Another shining light in our city’s history of journalism, advertising and public relations is gone from our media galaxy but he will always occupy an honored place among the brightest stars of Fort Worth writers.
Jerre R. Todd, one of the last links to the famous gang of sports writers who wrote for the Fort Worth Press under the legendary sports editor Blackie Sherrod, passed away Nov. 15 at age 87.
His death followed by only eight months the loss of one of his best friends, fellow writer Dan Jenkins.
Aside from their prodigious writing talents, both men had a gift for subtly pinpointing the humor in the absurd – and for understanding the need to avoid taking themselves – or us – too seriously. They could always make you smile and laugh out loud. Their insightful wit never failed to leave you laughing – and thinking.
Todd’s talents and expansive sense of humor are legendary. He wrote witty songs for his colleagues at the Press. He also wrote hilarious fictitious news stories, some of which found their way into print at the paper before Sherrod could pull them from the next edition.
In a 1975 Texas Monthly profile of Blackie Sherrod written by famous playwright Larry L. King, Sherrod recalled one incident:
“Jerre Todd, the good crazy bastard, he’d do anything a monkey could. You had to watch him. The best sports writing in America was wild stuff he’d write and post on the bulletin board. Back during the Fifties when Red Grange was on TV as a football color man, Red used the worst grammar in the Kingdom, ‘Ohio State they’ and ‘The Buckeyes it,’ and so on. When Grange’s old college coach died – Bob Zuppke, I think it was – I was turning through the Press after the first edition rolled and came on this suspicious dateline from Florida quoting Red Grange as saying, ‘It are a great personal loss.’ Well, shit, I howled and slapped my leg and hated like the devil to make Jerre remove his priceless little invention before the second edition. But, of course, I had to.”
King described Todd as “another of Blackie’s wild and literally hungry crew” and said Blackie considered Jerre “the big one that got away.”
“He might have been better than any of us if a living wage hadn’t been so dad-gummed important to him,” Sherrod told King.
There is little doubt that Todd would have joined his Press colleagues as one of our finest journalists and writers had he stayed in the fold rather than venturing into public relations.
Even his arrival in the newspaper business was unforgettable and hilarious, as Dan Jenkins recalled in his semi-memoir, His Ownself, painting the wonderfully spirited scene when Todd showed up at the Fort Worth Press to interview with Sherrod for a job as the paper’s baseball writer.
Jenkins and Bud Shrake had told Sherrod he needed to meet Todd. “Bring him around,” Blackie said.
“A week later we ushered Jerre up the stairs to the editorial floor,” Jenkins wrote. “Todd looked the newsroom over. ‘Which one is he?’ he asked. We pointed to Blackie in the sports department. Todd trotted across the city room, picked up speed, and did a hook slide into Blackie’s feet.
“Looking down at Todd, Blackie said: ‘You’re hired.’”
Todd had a habit of applying funny but fitting nicknames to those he met. When the Fort Worth Star-Telegram assigned its newly created rodeo and equine beat to Paducah, Texas, native Brett Hoffman, Todd dubbed him “The Duke of Paducah.”
“The Duke” still carries the name with him today and had the pleasure to visit and reminisce with Todd in the last days of his life.
At the public relations firm Jerre started after leaving the Press, colleagues turned the tables, calling their self-effacing boss “Chiefie.”
Todd represented the best of what most in the media like to call – sometimes dismissively – “PR.” If you wanted to put your best foot forward with the public and the media, Todd was the person you hired.
“He had a gift when meeting with you to make you feel as if you were the only person in the room, the only one who mattered,” says a former sports editor who knew him.
Here’s an excerpt from the obituary published in the Star-Telegram:
“Jerre never met a stranger. His charisma and wit were his trademark calling cards. His Super Bowl, July 4th and holiday office parties were legendary. In 1965, he founded his advertising and public relations agency, Jerre R. Todd & Associates. Mr. Todd and his agency embodied the spirit of true advertising “Madmen” culture well before the TV lore. “Chiefie” loved his work, and he built his agency into one of the best in Fort Worth. He was a masterful presenter and persuader. For 40 years, as the tournament’s public relations leader, he played a major role in helping the Colonial golf tournament to become known around the world. He also led the National Cutting Horse Association to introduce the sport internationally. Among others he represented … the Cotton Bowl, Six Flags, TCU Frog Club, Continental National Bank, the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau, Miss Texas Pageant, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and he was the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus’ go-to publicist in DFW for years.”
Personally, all of Jerre’s skills and talents notwithstanding, I always felt as though his best asset was his beautiful, intelligent and equally charming wife, Melba. To call the couple a debonair pair is not overstated.
Melba survives him, along with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
We can only imagine that on Nov. 15, somewhere in the galaxy of the great beyond, Todd joined Jenkins, Shrake and Sherrod with a heavenly hook slide, landing at their feet amid uproarious laughter.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org