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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

MY FRIEND MORRIS

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

Thirty 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 of ceremonies.

“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.”

All Things Historical 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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