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Two men of words who chose differing paths - Odessa American: Ken Brodnax

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Two men of words who chose differing paths

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Posted: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 12:00 am

This is a tale of two journalists. Both men died last Saturday, but otherwise they had little else in common.

One was named Elmer Kelton. He was an internationally renowned western author who started his career as a newspaperman covering agriculture in my hometown of San Angelo. He turned out to be quite a celebrity, although you’d never know that from his demeanor.

The other was named Clyde Walter. He covered politics for the Amarillo Globe-News back when I was a raw cub reporter.

I couldn’t help but compare them because of the coincidence of their deaths.

Kelton covered the ag scene in the 1950s when I was too young to realize what it meant to my life. It was a particularly bad time to be a farmer because of a prolonged drought. It got so bad that President Dwight Eisenhower came to San Angelo to see the effects for himself.

My dad was a farmer, and he always remembered the time Kelton interviewed him about the dire situation.

Anyway, my father was forced to abandon his dirt roots, as it was, and take a government job. It changed the path of my life as well. I went from being a country kid to a small fish in a big educational pond. But I developed an interest in journalism and, with the encouragement of San Angelo Central teacher Ed B. Cole, ended up being a writer as well.

As for Kelton, he used that drought as inspiration for one of his many books, “The Time It Never Rained.” I met the man a few times in later years but never had the chance to talk in depth with him. But I recognized one trait that made him a great writer. He was so unassuming that you wouldn’t have noticed him if you didn’t know who he was. And he knew that you could learn a lot more from observing than talking.

Anyway, I went off to college and got my first newspaper job. I was so impressionable that I thought it would be exciting to cover politics. And Clyde was kind enough to share some of his beat with me from time to time.

He let me tag along and help interview a candidate for the U.S. Senate. We all sat down over a drink and more or less had a simple conversation. I was struck by how down-to-earth and comfortable the office seeker was. But he didn’t impress me as a great politician, whatever that was. His name was George H.W. Bush, except you didn’t need the initials to distinguish him from his son who nobody knew much about back then.

I always appreciated Walter for letting the kid tag along.

Eventually, Clyde got to be a part of the Austin political scene. Then he used his contacts to get a job with the state, doing bureaucratic things.

Through a mutual friend, I knew Clyde was retired. I always meant to look him up and tell him how much his early influence meant to me. Never did.

Anyway, Kelton wrote to the end. He’s going to have two books published after his death. Clyde Carlos Walter’s obit just identified him as a journalist, a profession he left behind years ago.

I guess a good writer, which they both were, would just leave it at that.

Odessa, TX

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