Newspaper columnists have heroes, too
Willis Webb
Everyone has a hero, someone they look up to, respect and admire. As a columnist and longtime newsman, one of my principal heroes is another columnist, Leon Hale.

You have to love a guy who writes about such things as “the Chamber of Commerce Bull.”

Hale now writes a Sunday column for the Houston Chronicle. From 1984 until recent years, he penned the column three times a week.

For 32 years prior to joining the Chronicle, Hale was with the now defunct Houston Post, first as an agriculture writer, then as a columnist.

If you haven’t read him, you’ve missed a treat. And, if you aren’t where you can get a copy of the Chronicle or find it online, Hale has written 11 books, most of them still in print and available at some bookstores or online.

His style has been described as a personal essay. I would say it was more conversational. You feel he’s talking directly to you.

Hale is pushing 90 and shows no signs of letting up. He still does his Sunday Chronicle piece plus a regular blog in the online edition.

Once a former colleague of Hale’s at the Post, the late George Fuermann, said, “When you read Leon’s column, you think it flows so easily that it’s a snap for him to write. But he labors over every word, works hard to get it to sound just right.”

My first contact with Hale was in the mid-1950s when I was a student at Sam Houston State University.

He’d drop by once in awhile because he was a friend of the journalism department director, Dr. Ferol Robinson. A few years later, Hale became a part time lecturer/ teacher in that department.

At the time, he lived in College Station and mailed his column to the Post. It ran over a heading “Box 1011,” which was his mailing address.

Hale did what you’d think almost any columnist would want to do— he drove all over a big portion of Texas to little out-of-the-way places and wrote about interesting small town folks.

He made a lot of friends doing it.

There is no pretense about Hale and his native West Texas drawl underscores that.

His first book’s title, “Turn South at the Second Bridge,” he says came from the directions of hundreds of “filling station” operators in small towns.

For those under 50, a “filling station” is a service station that sells gasoline and other oil products. “Turn South” was a collection of several years of his columns from the Post.

Hale’s next book was “Bonney’s Place,” a novel about a small- town beer joint and the regulars at the bar. A second novel, “Addison” followed.

Over the years, a frequent feature of his column was a fortune teller called Madame Z who lived somewhere in the Brazos River bottom.

In a short and touching book, “One Man’s Christmas,” Leon tells six amusing and warm stories of the holiday, one from Madame Z.

Inevitably, a man whose beginnings were country and small town, will write or talk about food as Hale does in several of his books.

He has achieved some success as a cook and presents some unusual recipes in columns and books with such references as “boiling a chicken until his britches legs roll up.”

Frequently in his column, he makes reference to his “partner,” meaning his wife.

Hale said he was taught early in the game that a columnist didn’t refer to his partner as “my wife,” so he decided partner fit his situation well.

His 11 books have been published over a span of almost 40 years, the first (“Turn South”) being in 1965 and the most recent (“Old Friends”) in 2004. All of them are in our home library.

Seven are signed, so one of the things on my Bucket List is to track him down and get him to autograph the last four.

Give yourself a real treat and read Leon Hale.

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2010-11-25 digital edition

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