“Yo, Rich, my man…”
And so those emails would begin from Dan Jenkins to me. More often than not it was to chide me about a column I had written or an opinion piece from either me or others in our paper that showed a politically liberal bias.
I cherished those emails, signed DJ, which will come no more.
Fort Worth and the world lost a legend Thursday night when Dan Jenkins died at 90 in the city he loved. His health had been in decline for a few years and he needed a constant supply of oxygen to help him breathe, especially over the last few weeks.
I have been proud to know he liked me because we all want people we admire to like us – no matter how tough or semi-tough we try to appear.
We started out in the high rough with a tough golf shot lie.
Jenkins and I met for lunch at his favorite Colonial Country Club shortly after he moved back to Fort Worth with the charming and beautiful June, his wife.
His reception was colder than the iced tea.
“Rich, why does everyone at the Star-Telegram hate you?” he asked.
“Well, Dan,” I began. “I have an old-fashioned notion. It’s called this: If my name is in the masthead as publisher I run the place, make decisions on business and news and do not give a damn if I am popular, especially with the poets in the newsroom.”
Dan Jenkins chortled.
We became friends.
Many talented writers will offer reflections and thoughts on Jenkins and they will be better than mine. My best effort was a piece I wrote in 2014 about his autobiography, “His Ownself.” If you want to know Jenkins, read the book. His story is best told in his own words.
The book is enthusiatically self-revealing, which is not surprising since Dan was honest and candid to a fault in both life and print. He did harbor one lifelong fib, however, which the world discovered after his death: He was a year older than he claimed to be. The obituaries and stories that flowed when he died all listed him as 89; he was really 90, born on Dec. 2, 1928.
With his trademark humor, he played one final trick on us.
Vividly, I recall writing that 2014 column. Writers, the best ones, will tell you that you have to write, rewrite, edit, rewrite and rewrite again.
I don’t do that. I’d like to but I became intoxicated early in my career with deadline writing. Twenty minutes before press time is magic. Sit down and “git ‘er done.”
But my Jenkins piece placed a burden on my psyche like no other. I had an anvil heavy on my conscience. I knew Jenkins would read it and I wanted it to sing and to make him laugh.
The “lede” is the first sentence of a column or news story. If you do not capture the reader at the lede they stop reading.
“Dan Jenkins has a screw loose,” I wrote.
I recall those days of writing that column well. I was in a room at the Omni Hotel. I had moved away for a few years and was back visiting. It was not a pleasant time. I had a temperature of over 100, sick as a dog and stuck in a hotel room alone.
The deadline loomed.
I would stumble out of bed, sit down and write and then go back to bed, first sweating and then dealing with the chills.
All weekend I broke my writing routine. I wrote. I edited. I rewrote. Over and over. Once finished I sent the column to my longtime editor. He suggested changes. I rewrote again.
Jenkins read the column when it was printed in the paper and online.
“Yo, Rich,” he wrote. “I liked it. Made me laugh.”
Yo, Dan. I liked you. A writing hero. Made me laugh.
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at email@example.com