Against a backdrop of Saturday golfers trudging past the windows at Dallas’ Brook Hollow Country Club, a group of intimate friends gathered last weekend to celebrate their memories of William Forrest (Blackie) Sherrod, who undeniably was the greatest sportswriter in the history of Texas. If not the US. He passed away last month at the age of 96.
Hosted by the Dallas Morning News, the reception/luncheon included a Who’s Who of the sports and media worlds, such as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and football quarterback great Troy Aikman. Newsmen and broadcasters came from far and near to pay tribute.
Wife Joyce Sherrod set the celebratory tone for the day by decreeing an open mike program. A stream of friends and former associates regaled the crowd with tales of his natural wit and Runyonesque writing style. One speaker recalled the young reporter who was so nervous about an appointment with Sherrod, that he fell headfirst in front of him. Sherrod peered over his desk and quipped “how long have you been in the ballet?”
Although best remembered as a superstar at the News from 1985 to retirement at 2003, he earlier gained growing recognition as a must-read writer for Fort Worth Press and the Dallas Times-Herald. He became a tug-of-war prize between the News and Herald in their battle for survival in the 80s. News Editor Burl Osborne lured a reluctant Sherrod across downtown Dallas in 1985. He had resisted for years out of loyalty to the Herald.
It was noteworthy that the open mike participants included former colleagues from all three newspapers. As the first sportwriter to work for Blackie at the Press, I joined famed sports novelist Dan Jenkins and retired PR man Jerre Todd to speak from our Fort Worth Press table. The event was organized by News sports columnist Kevin Sherrington and former DMN editor Bob Mong.
How important was Blackie Sherrod to the Dallas Morning News during its survival battle with the Times-Herald? One of the DMN executives disclosed that its circulation spiked by the tens of thousands of readers after his arrival.
April 29, 2016
Today’s Dallas Morning News featured a giant front page picture of Blackie Sherrod, arguably the best sports writer in Texas history. He died yesterday (4/28/16) in Dallas at the age of 96. The word “legendary”, so often too loosely applied, was truly created for him. His journalist mastery of wit and wisdom won him every state and national award in the land . His columns in the Fort Worth Press, Dallas Times- Herald and Dallas Morning news over a half century were must reads for legions of fans who prized fine writing.
I was privileged to work for Blackie as a cub reporter at the Fort Worth Press 71 years ago before leaving to found a tiny public relations firm. That period of working alongside him and such future greats as Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake, Jerre Todd and Gary Cartwright was almost spiritual in its creative energy. We really were oblivious to the collective journalism talents.
Blackie went on to the Dallas Times-Herald where he developed a cult of followers so powerful that he became the prize of a bidding war for his talents between the Herald and the Dallas News.
The News finally won in 1985, and remained his adoring home until his retirement in 2003. Always an introvert despite his journalistic brilliance, Blackie declined any retirement party that the News sought to schedule..
Most fans were not aware that Blackie also was a talented visual artist. Over the years, he painted scores of often sardonic pieces in his home. Many of them had an American Indian theme, reflecting his own part Indian heritage. About three years ago, I joined other friends to work with Blackie’s wife Joyce to help stage an auction of his works at the Meadows Museum at SMU with proceeds going for journalism scholarships. My favorite painting depicts Pilgrims meeting native Indians at Plymouth Rock, bearing gifts to demonstrate their friendliness. Members of the Pilgrim delegation are pictured with extremely long noses.
Ever modest, Blackie would cringe at the front page spread on his passing in today’s News. He would have wanted the story to be farther back in the paper. He will remain a joyful memory for two generations of friends and admirers.
April 18, 2016
Arts patrons in Fort Worth may not appreciate the New York Times weekend description of the city’s Hotel Texas suite where President John F. Kennedy and first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy spent their last night before his assassination.
In the Sunday edition (April 17), critic David Allen described the challenges faced by
composer David Little and librettist Royce Vavrek in staging their new opera.,
‘JFK’, opening this weekend at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall. For one, Allen described them as saying, was that “they (the Kennedys) spent most of their time in the bland Suite 850 of the hotel, sleeping.” That was not great material for their effort.
But that brief reference to their stay overlooked an interesting back story that became a highlight of the 1963 50th Anniversary observance of the tragedy.. As I wrote in my book (JFK’s Final Hours in Texas), the Kennedys were supposed to be in the grand Will Rogers Suite. But the Secret Service vetoed that plan for security reasons, assigning that space to Vice President and Lady Bird Johnson instead.
The suite selected for the Kennedys was indeed drab until horrified leaders of the city’s arts community heard that news. Then, with leadership of Ruth Carter Johnson, daughter of legendary Star-Telegram publisher Amon G. Carter, art patrons quickly rounded up more than a dozen widely-scattered pieces of world class art and sculpture and re-decorated the suite. And when the first couple arrived that fateful evening, they were greeted by a dazzling mini-museum. The couple were so impressed that the President telephoned Mrs. Johnson at home the next morning to thank her.
Fifty years later, Amon Carter Museum Director Dr. Andrew Walker and Dallas Museum of Art curator Olivier Meslay teamed up to reassemble most of the pieces for exhibitions at the two museums during the 2013 50th Anniversary observance.
February 28, 2016
During last Sunday’s Meet the Press, just after Jeb Bush withdrew from the Republican Presidential Primary, one of the panelists referred to Bush as “the John Connally of the 2016 campaign”. He meant that both had raised more money than their opponents, and were establishment favorites. (Connally raised some $12 million–a remarkable sum for 1980, and Bush had a whopping $100 million-plus war chest. But both had met the same fate of a crushing defeat at the ballot box in South Carolina, resulting in their withdrawals there.
Politico pointed out that in his unexpected defeat, Bush was not in bad company in joining “a small but distinguished club of illustrious political losers: those who could have won the presidency, should have won the presidency, but did not.” The list included Thomas Dewey, 1948′; Henry Clay, 1844; William Seward, 1860, and John Connally, 1980.
As part of Governor Connally’s team, I remember all too well his dark day of defeat in South Carolina. We had gone into the state with high expectations. Governor Jim Edwards and longtime U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond both were strong and active. supporters. But Ronald Reagan proved to be too much to overcome. He won decisively; we won only one delegate.
The day after remains vivid. The melancholy was deepened by the cold gray weather. Sheets of snow and ice had blanketed Columbia, the capital, for several days. As soon as we were ale to take off and fly back to Texas headquarters in Houston, Connally said, “Well, we need to call Haley (Barbour, his southern states director) and pull the plug.” He was talking about discontinuing further effort in those states facing primaries the weekend ahead.
There is one notable difference is comparing Jeb’s unexpected demise with that of Connally. The Governor’s campaign spent all of the $12 million–and more, leaving a sizable debt, later retired with the help of a fundraising letter from President Reagan. It is good bet that Jeb’s campaign still has some money left from his $100 million that will not be needed for any other state.
December 24, 2015
The passing of famed trial lawyer and University of Texas benefactor Joe Jamail this week brought back memory of a personal experience when he used his notable power or persuasion with me on behalf of his longtime friend Coach Darrell Royal.
My PR firm produced Coach Royal’s weekly television shows over several of the golden years. In 1969, as the Longhorns won the national championship,, we sold and produced a one hour statewide TV special, titled “We’re Number One!’
When we sat down to review the financial settlement on the show, Coach Royal had one memory of our agreement on our respective shares of the income while I had another. Predictably, disagreement ensured.
Shortly afterward, I heard from my personal attorney Howard Rose with a terse message.
“Joe Jamail just called and said you need to re-remember your deal with Darrell.”
The inference was clear. And the prospect of a date at the courthouse with one of the most feared lawyers in the country was not appealing.
So upon further search of my memory, I concluded that indeed Darrell had a better one, and he was right .
Coach Royal and I become the best of friends and remained so until his death. And my firm Read-Poland later was retained to do publicity for Joe Jamail’s book.
November 20, 2015
Yesterday’s Dallas News reported that Vice President Joe Biden supports the latest effort to bring high speed rail service between Dallas and Houston being pursued by Texas Central Partners. The same edition contained the age old story of Texas rural landowners opposed to the project.
So what’s new? I personally have seen this movie before. Former Texas Lt. Governor Ben Barnes headed up a more ambitious effort to bring such service to four Texas cities back in 1989 in conjunction with a French railway giant Like the Dallas venture, it was to be privately financed. Dubbed the TGV Supertrain, it would also include Austin and San Antonio in the system along with Dallas and Houston, thus covering a much wider swath of right-of-way. Predictably, aroused landowners rose up in anger over the invasion of their property. That opposition was aided and abetted by Southwest Airlines, which feared the coming competition. The anti forces played effectively on concerns of rural residents along the routes as they raised the spector of all sorts of dark consquences from the insidious trains. One narrative warned that milk cows along the routes would be so alarmed that they would stop giving milk.
I had a ringside seat in that battle. Our public relations firm, Read-Poland Associates, handled communications for the project, working under San Antonio business executive Glenn Biggs, who took over as CEO in 1991. We had our hands full responding to a stream of misrepresentation and unfounded claims of the opposition. I personally became involved in combating the milk cows scare. I travelled to France and rode a TGV train through a picturesque rural area south on Paris to check out claims of their distress. I returned with photographs of herds of cows serenely munching grass only yards from the speeding train, without even tuning their heads.
As part of our effort to overcome opposition, we staged 35 community meetings along the routes to correct misinformation and answer questions about the project. Regretfully, fears stoked by the opposition prevailed, The death knell came when primary finance partner Morrison Knudsen pulled the funding plug in the face of a looming payment milestone required by the Texas High Speed Rail Authority. Thus Texas lost the opportunity of a lifetime to have a transportation alternative to today’s jammed and treacherous highways. The enormity of that loss can be illustrated by looking at the estimated cost of that visionary effort compared to that of today’s new more modest plan. The projected cost of the 1990s Supertrain system–serving Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin totaled $5 billion dollars. By contrast, backers of the proposed new high speed rail project a cost estimate of $10 billion for a Dallas-Houston line alone. Even my dear friend and earlier client Herb Kelleher, retired honcho at Southwest, is said to now regret that Texas missed the boat 15 years ago.
But good luck Texas Central Partners! And look out for those cows and their owners…
August 6, 2015
Watching the current scene of Fox Network’s hocho Roger Ailes orchestrating the largest gathering of presidential hopefuls in the nation’s political history once again renews fond memories of our working together in another era. None is more vivid than one experience that we still laugh about.
Back in 1980, many years before he became today’s media tycoon, Roger already was a respected film producer with an office on Central Park South in New York. And I was director of communications for former Texas Governor John Connally’s unsuccessful campaign for President. We teamed up to create all of his television spots and programs. .
Almost a decade later–in 1979. I heard from Roger with an invitation to join him in work on a Wyoming U.S. Senate campaign for an oil company executive named Bigfoot Binford. Binford was a big rambunctious fellow not lacking in confidence. He reminded of the political figure once described by Texas Congressman Jake Pickle: “sometimes wrong, but never in doubt”.
The campaign was not going well. Our opponent was a fellow named Alan Simpson, whose name would become familiar as he went on to become a giant in the U.S. Senate. With the dour results of a new poll in hand, Roger and I traveled to Wyoming to give Binford the bad news. After Roger spelled it out, Binford was not happy. More importantly, he was not surrendering. We hashed the poll over and over but the facts did not change. Binford was undaunted. “Give me some of that graph paper” he snarled. “I’ll do my own damn poll!.”
August 6. 2015
When a young Glenn Biggs signed on as an administrative assistant to then Texas Speaker of the House Ben Barnes in 1966, no one could guess that their union could help lead to the realization of today’s Guadalupe Mountain National Park.
Barnes reflected on that after he and I attended Biggs’ funeral in San Antonio last week. “He used to bug me almost every day to help him acquire a 78,000 acre ranch owned by a West Texas oil man, to become a national park”, he said. ” I realized later that it was the reason he joined my staff”. Barnes did help and the Guadalupe, which features Texas’ highest mountain, became a national treasure. It was only one example of Biggs’ numerous business and community leadership roles that were enumerated by former Valero Energy CEO Bill Greehey at the memorial service. He recounted how as a director of Diamond Shamrock, Biggs helped persuade that company to merge with Valero rather than sell to an out-of-town owner almost certain to move it away from San Antonio.”That saved countless local jobs,” Greehey said. He also noted that Biggs was so passionate about supporting the city’s Texas Health Science Center that Greehey donated $25 million on behalf of Valero to the cause.
As a long time personal friend and business associate,
I had the privilege to work with Biggs as he served in leadership roles for several important local and statewide institutions and projects. They included City Public Service of San Antonio and the South Texas Nuclear Project. I also worked with him as he led a visionary project to bring high speed rail to Texas for a cost of only $5 billion at that time. Years later, as ever-increasing congestion threatens the future of the state, it remains a tragedy that his dream fell to shortsighted opposition.
Beyond his leadership roles, those of us attending the service at San Antonio’s First Baptist Church heard touching witness for his dedication to faith, family and friends. He was a giant yet gentle man, both in body and spirit. We do not get many like Glenn Biggs. He will be missed…a lot.
May 16, 2015
A throng for former congressional colleagues, North Texas elected officials, personal friends and ordinary citizens turned out at Fort Worth’s First Methodist Church last week to pay final tribute to former U.S. Speaker of the House Jim Wright. He had passed away a few days earlier at the age of 92.
Telling him goodbye was very personal with me, because our relationship goes back more than 60 years. I handled advertising and public relations for his very first congressional campaign in 1954. It was an upset victory that would lead to a 34- year career in Congress during which he became one of the giants in national leadership. At the same time, it was the first major political campaign win of my fledgling career, which would lead to scores of other campaigns from the Courthouse to the White House.
Wright was a voice for the common man. In his original campaign when he opposed a three term encumbent backed by the Fort Worth power structure, he promised to be “a Congressman for all the people.” In a highlight of that theme, he wrote a famed full page ad attacking powerful newspaper publisher Amon G. Carter and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for failure to publish his views while endorsing his foe. (More about that story another time) Yet following his victory, he worked tirelessly with community leadership to support important projects. Those included defense contracts, the Wright Amendment that helped enable D-FW Airport to become one of the most powerful economic engines in the world , and the V-22 Osprey, a revolutionary vertical takeoff aircraft that would become a valued asset of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Speaker would take special pride in witnessing the V-22’s role in the recent daring U.S. raid that killed a top terrorist leader.
Speaker Wright’s effectiveness was underscored only a few years after his first election when Amon Carter, Jr, son of publisher Carter, became finance chairman for his reelection campaign.
I was blessed in enjoying s reunion of sorts with Jim Wright less than two years ago. In preparation for the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, a West Coast film producer contacted me for help on a documentary to air on that milestone in 2013. At his request, I helped organize a re-creation of a single table of 12 attendees of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast where President John F. Kennedy last spoke in 1963. Jim Wright was one of the first I called since he was a key organizer of the event. Although now frail, he graciously attended and relived a time forever engraved in our memories.
May 18, 2o15
August 23, 2013
With the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy approaching this November, I have written a small book recounting my personal experiences as an eye witness to that tragedy. As a representative of Texas Governor John Connally to the national media for the trip to Texas, I was in the ill-fated Dallas motorcade. I vividly remember hearing the three shots only a few hundred feet away that changed the course of history.
I write about that unreal moment, the scene of panic on Dealey Plaza, and the shock of thousands awaiting the president for the lunceon that never happened while John Kennedy was dying at Parkland Hospital barely a mlle away. I go on to trace the long journey from angish and shame for Dallas and Texas to reconciliation and long-delayed honor for the president being manifested for the 50th Annivesary.
The book is scheduled for delivery around October 1, and will be available in both print and ebook format. It has just gone up on Amazon for advance sale. i will report on it in more detail pror to that date.