The Decatur paper bids farewell to friend, competitor

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Wednesday, September 9, 2015

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I want to tell you a story about a great Texas newspaperman who was both our friend and a tough competitor.

Harlan Bridwell

Harlan Bridwell died early Tuesday after a brief illness. He was 97, just a few years shy of his longtime goal to live to be 100. If anyone could have done it, it would have been Harlan.

Harlan Bridwell was the publisher of The Bridgeport Index when we bought the Wise County Messenger in 1973. He retired as publisher a few years ago and turned over the paper to his son Keith, who had been publisher of the Bridwells’ paper in Frisco.

Harlan and his late wife, Rosemary, had owned newspapers all over North Texas and southern Oklahoma, but their heart was always in Bridgeport. Bridgeport didn’t need an economic development corporation in those days because Harlan filled that role very well, especially when it was to the detriment of Decatur, just across the Big Sandy.

Harlan’s “Shootin’ Blind” column could be as caustic as it was encouraging, and he always delighted in calling us “the Decatur paper.” He didn’t take it kindly when we would cover a Bridgeport story or criticize a county office holder who was from Bridgeport.

Joann Pritchard was Harlan’s editor, and along with Rosemary, were the writing stars of the Index. Harlan was an excellent photographer and the often politically incorrect “Shootin’ Blind” column always kept the Index flying off the newsstands.

Joann was involved in what I consider our only serious disagreement with Harlan. It was in the early ’80s, and the Index was publishing a very good shopper. We knew we had to do something to meet the competition.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

We were on the verge of creating All Around Wise, our total market coverage product, when Harlan and Joann dropped by to visit our retired editor Ken Roselle and me with the suggestion that the county wasn’t big enough for two free circulation products.

We agreed to disagree and within weeks All Around Wise was created as a product for non-subscribers. At the time, the Shopper was also being mailed, but in one of Harlan’s typical fusses with the post office about delivery problems, he pulled it out of the mail and went to delivery in grocery stores and restaurants.

Harlan’s son Doug was involved in one of Harlan’s great tricks against us. He and Doug invited us to lunch at a nice restaurant in Bridgeport. It happened to be the day of the Bridgeport-Decatur football game. As the waiter served our lunch on plates under a silver cover, with a flourish he pulled off the cover and there on our plates lay a couple of rubber chickens. The laughter filled the restaurant.

For years, we kept a great picture of Harlan standing between two beautiful naked women at one of the nudist resorts north of Decatur. Harlan had agreed to be a judge at the beauty contest, and luckily, our Ken Roselle was there to snap the picture. Somehow that picture disappeared, but I never let Harlan forget that I had it.

One last “typical” Harlan Bridwell story occurred several years ago when I sold him the building where the Index is located in downtown Bridgeport. We had had a Hallmark and office supply store in the building at one time.

We were in the lawyer’s office “closing the deal” when the attorney told Harlan he would need a cashier’s check from him for the property.

“I’m not buying any cashier’s check,” Harlan told attorney Ross Simpson.

I laughed and told Ross that Harlan’s personal check would be just fine.

In recent years, Harlan and my wife Jeannine became friends while participating in the Senior Sneakers program at Wise Regional Health System. One day after the exercise class, Harlan stopped by my antique car barn, and we visited for more than an hour. The subjects ranged from the future of Wise County (which we agreed was bright), corruption in government (one of his favorite subjects) and the future of the newspaper business (one of my favorite topics.)

It was a delightful visit that I will never forget. We repeated that visit briefly a month or two ago during a luncheon at the car barn for the Senior Sneakers. Harlan was in a wheelchair, but we had a few moments to visit before Joann took him home.

Harlan was honored with the Texas Press Association’s “Golden Fifty” award several years ago, celebrating his 50-plus years in the newspaper industry. His contributions to the communities he served lasted far longer than 50 years. It was my honor to nominate him for the award.

So Harlan, as you and Rosemary get the typesetters clicking in heaven, please remember your friends at “the Decatur paper.” We miss you already.

Roy Eaton is publisher of the Wise County Messenger.

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