out of place.”
Steed’s career spanned more than four decades, beginning while he studied journalism at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He was hired by the Arkansas Gazette after a summer internship, and continued there on many desks until the paper closed down in 1991.
He wrote for USA Today as a loaner from the Arkansas Gazette.
He was a reporter and columnist — where he authored the “The good, the bad and the Wally” column — for Spectrum Weekly, an alternative Little Rock newspaper, and later for the Arkansas Times. Steed also worked for the Donrey Media Group from 1995 to 1999.
Steed took a sabbatical from journalism to foray into politics, working as the information director for the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009. From there, Steed tinkered in various jobs, including an office job for Best Park, before returning to journalism at the Democrat-Gazette.
His sister, Rebekah Steed-Roddy, said Steed talked about a journalism career while he was growing up in Leachville, a small town about 30 miles east from Jonesboro where Steed was born.
“He devoted every ounce of his energy to journalism,” Steed-Roddy said.
Kordsmeier said Steed enjoyed “tooling around the state, visiting with farmers, telling their stories.”
“And it gave him the chance to find the best fried catfish and barbecue. He would rave about his favorite Arkansas joints, and he shared details of meals he’d had,” Kordsmeier said. “He was generous. He once brought me a couple pounds of pork tenderloin from Craig’s Bar-B-Q in De-Valls Bluff, having stopped there on the way back from some assignment in Helena, or Brinkley.”
His long-time friend, Scott Morris, whom he met during an Arkansas Gazette internship in 1986, said Steed welcomed him to the newsroom and helped him learn the job.
“I remember when I got my first 1A story. Stephen was the first to congratulate me. He said, ‘Kick in the head, ain’t it?'” Morris said. “He was a great reporter, always asking smart questions. He was able to talk to anybody, whether a grieving parent or a farmer in the field. Just a really great journalist.”
In the past decade, Steed’s health declined, with frequent hospitalizations, including a leg amputation. Surgeons installed a pacemaker in November. He was later diagnosed with a tumor in his colon. He was scheduled for surgery in January to remove the tumor, but it was rescheduled due to the ice storm.
Steed-Roddy said his health didn’t stop her brother from continuing to travel the state chasing agriculture stories where he visited with farmers and doggedly covered the regulation of the controversial herbicide dicamba.
“I don’t think anyone realized how hard he was struggling physically to do that,” Steed-Roddy said. “He gave every ounce of his soul to do what he was doing.”
Fellow journalist and friend Jonathan Portis said Steed was upbeat through his health travails.
“I know he was worried about this upcoming surgery, but he had a positive attitude,” Portis said. “He kept his sense of humor.” Rachel O’Neal, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette High Profile and senior Style editor, said Stephen was like a brother.
“I have many photos of Stephen at family gatherings with my parents. He loved to collect quirky stuff — like his life-size Elvis Presley head and all things Razorback,” O’Neal said. “He especially loved Arkansas natives Johnny Cash and Levon Helm. He loved to go on barbecue road trips, but his favorite was always Craig’s Bar-B-Q in DeValls Bluff.”
His friend Valerie Canepa, who attended college with Steed, said he collected vintage and antique games and toys. He had a 6-foot 1950s aluminum Christmas tree on display at his apartment, and 4-foot pumpkin.
Steed was always throwing parties and was a devoted customer of Midtown Billiards in Little Rock.
“He would come up with these outrageous parties. He wouldn’t do big, elaborate fancy parties. They would be themed, like his ‘Ridiculously Formal’ party,” Canepa said. “It was thrift store costumes.”
Portis said Steed was unique and a true friend.
“He was as loyal as they come,” Portis said. “He would do anything for his friends and pretty much anything for anybody that he knew. He was selfless.”
Steed-Roddy said his multitude of longtime friends was the “epitome of Stephen.”
“Stephen would give the shirt off his back to anybody that needed it,” his sister said. “He had so much love and concern. He always had a hell of a group that loved him and respected him. He was extremely blessed.”