One of the toughest periods of Jay Hendricks’ life was in late 2006 and early ‘07, when a non-compete clause in his contract with NewsWest 9 in Midland kept him off the air at CBS7 in Odessa.
“I couldn’t be seen or heard,” said Hendricks. “It was a long six months.”
Then it was a happy return to the anchor desk for the 59-year-old near-lifelong Odessan who may have become the best-known person in the Permian Basin since he began working for KOSA Channel 7 at age 18, manning the teleprompter, before the station moved from 1211 Whitaker Ave. near Odessa High School to behind its big picture windows in the Music City Mall.
Asked if he ever gets tired of being recognized everywhere he goes, Hendricks laughed and said, “No, I love it.
“I love being out in the community and visiting with people. My wife and I go to the grocery store and she heads on down the aisle because I stop and visit with everybody. It takes 30 minutes to an hour to get out of the store. After 41 years, if people didn’t know me, I’d be in the wrong business.”
Born in Kimball, Neb., Hendricks and his twin brother Jon were in Farmington, N.M., till age 4 when their parents divorced and they came here with their late mother Billie to be with their grandparents. Their late father Chuck had attended OHS and returned here to work in the oilfield after serving in the Navy during World War II. They have a half-brother and half-sister from their dad’s previous marriage.
Attending Alamo Elementary, Bonham Junior High and OHS, Hendricks studied radio and broadcast journalism at Odessa College and North Texas State till returning to work for Channel 9 as a weather and sports reporter. He was there when a 1983 plane crash at Midland International Airport killed CBS7 anchor Gary Hopper and five other employees returning from a Permian Panthers game in Dallas.
“I had worked with all of them,” he said. “It was a big shock.”
Hendricks was a reporter and anchor at NewsWest 9 for 23 years, powering that station’s climb to the No. 1 regional ranking, and CBS7 has gained that distinction since his arrival. “It’s been a great career,” he said.
“I’ve been lucky. Each day is different. You never know what to expect. I plan to work till I’m 67 because that’s when I’ll become eligible for Medicare. I don’t want to work till I don’t enjoy it much. I don’t know what I’ll do, but it will be something fun.”
Hendricks and his wife Susan, daughter of the late Dr. E.B. Dempsey, have two children and a grandchild. Their daughter Brooke Hendricks is a county court at law judge and their son Brady, of Bedford, a senior technical support representative for the Stryker medical equipment company. Jon is a partner in the XO Sales company.
“My grandmother Grace Hendricks was the World’s Jackrabbit Roping Champion in 1936 and was in the Guinness Book of World Records for roping her rabbit in four or five seconds,” Hendricks said. “She went to the Permian Basin Fair in her Sunday dress and a man called, ‘Hey, little lady, why don’t you come here and try this?’
“The rabbit came running toward her and she did it in self-defense. Professional ropers tried it, but her time was never defeated.”
Grace Hendricks’ name is on the Jack Ben Rabbit statue at the ECISD Administration Building at 802 N. Sam Houston Ave.
Noting that his paternal grandparents ran the Green Lantern Restaurant downtown, the newsman said, “She was a big influence.
“She was a character. She was the first woman justice of the peace in Ector County, serving in Precinct 2 in the early 1940s. She was very strong and was not afraid of anybody. She spoke her mind. She raised a lot of money for organizations like the March of Dimes for polio and was a charter member of the First United Methodist Church.”
Along with his professional work, Hendricks has followed her lead in that respect, hosting fundraisers for causes including the Special Olympics and the National Kidney Foundation.
Asked if there can be a tendency to get too relaxed on the air and forget how many people are watching, he said, “No, we always keep an eye on what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing the best job we can.
“If you start doing things wrong, they can change the channel on you and we certainly don’t want that. We always think about the audience.”
With more than 60 employees, Hendricks said, KOSA “is a training ground for a lot of young kids and we keep an eye on them to be sure they are doing their jobs and giving both sides of every story,” adding that the pronunciations of “Lamesa,” “Pecos,” “Colorado City” and “Iraan” can be tricky for young reporters from other regions.
“I have had other opportunities, but Odessa is home.”
Tatum Hubbard, Hendricks’ co-anchor till becoming UTPB’s chief of staff and communications director, said he “is a consummate gentleman, one of the kindest, most thoughtful men I have ever known.
“Jay won’t let you open the door for yourself,” Hubbard said. “He loves to be around people and loves the Permian Basin. He also cares about the first commandment of the news profession, getting it right.”
She said the Special Olympics is Hendricks’ favorite charity. “If you really want to know Jay’s heart, he has devoted his entire professional life to really getting to know the athletes and families of the Special Olympics,” Hubbard said.
“They love him. He takes time to talk to them and he knows when they’re sick and goes to their funerals.”
Investment Corp. of America CEO John Bushman, who owned CBS7 from 2000-15, said Hendricks “is an honest, straight-up guy.
“Jay tells it like it is and is non-prejudiced on any story,” Bushman said. “He’s a hard worker who shows up on time and is very dependable. He doesn’t make the news, he reports the news. I wouldn’t say he gets overly close to anyone, but he likes everybody and will never turn anyone away for an autograph. His two kids have gone forward to respectable careers and that’s what a man is ultimately judged on.”
In a career packed with stories, some of them horrific like last year’s mass shooting and the 2012 collision between a train and flatbed trailer in Midland that killed four wounded veterans and injured 16 people, Hendricks covered the two Washington inaugurations of George W. Bush and traveled to Moscow, Russia, and Odessa, Ukraine, with the Chuck Wagon Gang and the late Odessa American columnist Ken Brodnax.
He did a live broadcast for the CBS Evening News from the train crash scene and interviewed Basin natives living in New York City just after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Through his great-great-grandmother Beryl Hanks of WaKeeney, Kan., he is a descendant of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) and the actor Tom Hanks is a distant cousin. “I joke that Tom never calls,” he said.
“I have had great experiences and met some fascinating people, but there is nothing like being back home in Odessa. West Texas people are the friendliest in the world. They are the best.”
Bob Campbell is a reporter for the Odessa American covering Religion and Lifestyle in the Permian Basin.