Mike Rabun, who helped cover the assassination of President Kennedy as a young reporter for United Press International in Dallas and later reported everything from space shots to sports stories from Texas and around the world, died Tuesday in Granbury. He was 76.
Rabun, who was UPI’s Southwest Division Sports Editor for years, died with his family at his side after battles with medical problems over the past year. He had retired to the Granbury area where he loved to play golf at a course right outside his home in Pecan Plantation. Rabun and his wife, Janet, lunched on BBQ with a group of UPI friends only last February in Fort Worth.
Gary Edwards, former UPI photographer and close friend, said Rabun was “the nicest person” that he had ever met.
“He had every right to have an ego the size of the Empire State Building but if he did, he kept it well concealed,” he said. “He was humble, gracious and a man of character that others could look to as a model for living a meaningful life. He was faithful and true to his family without wavering.”
In 2013, Rabun recalled UPI coverage of the Kennedy assassination at a reunion on the 50th anniversary in Dallas. He was an “underling,” as he called it, watching in awe in the Dallas bureau as the seasoned editors and writers took dictation and filed breaking leads to the wire.
“It was as if they had trained all their lives for this very moment. This is what you do and they did it. It was stunning to me,” he told the group of former UPI staffers in Dallas.
Rabun, only a year out of the University of North Texas, kept a phone line open to the New York bureau during the day and a few days later was one of the reporters in the basement of the city jail who witnessed the slaying of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald by local bar owner Jack Ruby.
The professionalism that Rabun saw in that tense newsroom, Nov. 22, 1963, must have touched him deeply because he worked to pass it on to many who worked in the bureau over the years. He would always lend a hand on the big story or give some timely advice to those eager to learn.
“When election nights rolled around, Mike would always volunteer to write the Texas congressional roundup, which involved tracking of numerous races across the state and writing lead after lead, and he did it with the skill he handled everything,” said Phil Magers, a former Dallas bureau manager.
“And years later, on April 19, 1993, when the staff was dwindling in Dallas, I was trying to write leads on the FBI assault at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, being carried live on TV to the whole world, and guess who comes storming through the door to help. He was a rock.”
Rabun also took part in the coverage of the first manned moon landing, Apollo 11, and for Apollo 13.
Paul Harral, who met Rabun when he joined UPI in 1967, said the space reporting team called him to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston when they needed help during Apollo 13.
“He didn’t know squat about spaceflight, but he was a good reporter and we all knew that,” he recalled. “He came back from a news conference and told us that one of the flight directors had told him that an upcoming rocket firing was critical to bringing the astronauts back to Earth alive.
“The UPI space writers in the room huddled – me, Ed Delong and Al Rossiter – and decided almost solely on our trust of Mike Rabun, to file a bulletin on the AAA wire. It was not until the aftermath of Apollo 13 that we ever had absolute confirmation of the accuracy of our story, and it was precisely accurate.”
Jim Wieck, former Southwest Division News Editor, said Rabun was one of the finest writers to ever touch a newsroom typewriter or computer keyboard.
“Whether it was a sports lead or feature, or multiple leads on breaking news, Mike had the touch. And he was unflappable under pressure,” he said. “All of that and one helluva a guy just to be around. He’ll be missed by all of us who had the pleasure to work alongside of him, or who knew him remotely via the telephone or message wires.”
Rabun served as division sports editor for years, covering not only the Dallas Cowboys from the Tom Landry-era onward and local college and pro sports, but Summer and Winter Olympic games, Super Bowls, Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championships, and NCAA basketball tournaments.
Mike was a long-time contributing writer for the Dallas Cowboys Star, formerly the Cowboys Weekly. He also served for many years as a member of the Selection Committee of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Denne Freeman, who worked with Rabun at UPI and later competed against him at the Associated Press, may have put it best, “Mike Rabun aced life.”
“We were good friends forged at my time with UPI and that never changed although we butted heads covering the Cowboys and countless sports events. We spent more time together in press boxes than we did with our families. He was so talented and it was great competition. We were golf partners from time to time and darn hard to beat. He had a great family with Janet and the girls.”
Mike is survived by his wife of more than 53 years, Janet, two daughters, Tracey L. Coe and Hillary J. Prieto, and their husbands, four granddaughters, and a sister, Robin, and her husband, of Colorado Springs, Colo., along with nieces and nephews.
Following are funeral arrangements:
Viewing in Dallas at Sparkman Hillcrest in the chapel – Saturday, Aug. 19, 11 a.m.-11:45 a.m.
Memorial Service in the same chapel – Saturday 12 noon- 1 p.m.
Graveside Service at Sparkman immediately following
7405 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas, TX 75225
Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society.