Remembering longtime journalist Denise Stovall

Denise and Charles Stovall
Denise and Charles Stovall

The Dallas Examiner

Denise Johnson Stovall, 61, a writer-at-large with The Dallas Examiner, was passionate about journalism – telling stories and helping others share uplifting memories of their journey. Despite battling multiple sclerosis for around 13 years, she was determined to continue writing until her death on Jan. 19.

“My fingers do my walking,” she stated in an article she wrote, Sometime we just have to deal with it, about how her disease had taken over her body, but not her life.

One editor with whom the writer worked closely commented that Stovall excelled at telling the tales that might otherwise not get told.

“She was so determined to write,” she reflected. “She was a very determined woman and fought through her disease.”

During a celebration of life at St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church on Jan. 29, one high school friend, Shirley Ross Johnson, recalled seeing a passion for writing as it developed in Stovall’s youth. They met as freshmen in what was then Lindblom Technical High School.

“She was on the yearbook committee and this is where I believe her writing career began because she wrote the stories for our school newspaper, and chaired a couple of things for the yearbook, and the pictures, and stories,” Her friend remembered.

Stovall’s mother, Jean Johnson, conceded that education was always very important to her daughter and noted that it served as an underpinning to her writing.

“She’s written many letters of recommendation to get children in school, in college,” her mother revealed about some of the work Stovall did for the youth at her church.

Stovall, originally from Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the school that is now Clark Atlanta University.

Early in her career she worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Daily World Newspaper, a commercial operations writer for WAGA-TV 5 and WXIA TV 11 ALIVE, a news writer for WSB Radio, and a sports assistant for WTBS TV.

According to her mother, after moving to Dallas, Stovall wrote regularly for The United Methodist Reporter and became their first Black associate editor in the late 1980s. She received several awards for her articles revealing the trials and triumphs, but most of all for her stories of the African diaspora.

“Everything she did sort of centered along ‘What can I do with the power of the pen to help the poor and the least of these?’” her mother recalled.

She also began writing for The Dallas Examiner as a contributing reporter, focusing on religious features.

During her time as a reporter, she traveled across the country as well as around the world, visiting countries such as Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and eight African countries.

Her mother also suggested that Stovall was somewhat of a sisterly mentor since she was the first child in the family to graduate college.

“She didn’t support them financially, but she was a pioneer,” Jean confessed as she characterized Denise’s encouragement of her siblings to achieve their own collegiate successes.

She was the first lady at the Camp Wisdom and St. Paul UMC where her husband, Rev. Charles Stovall, was pastor.

Rev. Peter Johnson, a longtime associate of the family, sang the praises of his friend as well.

“Charles and Denise Stovall travelled with me, worked side by side with me, picketed with me, marched with me … and launched many a protest with us,” he said. “Saying goodbye to Denise is very difficult to me because when Charles and I would get into arguments and disagreements we had a peacemaker,” he recounted with a quick chuckle. “In fact, she would stand between us when we were about to come to blows. I will miss her dearly. We must dry our eyes and keep fighting.”

Dr. Sheron Patterson, communications director of the UMC North Texas Conference, had been a friend and associate of Stovall’s since the 1980s and were linked in sisterhood through the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She looked back fondly on her friend, describing her as upbeat, optimistic and focused on her husband and two children.

“She was fiercely dedicated to her work as a journalist and every time we talked she was always pitching ideas to me,” the doctor recalled. “She was kind of like a news junkie.”

As she spoke, Patterson considered a moment that she felt summed up the commitment and personality of Stovall.

“I saw Denise two weeks ago at a funeral, and she was in her wheelchair and she was showing the effects of her illness and she was kind of bent over in the wheelchair. It looked to be kind of a painful position,” she offered. “But in spite of all of that, being in a wheelchair and probably being uncomfortable, she was talking to me about writing a story about someone in Cuba.”

She laughed.

That story – the last of Stovall’s articles – was published by The Dallas Examiner Jan. 7 and recalled the journey of a local college student’s experience attending medical school in Havana.

“She hung on fiercely and bravely to that noble task of being a journalist and just getting the news out,” Patterson affirmed.

Jean Johnson admitted that tenacity was a consistent characteristic of her daughter.

“She went to the Hutus’ and Tutsis’ country without fear,” Jean Johnson mentioned as she remembered an article Stovall worked on from abroad.

Once in Africa, Stovall met a woman in a village who had a goal to read and write one day, Jean Johnson continued. The writer took the first steps of bonding with the woman by showing her a photo of her daughter. In return, the African woman pulled out a photo of her own child.

“They didn’t even speak any [common] language,” Jean Johnson remarked as she took pride in how Denise could break down a barrier a half a world away.

Ultimately, Jean Johnson ended her stories and tales with a smile.

“You have enough …,” her mother said with an assuring tone, examining the life of her daughter from a reporter’s perspective. “You probably have enough for a whole series.”

Stovall’s mother considered the aspects that made he daughter unique and summarized how she wanted people to remember her.

“She was passionate about helping the poor and what she called ‘the least of these …’” Jean Johnson said, referring to the biblical phrase from the Book of Matthew about the treatment of needy and underserved.

Stovall is mourned by her husband, daughter, their son, Leonard Charles II, and her mother, among other relatives, friends and associates.

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