By Mark Zaborney
Blade Staff Writer
Matthew E. Bieniek, a lawyer and journalist who served as editorial page editor of The Blade the last year, died Monday at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center. Hey what 59.
He had liver failure, said Marian Owen Bieniek, his life partner. He did not recover from emergency surgery he’d undergone.
Mr. Bieniek was promoted to the position of editorial page editor in October, 2021.
“I am honored to be asked to continue the great tradition of The Blade’s Pages of Opinion and will do my best to continue that journalistic legacy,” Mr. Bieniek said then.
In that role, he was a member of The Blade Editorial Board, which writes editorials and prepares opinion columns for publication in the Pages of Opinion.
“He wrote some very important editorials with me,” said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.
“I was always impressed with his ability to take a messy kind of issue and boil it down to the essential issues and then write clearly a position that I could feel proud about, that reflected the best that The Blade has ever produced,” Mr. Block said Wednesday.
“I will miss him. He was very good,” he said.
Mr. Bieniek had been a senior editor of The Blade Pages of Opinion since April, 2020.
From October, 2019, to April, 2020, he was an editorial writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which like The Blade is owned by Block Communications, Inc.
He began his career in newspapers with the Journal in Martinsburg, W.Va., following a law career in the community. He had been a public defender, worked for an agency to secure child support from deadbeat parents, and as a Berkeley County assistant prosecutor. He ran against the county prosecutor “because he saw things he thought he could do better. He did not succeed,” said Maria Lorensen, former managing editor of the Journal.
After the election, the prosecutor told him it might be best for him to move on. He’d later say, “‘Note to self – never run for office against your boss,'” said Mrs. Lorensen, who hired him as a reporter.
“It wasn’t too terribly long before I recognized he was a really good reporter,” she said. “He could certainly pick up things that were going on and some things that might be going on behind the scenes.”
His legal background was an added benefit.
At the newspaper, “he really found his niche,” Mrs. Bieniek said. “He had so much natural talent as a writer. He didn’t realize that until he started writing for the paper.”
In short order, he was made a city editor, acting as the first line of defense and the first pair of eyes on stories by a mostly young reporting staff.
He was smart and quick, and his ability to work under deadline “served him well as a lawyer and then as an editor,” Mrs. Lorensen said.
He accepted the offer to become the Journal’s editorial page editor when the position became open, “which is really where he shone,” Mrs. Lorensen said.
He wrote editorials and a hard-punching, no-holds-barred weekly column.
“He got people so riled up. It was wonderful,” Mrs. Lorensen said. “He seemed to be really happy doing what he did best.
“Matt wasn’t afraid to stick his neck out when people needed to be called on the carpet, whether writing opinion or news,” she said.
In 2010, he was hired by the Cumberland Times-News in Maryland, where during his eight-year stay he was a paginator, copy editor, and a reporter covering county government and general assignments.
“He was very comfortable in Cumberland. He became part of the community and got to know the people there,” Mrs. Bieniek said. He was an art gallery docent. He attended the Unitarian Universalist fellowship.
Because he arrived in Toledo during the coronavirus pandemic, he didn’t get to be part of the community as he’d wanted to be, Mrs. Bieniek said.
“He was interested in religions of all kinds. He was interested in the arts. He loved going to concerts. He loved classical music. There was very little he wasn’t interested in,” she said.
“He was filled with curiosity, something he passed on to both of his sons. He was very kind and thoughtful and an intelligent conversationalist.”
Matthew Edmund Bieniek was born Oct. 29, 1962, in Mineoloa, NY, to Barbara Jean and Matthew T. Bieniek. After his parents divorced, he and his siblings moved with their mother to Wooster, Ohio, where her family lived. Born with a cleft lip and a cleft palate, he received speech therapy from a speech pathologist at the College of Wooster.
“He really worked hard at his speech,” Mrs. Bieniek said. “He was one of the most clear and erudite speakers I knew.”
At Wooster High School, he took part in the debate team and won awards, especially for extemporaneous speaking.
“It took a great deal of bravery,” Mrs. Bieniek said. “It’s not like he was 100 percent brave. He did have self-doubts. He was determined to see it through.”
Encouraged in childhood to read, he found purpose in the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and in John Adams. He concluded, “‘I am going to be a writer like Benjamin Franklin and a lawyer like John Adams,'” Mrs. Bieniek said.
His mother and his maternal grandfather were ardent Democrats, and as a teenager he was active in the Wayne County Democratic Party, winning election as a committeeman.
In 1985, he received a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of Wooster. He was a 1988 graduate of West Virginia University’s college of law.
Surviving are his life partner, Marian Owen Bieniek, to whom he formerly was married; sons John C. Bieniek and Paul B. Bieniek; brother, Mitchell Bieniek and sister, Michele Bieniek.
Memorial services will be held later. Arrangements are by the Weber Funeral Home, Lisbon, Ohio.
Published by The Blade on Oct. 6, 2022.
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