Fondly Remembering Jim Chionsini

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I met Jim Chionsini in late June 1982 when I drove from Austin to San Augustine to interview for the job of managing editor of the weekly San Augustine Rambler. He had bought the paper from Sam Malone the year before. Sam still ran a print shop in the same building. I was working for the Texas Air Control Board as a photographer and hating it.

We met at Fairway Farm, a legendary golf course a few miles out of town. In the 1950s, Fairway Farm was ranked one of the top courses in the country. It closed in the early 1990s and has reverted back to pine trees and hay meadows. Jim was playing in the annual summer tournament, which brought in folks from all over the country.

Jim and I exchanged pleasantries. He was acquiring small newspapers in Deep East Texas (he lived in nearby Center at the time) and Arkansas. He asked why in the world I wanted to move to San Augustine. I explained the TACB job was driving me mad, and I wanted to help run a small weekly, learn the ropes. I was 26. I was hired, and we moved there a few weeks later. As managing editor, I managed exactly one person — me. I was the entire newsroom. But soon the publisher was promoted, and I took on that role as well. Eventually, Jim sold that company. I bought The Rambler after several months from the new owners and ran it a total of five years.

I would end up running newspapers for Jim four times — San Augustine, Fort Stockton, Cedar Park and Mount Pleasant. Ironically, we got along better the years I didn’t work for him. My favorite memories are the years in the 1990s when he paid me to redesign newspapers he had acquired — in Taylor, Boerne, Bandera and elsewhere. By then I had begun what became a two-decade career working for Cox Newspapers.

Jim died on July 21 at 74. A big party is planned at his ranch outside San Angelo when this pandemic ends. I’m looking forward to it and being able to pay respects to his wife, Macy, in person. For now, here are a few memories of this man who had a lot to do with whatever success I had in the newspaper business.          

Jim was proud of his Italian heritage and had a pile of what he termed “Old Italian Sayings,” such as:

  • The best BS is the truth.
  • Plan your work, then work your plan.

He loved to gamble and would make bets on just about anything. Beginning in the 1980s, we had a quadrennial cheeseburger bet on the outcome of the presidential election. I would pick the Democrat, Jim taking the Republican. As we got older, we still called it a cheeseburger bet but would actually pay off with something healthier. I think I still owe him for the last bet. He’ll have to collect on a different plane.

I started playing golf not long before moving to San Augustine. Jim was an excellent golfer while I rarely broke 90. No matter how many strokes per hole he gave me, I would lose. One day at Crown Colony in Lufkin, clearly bored with taking the modest sums of money from me with no effort, he said, “Let me use your clubs.” I’m left-handed. Jim was right-handed. We made a new bet, which he won handily. It turns out as a teenager growing up in LaMarque, he used to win bets against adults using this trick. He’s the only person I have known who could golf both right-handed and left-handed.

That’s about the time I concluded it was time to find another pastime besides golf.

Jim had a ready, crooked smile, was generous to a fault, hosting Wounded Warriors at his ranch, where they could hunt, and many other acts of generosity. He had four grown children and 10 grandchildren on whom he doted. Two of his children are also in the newspaper business. He raised cattle, was fond of Scotch and loyal to his friends. We fell out about five years ago — why isn’t important — but reconciled some months later, both agreeing we had spent too many years together to be permanently on the outs. I am grateful we did so. We last saw each other early last year, when he was thinking about buying a newspaper I had listed, when still a newspaper broker.

Last week, several dozen of his friends and colleagues raised glasses to him at a virtual happy hour. I listened to their stories but stayed quiet.

These are some of my stories. So long, Jim. It was a heckuva ride.

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