Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Times-Review in 1999. With the recent passing of Pete Kendall, we are republishing the article.
When Pete Kendall was at McLean Junior High School in Fort Worth, he faithfully delivered the Fort Worth Press. But before he threw his papers, he always read the sports section. He had no idea that someday others would categorize him as a “great” sports writer — and that he, in turn, would instinctively flinch at the sound of the word.
When you enter Pete Kendall’s Upper Room at the Times-Review you are aware that it is his private domain. You suspect that each roll of film may be in a certain sequence and you want to apologize for stepping over his stacks of papers on the floor. You avoid the styrofoam cups. It is his comfortable clutter.
After 18 years, Kendall has stepped down as sports editor of the Times-Review. There are no more late night schedules of wearily climbing the stairs to this office after getting in from games on the road. No more writing his copy, developing his photos, going home at 4 or 5 a.m. and coming back to meet a deadline.
At 51, he gave that up before he burned out. He still writes an occasional sports story, but now the drive for writing excellence has been transferred to the editorship of a comprehensive Millennium newspaper edition that traces Johnson County’s history back a hundred years.
When you get a glimpse of Kendall’s heritage, you understand why he sees each task he faces as something worthy of perfection.
His great-grandfather, Henry Hollingsworth Kendall, for instance, was a railroad engineer for the St. Louis Brownsville and Mexico Railroad and a victim of a famous train robbery in 1915. Mexican bandits dislodged several ties to derail the train between Kingsville and Brownsville. Kendall saved the passenger cars, but the engine fell on top of him into a ditch and he lost his life.
Instead of jumping to safety, Kendall, a Mason and president of the Kingsville ISD school board, remained aboard to try to keep the train upright.
Then consider that Pete Kendall’s father, the late Dr. Lyle H. Kendall Jr., taught English at The University of Texas at Austin, the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Texas Christian University and The University of Texas at Arlington. He was a gifted photographer and writer, as well as a published scholar.
Highly respected for his expertise, Lyle Kendall was a specialist in 16th and 17th century English literature — a Shakespeare and Milton scholar.
Pete’s mother, the late Aubyn Townsend Kendall, can’t be overlooked, either. She held degrees in journalism and English and was an English teacher at Fort Worth Country Day School and Paschal High School before serving as curator of collections at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
She was the first United Press female business reporter in the wire service’s New York City bureau and published two books on pre-Columbian art and archaeology.
As a child, Pete was exposed to many stimulating conversations at home, as people came and went, visiting with his parents.
“I also learned to be independent,” he said. “There wasn’t much money awarded to my parents for their work, but I had a wealth of encouragement to read and to set goals for myself.”
Pete, an above-average student, played sports through junior high. In the eighth grade a “Career Night” crystallized his goals.
“Tony Slaughter with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram came and talked to us for about an hour about newspaper work,” Pete said. “I was enthralled. I saw that journalism was a field that I could fit into — that I could be creative and think for myself.”
After graduating from Paschal High School, Kendall attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and worked part-time at the Albuquerque Journal, as well as the campus newspaper. Serving as yearbook and student newspaper editor gave him more confidence. His greatest boost, however, was an internship with the Associated Press.
Interestingly, not only did qualified and gifted persons impress Kendall, but he made lasting impressions on them, as well.
One of his favorite professors and mentors at UNM was Tony Hillerman, a name now recognized as a best-selling author.
Kendall said he got a phone call years later from Hillerman right after his book, “The Great Taos Bank Robbery,” was published.
Hillerman told him, “Pete, the last chapter might be amusing to you.”
“I was a character in that chapter. I had also been in his book, ‘The Fly on the Wall,’ [one of the few that wasn’t about Indians] earlier. I’d better not go into detail about what I was like,” he said with a wry smile. “Let’s just say that I was a hard-living, free-spirited newspaper man.”
After university graduation in 1970, Kendall worked on newspapers in Corpus Christi, Grand Prairie and Victoria. His dream came true when he was hired by the Fort Worth Press in 1972.
“It was like entering Yankee Stadium and sitting on the bench where Babe Ruth had sat so many years before. I sat at Dan Jenkins’ desk. I was surrounded by superior writers — there was an unspoken pressure to be good.”
Kendall said he had thought he was good. He soon saw he had a lot to learn.
“I really tried hard at The Press,” he said. “I made friends. I looked around and saw how real professionals worked. Jim Browder from Cleburne was sports editor before I got there. I had seen him with his sleeves rolled up, working harder than anyone else. I’ve never forgotten those years and those role models.”
Kendall’s professional bubble burst in 1975. The Press closed down suddenly without warning. It was a personal tragedy of sorts for all who worked there.
“I missed it,” he said. “It was an environment where you weren’t judged by how you dressed or how you looked — just how you could write. I thrived on self-motivation during those years.”
Kendall left the city and came to Cleburne in 1976. Except for two years at other newspapers, he’s been on board ever since.
Bob Sonderegger, managing editor of the Times-Review, is thankful Kendall is here.
“I’ve known Pete for years,” Sonderegger said. “He was with The Press when I was with the Star-Telegram, and we covered games at the same time. Pete truly cares for people. I’m not surprised that he’s doing so well in editing the Millennium edition. Pete is a true professional in whatever he does.”
Jerry Cunningham, an ex-CHS Yellow Jackets football coach, sees Pete as family — one of the most unique men he’s ever known as a friend.
“Not only is Pete an intelligent, gifted writer, but he’s also a man of compassion, honesty and integrity,” Cunningham said. “His dry wit and keen sense of humor enable him to relate to a broad spectrum of people. We used to walk four or five miles a day together. He would talk about Fort Worth mobsters, about jazz musicians — I’ve learned a lot about a lot from Pete Kendall.”
Kendall’s love of writing goes far beyond high school athletics. His writings are diverse.
A collection of some of his columns, “Spike Owen & Other Cats,” was published, with all profits directed to the Family Crisis Center. He wrote a jazz and blues column for a few years, reviewed Dallas theater, wrote a novel (that is currently housed in a cardboard box) and has much of the dialogue down for a play.
“Director/actor/writer Thurman Moss and I became friends when I was reviewing theater in Dallas,” Pete said. “He played football in high school and ran track at North Texas, so we shared an interest in sports. He likes the play’s subject matter. It deals with a small town’s football coach and his last game. It’s a comedy with a touching ending.
“When I reviewed, I often asked actors or directors questions if I didn’t understand why something was done a certain way. They found that method to be unorthodox, but appreciated it.”
Pete won an Associated Press award for his theater criticism.
He says he is fascinated by the science of writing.
“What you write must remain clear and structured but be creative within those parameters,” he said. “That’s very hard to do and I haven’t figured it out yet. I enjoy trying to utilize fresh structural approaches. If someone recognizes that in my work — then that’s neat.”
During the last 25 years of their lives, Pete’s parents owned and operated Limestone Hills Book Shop out of their home on the Paluxy River near Glen Rose.
They had first edition books that were sold worldwide and one of the world’s best P.G. Wodehouse collections.
“When my mother died, my sister, Susan [Colley], and I had to settle the estate. Larry McMurtry had taught at TCU with my dad. He called one day and made a nice bid on the book shop, and I sold it to him. It’s nice to know it’s with such a fine author and friend of the family in Archer City.”
Although some are quick to praise Kendall’s writing expertise, he has remained objective about his work. When they call him great, he becomes uncomfortable.
“A number of newspaper writers now have the annoying habit of saying how great they are,” Pete said. “One thing I learned from people like Jim Browder and Whit Canning at The Press is that if you have to tell people how great you are, then you probably aren’t. It’s up to readers to decide. And they always do.
“I am not great. What talent I have was God-given. I see myself as an entertainer — like a trained seal in the circus. My job is to keep the attention of the readers for 10 minutes while they read my story, while I hope that there was something in it that informed them.
“Great people are those who slave over a microscope searching for a cure for AIDS and cancer. They ease the famines in Ethiopia. They serve as diplomats to avert war. A great person is the man who works 18 hours a day to get a crop out — staying with the family farm because it’s in his blood.”
He pauses, looks over at his computer monitor, and adds quietly, “That is not what I do.”
Larue Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.