Willis Webb

Willis WebbWillis Webb, newsman for more than a half century, died July 18, 2016, at his home in Lake Charles Louisiana.

began his career in the newspaper industry at age 10 by working as a carrier throwing the Waco Tribune-Herald on a bicycle route in his hometown of Teague from 1947-53 and was distributor/carrier of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Teague from 1953-55.

In 1956 and 1957, he studied journalism at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, served as sports publicity director for Sam Houston State Bearkat Athletics and worked as a stringer for the Huntsville Item and correspondent for The Houston Post, Associated Press, United Press and International News Service.

He returned home for one year as news editor of the Teague Chronicle, then finished his journalism degree in night school at the University of Houston, working days as a copy editor for The Cougar, the student newspaper, and authored a syndicated column, “The Texian Editor’s Frontier News Flashes,” gleaned from Texas newspaper files from the 1860s and 1870s. More than 150 newspapers carried the column.

In 1959 he became an ad sales rep for the Galena Park Reporter and six months later was named general manager. In 1960 he became associate editor of Texas Industry magazine, published by the Texas Manufacturers Association.

Webb worked as editor and then editor/publisher of the Fort Bend Mirror at Rosenberg for six years and spent the next three years as editor/publisher of the Cleveland Advocate. Next stop was Conroe, where he was associate publisher, then editor, then publisher of the Conroe Courier and later the Conroe Daily Courier.

He was editor/publisher of the Lockhart Post-Register from 1982-84 and the Fredericksburg Radio Post from 1984-85. During the next four years he worked for Hartman Newspapers Inc. in several capacities. Webb was editor/publisher of the Fort Bend Business & Legal Review at Stafford and then joined the Houston Digest as an ad sales rep.

In May 1991, he became editor/publisher of The Jasper Newsboy, a Hearst newspaper, and in 1997, Webb became the first weekly publisher to receive the Hearst Corporation’s Eagle Award for outstanding individual accomplishment in journalism.

Basing his career on the belief that a weekly paper offers not only the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a community, but also chance to participate in all aspects of the newspaper industry, Webb has received numerous awards and honors for community service, news writing, editorials, columns, headline writing, photography, advertising design and layout and page design.

In 2005, he, along with his wife Julie, who was contributing editor for The Jasper Newsboy, traveled to Long Beach California, where they received the national Youth Service America Harris Wofford Award for “outstanding service to the youth of Jasper, Texas.” And in 2010, he received the Lifetime Achievement in Print Media Award for alumni of the Sam Houston State University’s Communication Department.

Webb retired from The Newsboy in 2007, but he didn’t retire from newspapers. Currently, he writes a weekly column, carried by 24 Texas newspapers. And, although he and Julie moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana to live closer to their son Weston, Webb remains a Texan at heart.

                                                               – From the Texas Newspaper Foundation website

Read an interview with Willis, as he talks about his friend and mentor, Rigby Owen Sr.

“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. Willis Webb

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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