Richard Connor: Dear John – this is goodbye but not good riddance; you will be missed

🕐 5 min read

This reminds me of what used to be referred to as a “Dear John” letter – usually a not-so-fond message from a girlfriend about to become former to her boyfriend.

A friend of mine received one once and I thought it should have been included as an example in the best book ever written about concise and good writing, “The Elements of Style.”

Her letter read: “Dear John, need I say more?”

Just like that, it was over.

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This is a goodbye letter, too, but not so concise and not to a romantic partner but to a friend and business associate who left the scene sadly and suddenly, giving us no opportunity for a proper farewell:

Dear John,

We met when I was 39 years old and had just arrived in Fort Worth as publisher of the Star-Telegram, a Yankee with a beard and an attitude. You were suspicious.

“Don’t even think about writing bad things about Tandy, Radio Shack, and TCU,” you said, stretching out, oh so slowly, each vowel in your West Texas twang, which you never lost.

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You were kidding but not really.

I’d like to say I had a sharp and witty retort, but I did not.

I respected your job, your accomplishments, and your loyalty. That never changed despite some of your frequent criticisms of the Star-Telegram.

I respected your hard work, your old-time work ethic. Your blunt, outspoken honesty.

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You were in the office on Saturdays.

Folks around here don’t like the phrase “West 7th Street Gang,” which harkens back to the best Fort Worth businessman and civic leader ever, Amon G. Carter Sr., and his friends who ran Fort Worth from the Fort Worth Club. But it still existed until Sunday.

The modern day “gang” was run by Dee J. Kelly, John Justin and you – John Roach. You ran the city all the way through the 1980s and most of the ’90s and into the year 2000. Along the way the group would bring in whoever else had a key job in Fort Worth: publisher of the Star-Telegram, head of Burlington Northern, Burlington Santa Fe, Pier One. Those jobs had people who were mainly just passing through as they climbed a corporate ladder, although the late Marvin Girouard was with Pier One for a long time before becoming CEO. You never so much as needed their real input. You boys wanted their money.

You and Dee and the other John, Justin, called the shots with that group. The late Mayor Bob Bolen was a sidekick in the efforts.

John, you are the last to leave, and the city should be in mourning because you kept at it even after you retired. You never quit trying to make things better.

RadioShack never quite found its niche after some glory days but who am I to criticize? I have spent 53 years in the newspaper busines, which is now all but extinct.

The folks here should know you were a visionary at the forefront of the personal computer era with the TRS 80 and you helped invent “Incredible Universe,” a store where you found what you wanted to buy, hit some code somewhere, and presto! – it was delivered to your door. Meanwhile, at the store, there was live entertainment. Ahead of your time.

TCU’s overtime loss to Arizona in the NCAA Tournament was heartbreaking but you must have been smiling about the Horned Frogs’ emergence as a college basketball power, playing their way into the post-season frenzy known as March Madness. Long ago, you told me about your idea that basketball could become a key sport for TCU because you could put together a championship caliber team with maybe eight excellent players instead of the 30 or more needed for football. You imagined an arena in Fort Worth where TCU could play. Well, Fort Worth now has a world-class venue called Dickies Arena and your Frogs have played there.

A businessman with a math/science mind, you were juggling the numbers in your head about how to be most financially efficient in college sports. You led the TCU Board in the 1990s and I was on it. I was astounded to learn that TCU never even put a shovel in the ground for a new building until it was paid for in its entirety. You were part of the legacy of growth and strict financial controls with your close friend Dr. William H. Tucker.

The journalist in me must admit you could be contentious and grumpy, but so can I.

You often complained about the media but when I needed to raise local money and investors for the Fort Worth Business Press you were there while others kept their hands in their pockets. They are still doing it. On your first investment we bought your stock back quickly at a gain. Years later you invested again and so did your trusted assistant Lou Ann Blalock, who invested alongside the boss. Her allegiance to you at RadioShack and then after you left says volumes about loyalty and trust, about both of you.

Both of you got out of the Business Press investment the second time with a small return.

Finally, your real talent was marrying Jean Roach. She softened the edges, made friends easily and quickly. She was a friend immediately to anyone who met you, your greatest fan and cheerleader. Smart, too.

We were sort of neighbors for a while. Lived in the same neighborhood. Once when I was headed out of town, I mentioned it to Jean.

“Is there something I can do? she asked. “Can I watch your house, feed the dogs, or anything else?”

Wife of the chairman of Tandy/RadioShack.

No telling where your career and life would have gone without her and your two wonderful daughters.

You did a great job, John, and in your no-nonsense way right now you would say to all of us: “Well, that’s life. Now get on with it. Who’s going to take over?”

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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