years ago this month, East
Texas lost one of its greatest champions--the son of a Jewish
merchant whose legacy of love and and humor still endures.
Morris Frank, who gained fame for his newspaper columns in the Houston
Chronicle and his speeches throughout America, was born in Perth
Amboy, New Jersey, the son of a merchant who moved his family to
Lufkin and expected
his son to follow in his footsteps.
Instead, Morris started writing sports for his hometown newspaper,
the Lufkin Daily News, joined the Houston Post as
a feature writer in 1937, and later signed up with the Chronicle
as a columnist. With his broad smile, boisterous laugh and ever-present
cowboy hat, Morris soon became one of America’s foremost masters
“He had a following of countless friends, colleagues, famous people
and just plain folks who came to know him by reading his stories
and columns...or laughed at his harmless barbs that spared no one--not
celebrities, not Supreme Court justices, stars of sports, not those
in the high places of government and business,” wrote a long-time
friend, John Murphy, a former executive vice-president of the Texas
Daily Newspaper Association.
Morris seldom made a speech without mentioning his roots as a sportswriter
in Lufkin or his
love of East Texas.
But it was his kindness that endeared him to people.
He scrawled thousands of letters in his big, sprawling handwriting,
thanking people for acts of kindness, showing sympathy for the lost
of family members, congratulating someone for a promotion, getting
married, or anything else that he thought was important.
When I was a young newspaperman in Lufkin,
and the Chronicle decided to establish a bureau in East
Texas, Morris suggested to the Chronicle’s editor, Clayte Binion,
who also came from Lufkin,
that I would make a good bureau chief.
I still have Morris’ handwritten note congratulating me on the job
and I cherish my visits with him in the Chronicle’s city room, where
he had a desk with everyone else. If he ever had a private office,
he didn’t use it much. He didn’t like to be too removed from crowds,
and he always found one in the city room.
Morris was also modest to the core. He once said: “I wouldn’t mind
being broke if I were just broke even.”
When someone suggested that he write a book, he said; Well, I have
thought about it. And I have a couple of titles in mind: Some of
My Best Friends Are Gentiles and Self-Made Failure.”
Once, he was chided for eating ham at a luncheon even though he
was Jewish. His retort was: “Listen, my daddy told me it was a worse
sin to pass up a free meal than it was to eat ham.”
Morris was always paid for his speeches, but he invariably left
a tip for his waiter that was larger than the check he was given.
And when he agreed to make speeches in Lufkin,
he refused to accept any check. “I don’t want the people of Lufkin
thinking they had to pay for any of those sorry sports stories I
wrote for their paper,” he quipped.
On July 16, 1975, the day after Morris passed away, the Chronicle
published an editorial praising him for his qualities. The editorial
concluded with these words: “Will Rogers has often been quoted as
saying he never met a man he didn’t like. That was the way it was
with Morris Frank, but there was more. With Morris, there never
was a person he didn’t love.”
July 11, 2005 Column
(Provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association.
Bob Bowman is a past president of the Asssociation and the author
of more than 30 East Texas books.)
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