Alumni Spotlight: Steve Twomey ’69

With his 50th Fenwick Reunion one month away, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author reflects on his days as a Friar.

By Mark Vruno

(Photo by Steve Hockstein/ HarvardStudio.com.)

Friar alumnus Steve Twomey ’69 is busy researching and writing, again — this time, for another book about World War II. And, he’s thinking. Twomey thinks a lot about, well, thought. Blame all that insight and thoughtfulness on Fenwick, he says.

“I took a course in high school that I loved. I think it was a religion class. Its premise was logic and explaining the rational processes by which we think,” recalls Twomey, a retired reporter/journalist and present author/freelance writer who has taught journalism at New York University. “At Fenwick we discussed the fallacies of logic and the traps that people get into with their thinking,” he relates. “This information was imparted on my brain forever.” (He also remembers classmates throwing fetal pigs on Scoville Ave. from the top window of a science classroom, while young Biology Teacher John Polka tried to remain calm. However, that’s a story for another article!)

Twomey began his career in journalism as a weekend copyboy at the Chicago Tribune as a 16-year-old kid. An uncle worked in the business office there and helped him land the summer job. “I loved being in a newsroom where people were finding out things,” he admits. Young Steve was hooked.

“I’ve distributed words for 30 years,” Twomey declared 15 years ago, upon occasion of Fenwick’s 75th anniversary. “You might not like journalism — so many folks don’t, be they of the political Left or Right,” he added then, somewhat prophetically. “But ever since Fenwick, being a newspaper guy has seemed the perfect way to sate a lust to know stuff, to see my name in black-and-white and to get paid for both.” 

Over the course of a 27-year media career Twomey traveled extensively and:

  • shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II aboard her yacht;
  • drank tea with Polish labor activist/politician Lech Walesa in his Warsaw apartment;
  • took cover in the Sahara Desert from shellfire from Polisario rebels.

In 2016 he published Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The 12 Days to the Attack (365 pages; Simon & Schuster), which traces the miscommunications, faulty assumptions and foul-ups that led to the ill-fated “day which will live in infamy” 78 years ago this December.

A critical thinker

A sweet 16 years have passed since Fenwick inducted Twomey into the its Hall of Fame. His prestigious Pulitzer recognition in journalism (feature writing/reporting category for the Philadelphia Inquirer while in Paris, France) came in 1987 for his illuminating profile of life aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. America, which had launched planes that took part in a United States’ attack on Libya in mid-1986. Twomey, who was 35 years old when he won his Pulitzer Prize, wrote about daily life for the mega ship’s personnel. He also questioned the strategic value of the U.S. military/government spending $500,000 a day (at the time, 32 years ago) to operate the massive vessel.

Twomey at Fenwick in 1969.

Twomey, a 1973 graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, went on to write for the Washington Post. He was born in Niles, Michigan. His family moved to Naperville, Illinois, and then to Oak Park.As a Friar student, he wrote for The Wick student newspaper all four years.

He attests that studying logic his senior year illuminated his path as a young man. “My experience at Fenwick was everything that education should be — because it made me parse statements, allegations and claims in ways that have served me well ever since. It was thinking about thought, and in the ensuing years most of what I have done professionally involves that. If and when I conclude that something does not make sense, I have Fenwick to thank.”

Read Twomey’s 2016 article in Smithsonian magazine, “How (Almost) Everyone Failed to Prepare for Pearl Harbor.”

Alumni, come home to Fenwick!
2019 Homecoming & Reunion Weekend is October 4th & 5th.

Details for class years ending in 4 and 9 (1944 – 2014).