Willis Webb reflects on Rigby Owen Sr.

Willis Webb, right, and Rigby Owen Jr.

Willis Webb, right, and Rigby Owen Jr.

Pop Owen, Sr. was a second father to me and certainly my mentor.  The first 10 of the 13 years I was in the news business I learned everything that was beneficial to my career from the Owen family.  And I was blessed to be able to call Pop “Pop” because he was a second father and my mentor.  And he taught me, he had ways of very succinctly teaching you what he thought was the proper way to do things and it turned out to me that that was.


Listen to Willis Webb talk about Rigby “Pop” Owen:

One of the best things he ever told me was Will if you do your job in the community as a newspaper publisher, the bottom line will take care of itself.  And I never found that to be wrong. He, I think last evening when we inducted Pop into the Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame, I related the story of my first meeting with him I was a student at the University of Houston and was going to sell advertising at a paper he owned, he and a professor.  And four advertising students walked into the newspaper office and Pops happened to be down there in Galena Park from Conroe.  And we walked into the advertising office and there was one desk and one chair and one of the wise young men said where are our desks and chairs?  And Pops said you don’t need desks and chairs, you’re gonna be out on the streets selling advertising.

I didn’t know if I really wanted to know Pop at that point because that was kinda scary.  But I found him to be one of the most gracious people I’ve ever known. I never heard him raise his voice and I never heard him really be critical of anybody.  But he always, I mean you talk about a backbone, this man had a backbone and he stood for what was right every time and went through a lot of very difficult things as have related by Rigby, Junior.

A lot of threats, a lot of things that could have ended his business perhaps but he never let that stop him from doing what was right for the community.  He said if you help the little guy you can’t go wrong.  And he became a big guy, but he became a big guy because he did the right thing and he always helped the little people.  He said you just, you have to consider when you’re doing something at the paper, particularly if you’re taking a stance you have to figure out is this gonna be the best thing for the most people?  You judge any issue that way.  And I thought that was wonderful advice and I’ve tried always to remember that and even to expand on.

Pop taught me a lot of things about sales and marketing.  He came up through the circulation side and Pop kinda came up with the Little Merchant plan way back in the 30s in Oklahoma where he’d hired young kids to sell the paper and made them little merchants or independent contractors and he actually got put into the Hall of Fame in Oklahoma that had to do with youth work because of what he did in the Little Merchant Program.  And that’s just the kind of man he always was. And he was a beacon in my life because of all these things he taught me and all the things he stood for.

And I, in the induction ceremony I mentioned that I used to watch him mess with his pipe while he was talking to me and he took his time telling me things but part of that was I think he cleaned that pipe, which is necessary if you smoke a pipe, but also it was a way for him to sit and think a little bit as he’s relating something to you so therefore he was very deliberate, very slow in explaining things to you but he was thinking it out very carefully.  He’d just, everything with him was very well thought out and very well presented and you didn’t doubt it.  When he told it to you he knew what he was talking about and he put a lot of thought in what he was saying to you. Those are wonderful lessons that never left me and watching the courage that he always had and he imparted to his sons and to me to stand up for what was right for a community.  To me when I started out in this business I wanted to be the greatest sports writer in the world.  I wanted to be the next Grantland Rice who was the very first super star sports reporter, writer, in the nation.  But Pop Owen saw that I got printer’s ink injected into my blood in such a way that community journalism was the only way to go and I’m so grateful for that. It’s been a blessing in my life to be able to do something I enjoy so much because I learned how to enjoy it from Rigby Owen, Sr., Pop, and from both his sons.  They’re family and that happened through that kind of relationship in journalism.

Editor’s note: During his 50-plus-year career, Texas Press Association’s 126th president Willis Webb has been a syndicated columnist, a managing editor, advertising director, newspaper consultant and an award-winning editor-publisher at several locations. In 1997 Willis Webb became the first weekly publisher to receive the Hearst Corporation’s Eagle Award and in 2002 he received TPA’s Golden 50 Award.

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