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Saturday, April 10, 2021

In Market: Talking with Bob Schieffer

Bob Schieffer and Tom Schieffer are getting some well-deserved honors this week, both receiving the Golden Deeds Award from the Exchange Club of Fort Worth. We’ll have more on both of these gentlemen in next week’s issue. Both have contributed significantly to Fort Worth with stellar careers and plenty of community service on their records.

Since I couldn’t connect with Tom Schieffer in time for this week’s issue, I thought I’d share some of my conversation with Bob Schieffer. Next week, I’ll give Bob’s younger brother his due.

First, I’ve got to say that talking to Bob Schieffer is more like talking to an old friend who grew up in my neighborhood on the Southside of Fort Worth. I don’t know how Bob – who has traveled the world, lived and worked in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and New York City for decades – has kept his Fort Worth manners and humor about him. They say he once tried to get rid of some of his Fort Worth ways when he hit the big time at CBS, but it just didn’t happen. Good on him. And it probably helped him in his career as well. Who would turn down an interview with someone as polite, charming and genteel as Bob Schieffer? I’m surprised he hasn’t had a one-on-one with Satan himself. “Now, Beelzebub, that serpent in the Garden trick? If you don’t mind me asking, what was that about?”

A short primer on Bob Schieffer’s career: Raised in Fort Worth, Schieffer attended North Side High School, and Texas Christian University, whose College of Communication bears his name. After graduating from TCU, he served in the Air Force. He then went to work at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before the JFK assassination put him in the spotlight. Before long, he was on the local NBC affiliate and then headed off to CBS News.

The first thing Bob noted in our discussion is that the first person to receive a Golden Deeds award was another media person: one Amon G. Carter, in 1924.

Bob Schieffer: I will tell you, this is the first award I’ve ever shared with Amon Carter. Let me just stop right there.

Bob Francis: Amon’s kind of having a resurgence these days. Who knew 60 years after his death he’d be the subject of a play, and a new book’s come out on him.

Schieffer: I did a blurb on that book, as a matter of fact. It’s pretty good. I mean, the guy was very thorough and did his research. One of the things I’m going to talk about in the speech to the Exchange Club is I would think [Amon] had more impact on Fort Worth than any other single individual. If there’s somebody else that had a greater impact, I don’t know who it is. But he was just a remarkable man, and to be given the award that he was the first recipient of is just kind of mind-boggling to me. I can’t figure out how that happened. I’m very pleased that it did and very honored, but I’m still trying to figure out how I ever got on that list.

Francis: I guess they give the award for being a little bit like Amon Carter in that you represent the city and add value to the culture of the city.

Schieffer: Well, it’s very, very humbling. To share it with my brother makes it an even nicer thing and more meaningful to me. Because, I mean, it’s just an amazing thing when you look at all the things that he did for Fort Worth, and then we get put on there, too. I’m still trying to untangle this. How could this possibly happen? But having said that, I’m glad that it did, and I’m very honored to get this recognition.

And it’s even more meaningful to share it with my brother, because our dad died when Tom was 10. I’m 10 years older than he is. And Tom has always been more like a son than a brother to me, and so I’m just so proud for him.

I know our parents would be very, very pleased, because they devoted their whole lives just to making sure, number one, that we all got a college education. There are three of us, and I think mother [Gladys Payne Schieffer] would’ve hit us with a two-by-four or something if we didn’t go to college and graduate. She was a very strong-minded woman, and she accepted no excuses. She didn’t get to go to college. I was the first one on either side of the family that went to college, and that was her number one goal in life. Not only did all three of us go to college and graduate, both Tom and my sister, Sharon, got graduate degrees, and all of her grandchildren also had college degrees. And I think most of them got a graduate degree, too. She was determined that would happen, and it did.

And so just having something like this happen, I know she would be really proud of us, so I’m just very grateful for that and for her. It really makes me feel good.

Francis: What do you think caused her to put such an emphasis on education when she didn’t have that opportunity?

Schieffer: Well, I mean, that was the reason. I mean, she grew up during the Depression, and at its worst points. Her father was a teamster, and he didn’t have work. At long periods during that part of the time, their only income came from her brother, who had quit school when he was in the third grade and worked in a drugstore. And they managed to overcome that. She grew up in Austin, which is literally in the shadow of the University of Texas Tower, and that university might as well have been in China as far as her being able to go there. She just couldn’t do it. My dad, his family owned a dairy on the outskirts of Austin, and he had to work at the dairy. And so he couldn’t go to college. So she was determined that we would have the opportunity to do that, and she was damn sure going to make sure that we took advantage of it.

Francis: Do you remember any time she was … well, let’s say, maybe you didn’t do as well in school as she thought you should. How did she sort of emphasize that to you?

Schieffer: Through fear. She seldom took no for an answer, and she seldom found any excuse for not doing your best. She had her own way of demonstrating that. And if you survived, that was great. You were duly rewarded, but sometimes survival was in doubt when you crossed her.

If she’d been a horse trainer she would not have been a whisperer, if you understand what I’m saying.

Francis: I’ve read a lot and heard you speak a lot, but how did you, initially, how did you get interested in journalism and writing as a profession?

Schieffer: It’s just what I always wanted to do. I was one of those kids that I wrote a story that was on the front page of the J.P. Elder Junior High School newspaper, where I went to junior high school, and it was the first time I’d ever seen my name in boldface type, the byline. And it just looked so good, I just thought, “Boy, that’s really fun. I want to do that again.” From then on, I decided I wanted to be a reporter. I mean, there wasn’t any television in those days, but I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.

I think I was the sports editor of the high school newspaper, and then I was the editor of the high school yearbook. I always had three interests: baseball and art and wanting to be a reporter. That’s pretty much all I thought about. I never had another ambition.

But that’s what’s kind of interesting about Tom and me, and that is that he has had success in so many different fields. First, he was in the Texas legislature when he was 25 years old, and then he went on to be a lawyer, and then he, just in a serendipitous way, got into the baseball business, and then after that became a diplomat. What’s interesting about it, he was very successful in all of those fields.

I only did one thing. I mean, I was kind of a hedgehog of the family. I knew how to do one thing, and that was to be a reporter. I never had any other job. I have gotten a paycheck for being a reporter, and I never missed a week, since I was a sophomore at TCU, when I got a job working full time the summer of my sophomore year at a little radio station in Fort Worth in the news department there. The pay was $1 an hour. That was my first job in journalism, and I’ve gotten a paycheck every week since for being a reporter in some field, including the three years I was in the Air Force, when I was the editor of the base newspaper at Travis Air Force Base. Then I came back to Fort Worth and went to work at the Star-Telegram and worked there, then went to Vietnam, came back, and Channel 5 offered me a job, which was an NBC station then. And I just started out as the anchor.

I started out doing the 6 p.m. and the 10 p.m. news. And then that led to CBS, so it’s just all I’ve ever done.

Francis: Looking back over your career, one question I had was you seemed to move so easily from radio to print to television, and that seems like that was pretty rare then.

Schieffer: It was, and one reason was television was not nearly as complicated in those days as it is now. But the other reason was, and I really think this is the reason, I just didn’t know any better. I’d been a reporter, and Phil Record at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was the one who taught me how to really be a reporter. He was my editor. I was the night police reporter, and he was the night city editor. And he’d been on the police beat himself for many years. And he really taught me how to write on deadline. He taught me how to figure out what the lead was. He told me how to interview people, which is what great editors did in those days.

And as a result of that, when I came back from Vietnam and Channel 5 offered me a job I thought, “Why, I could do this.” I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about it, but somehow or another I managed to figure it out on the job and kind of went from there.

That’s the part that I really worry about now, about journalism. I mean, there are a lot of things to be worried about, but so many of these kids now are going to work in jobs in journalism where they don’t have strong editors. They basically have to learn on the job and learn it themselves. I mean, they don’t have that strong editor that says, “Look, here’s a better way to do this.” Because they’re going to work at places that don’t … a lot of them don’t have any editors, or the stuff is just lightly edited because the publication can’t afford to pay people.

Francis: What do you see has changed about Fort Worth, good or bad, since you grew up here?

Schieffer: Somebody told me the other day it was on the verge of becoming the 12th largest city in the country, which is an unbelievable thing to kind of absorb. I think Fort Worth is thriving right now.

I tell you, one thing that’s a little bit different, Fort Worth is now working with Dallas on a variety of projects. For a long, long time, and you know as well as I do, back in Amon Carter’s day, he always took his lunch when he went to Dallas because he wanted everybody to know he wouldn’t eat in a restaurant there.

Which is true. We always tell that as kind of a joke or something, but the fact is that was true. Now, I know that you’ve got basically a Republican mayor in Fort Worth and a Democratic mayor in Dallas, and they work together. They work on trade missions. They do other substantive things together. Of course the two cities did come together and build the airport out there, which was the first time they’d ever done anything. And I think there really is a new spirit, as far as that goes, and a new bond between the two cities. And I think that’s very, very good.

Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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