Remembering a Mentor, Boss and Occasional Terror

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We gathered in a downtown Tyler watering hole after Bill Martin’s funeral to toast the man who was a mentor, boss and occasional terror to the dozen or so newspaper folks around the table. Martin died last week at 80 from congestive heart failure. Others more eloquent than me have written tributes, including Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor of the Austin American-Statesman. (mystatesman.com) Arnold started out as a reporter for Martin at the San Angelo Standard-Times. You should read his piece; here is my contribution.

I first met Bill when he became publisher of the Lufkin Daily News in 1989. I had joined the staff as editorial page editor barely six weeks earlier. Bill arrived at the office promptly at 8 a.m., left at exactly 5 p.m., walked into every department each day, whistling before arriving to announce his arrival. That’s why Bill whistled, according to Glenn McCutchen, whom Bill tasked before his death with both delivering his eulogy and writing his obituary. Glenn (who followed Bill as publisher in both Lufkin and Longview) noted in his fine tribute that Bill was a publisher to the end, taking care of all the myriad details.

Bill had been brought in to financially turn things around at the Lufkin paper, to make whatever changes he deemed necessary. From my relatively insignificant spot it seemed as if he hardly broke a sweat in that demanding role. Then, a few months later, major changes were indeed made. Some longtime department heads left; new managers were hired. Soon the paper was on a stronger financial footing.


Like many of us, Bill began his career in the newsroom, and he never lost that zeal for a good story. He cared deeply about what went into the newspaper. I found that out the hard way when one day I was absolutely stuck for an idea for an editorial. Finally, out of desperation I knocked out 350 lame words about Castro and Cuba. The paper was an afternoon publication at the time, meaning it went to press not long after lunch. By mid-afternoon Bill had called me to his office.

He was always thin, with a fair complexion that heated up the angrier he got. I watched in fear and trepidation as the color rose from his neck northward. He asked me, in effect, “How many people reading The Lufkin Daily News give an (several expletives deleted) about Castro and that (a few more expletives deleted) excuse of an editorial you wrote today?”

I allowed as how the number was probably somewhere south of zero. He essentially said, if you don’t care about what you are writing, then don’t expect that our readers will either. I knew that already, but Bill sure had a way of reinforcing the lesson.

Bill inspired great loyalty from his employees, because next to the newspaper he cared most about his staff. Here is a story told at the watering hole from when Bill was at San Angelo four decades ago. A young woman reporter was assigned to do a feature story on a man who collected Civil War weapons. She was in the newsroom talking to the collector on the phone. He informed her that he wanted the paper to assign the story to a man, that a woman shouldn’t be doing a story about his Civil War weapons. At that moment Bill, who was managing editor, walked by the reporter’s desk. She told him what the man had said. Bill grabbed the phone and said, “This is Bill Martin, the managing editor. Either you talk to her, or you don’t talk to anybody.” Then he slammed the phone down. The woman, four decades later, still remembers how Bill stood up for her.


We sat in the watering hole for an hour or so, telling stories from our days working together at different newspapers over the past quarter-century. The newspaper universe has changed since we were young, not a lot of it for the better — especially the past five years or so. Of those gathered, only one still actually works for a newspaper. Most are retired. The fellow who still toils as a newspaper publisher is a longtime friend. Bill Martin brought him to Texas not long after coming to Lufkin. My friend and I sat together, and he asked me what I was going to tell my journalism students about the future of newspapers this fall, when I begin teaching at Kilgore College.

It was a tough question, and I didn’t have a great answer. Who does? I wish I could ask Bill the same question. Instead, we all just raised a glass to a departed friend and mentor.

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