Newsman: The Life of Ron Carr
October 15, 1939 – November 6, 2017
My father, Ron Carr, passed away on Monday, November 6th at around 2pm. Dad put up a brave fight but his lung cancer and the terrible toll it had taken on his body won out, and his heart failed him during an early afternoon bout with illness.
Many of you reading this will have known my dad, if you traveled with us in the 70’s you probably remember us as Ron Carr Travel, that’s where we began in 1969. Dad was a travel industry legend in his own right, rising through the ranks at Braniff Airlines and eventually starting his own agency, first as Carr-Dulaney Travel and then as Ron Carr Travel, which he and my mom ran together through the 70’s until he left the industry and we became Sharon Carr Travel.
His successes in the travel business were numerous. He used to book the charter flights for the Dallas Cowboys, and told me stories about a promise he’d made to sneak bottles of booze into the seat pocket for Bob Lilly and other players. His chance meeting with Ron Chapman in 1970, set us on a trajectory that today is writ large on our lives, as we enter our 47th year on Dallas Radio.
Dad was profoundly intelligent, and as is often the case with people of his intellect who achieve great success, he was unsure of how to wield it, even burdened by it, and he turned to drinking.
It’s impossible for me to tell the story of my father without talking about his battle with alcoholism, but it feels unfair because that isn’t who he was. It’s more like something that happened to him and to us. He lost his business to it, along with 3 marriages, respect and influence, health, it was a classic fall. My sister and I spent our youth traveling to visit him, coping with his relapses and the constant tension between our parents, perhaps blaming our mother who only wanted to protect us. When he finally moved on to another woman, I resented her, until she brought our baby brother and sister into the world, Zac & Megan.
Dad had kids in 4 decades, the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, and Zac & Megan were the 4th & 5th Carr kids. They were an instant source of joy in our lives, full of happiness and innocence and love, a fresh start for dad. We adored them and suddenly I couldn’t wait to visit, I felt love for their mom instead of resentment, and I believed this was a sea change for dad. It wasn’t. Dad fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism, lost another job, and moved his family to the small panhandle town of Friona, Tx, to be close to his mother and brother, presumably for another fresh start but it didn’t work. Within a year Cindy left him and took the kids. Dad’s anguish only made his drinking worse, and he was in his 50’s now.
Shortly after she left, I stopped through for a visit on my way to Colorado, the kids were there, yet another catastrophe had just occurred, and dad and I sat on the porch at my grandmother’s and had a long candid conversation about his drinking, the first and last time we ever talked about it. That was 1996, and dad quit right there, cold turkey, and never looked back, he had been an alcoholic for 30 years. He walked through sobriety with the help of AA and his family and community, and he did it for the two little kids playing in the back yard that day. I’ve had the thoughts and feelings about it that you might expect, why couldn’t he do it for me? But it didn’t matter, I had my dad back, or really had him for the first time. Those of you touched by addiction know that it’s incredibly difficult to beat in your youth, damn near impossible in your 50’s. It was an astonishing change, heroic, a miracle for us.
His great intellect was always tempered by a tremendous sense of humor and razor-sharp wit. Dad was hilarious, the funniest person I have ever known. He understood timing and would deliver one-liners that had strangers within earshot belly-laughing. My Uncle Rick told a story recently that their friend David Stevens had asked dad what one question he’d like answered if we could find someone all-knowing. Dad’s response was “Is dipshit hyphenated?”
Throughout my life dad was perhaps best known for his writing, even during his great success in travel. He published a well-known newsletter, wrote trade articles, training manuals, brochures and letters. He had a gift, writing was his first love and when he left the travel industry, admittedly not of his own volition, he finally found his way to the newspaper business. Dad went to work for Bill Ellis at the Friona Star, first as a photographer (his second great love) and eventually as a columnist. His column “Out Here” became a reader favorite, dad had a sort of fish-out-of-water take on everything from politics to cow farts, and again that wit had you laughing out loud. Dad bought the paper from Bill in 2003, and for 22 years reveled in being the Newsman.
He was tireless in his coverage of events from their sleepy little burg, most of them revolving around Chieftain Football. He shot tens of thousands of photos and made the kids feel like celebrities, everyone wanted their picture in the paper. My brother Zac talked about listening to him recently tell Holly in encyclopedic detail about an expensive lens he wanted her to buy for the paper, because it does this and the F-stop goes to this and the way it captures the action, and on and on, all to make the people of Friona feel like superstars in the newspaper. Pastor Jeff Procter put it best in delivering his eulogy on Sunday, dad invested in people. He loved his community and they loved him back, that was evident this weekend as we gathered to bury him close by his mom. And it’s been evident this year as dad received a constant stream of visitors and well-wishers, and delicious home-cooking. We are all forever grateful to the community of Friona, TX, and its wonderful residents.
And dad’s closest friend and confidant Holly Campbell, is among the finest people I have ever known. Dad was very sick and frustrated as the months wore on, easy to anger and Holly stayed by his side through it all, taking care of his finances, putting up with his moods, keeping his kids informed and helping him get his house in order. Her patience, generosity and humanity towards our father was almost superhuman, and we are indebted to her.
Last May, my baby brother and sister made the decision to leave their lives behind and move to dad’s small hometown in the panhandle to care for him. They took him to his many appointments in Amarillo, spent days and nights by his side, made sure he took his numerous meds, cooked for him, cleaned, and did the countless other thankless, tedious tasks involved in caring for a terminally ill patient. We all cope the best we can, but I regret that words of compassion were often sparse for Zac & Megan. I for one am incredibly proud of them, we didn’t need them to be perfect. We expected more time with him, but none of us had any illusions that he was getting better, and Dad knew the score. The comforting gift of love and care is sometimes all we can offer the dying, and I am deeply grateful that my father got to look upon the loving faces of his youngest children in his final days. Dad was grateful as well, and said so often.
I have dreaded writing this since I learned of his diagnosis back in March, I didn’t think it would be so soon. Early on I went to visit him and when I was leaving I asked him if he needed anything, “Just more time son.” The death of a parent looms over all of our lives like a sword of Damocles until one day, without warning, it falls. I’ve been possessed by a general what-does-it-all-mean feeling, and consumed with the study of religion and death for half my life, I think maybe in preparation for this moment. None of it did any good. Grief is a wrecking ball that tears down every façade of courage and strength you’ve spent your life so painstakingly erecting. I find myself like a blank slate, a scared broken-hearted little boy.
I am grateful for the time I had, however punctuated it may have been, to have lived on the same earth as Ron Carr, to be his son, and even to experience his death. I’ve been reading a lot, seeking out stories of loss, trying to understand and distill my feelings. I read an interview with Stephen Colbert, who in the loss of his father & brother to a plane crash when he was just 11, discovered a gratitude that took until adulthood to understand. “I love the thing that I most wish had not happened” he says. The interviewer asked him to elaborate:
He described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien’s mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn’t mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head.”
When dad came back from alcoholism, I learned who he truly is and was – a generous man. He loved his kids. He was closest to his youngest, and somewhat shy with his older kids in his later years, his guilt over past transgressions often palpable, but he was happy and gracious and kind, and still very funny. Every morning without fail he’d send a text to Megan, “Mornin baby girl.” For a long time I’d only see him a few times a year, we only talked around holidays and birthdays, but I cherished our conversations, and I loved his voice it was warm and calming. I really miss it. When I would come to visit he would give me a book or a few words of encouragement, tell me he was proud. He would share posts from my travels with the words “My boy Casey…” and it meant the world to me. The greatest gift he ever gave me is my siblings, Kirsten, Candee, Zac & Megan. I see him in their faces, and in my own, and in their good hearts. Dad’s heart failed him last week, it never failed us kids.
Rest in peace dad, you are missed.