Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Remembering John Whitmire, reporter

Above you will see a photo of reporters, photographers and one editor gathered in the newsroom of the late, lamented Houston Post newspaper to commemorate John Whitmire Day.

John is the fellow with the hangdog expression seated on the stool, holding his ever-present cup of machine coffee. John, who died of an aortic aneurysm around '96, was known for wearing essentially the same thing to work everyday: navy blue sportcoat, dress shirt buttoned to the toppermost of the poppermost, no tie, spit-shine black Roper boots and usually khaki trousers (he threw us all for a loop this day by wearing jeans.) He was a curious character. The boy had a such dour world-view that one afternoon during lunch, it was decided that he should have been a motivational speaker. Later that afternoon, flyers of his mug shot with the slogan "Think Positive" suddenly began appearing around the 4th floor newsroom, in the elevators, in bathroom stalls, and so forth. Soon thereafter, a John Whitmire Day was declared, so those that were so inclined decided to do their best to dress like John. This photo is not a complete sampling of those that participated since news had to be reported and meetings had to be attended.

It was gallows humor, of a kind, but who could really blame us? None of us had received a pay raise in years, yet there we still were, though our ranks were beginning to turn over more rapidly. John's ambition in life was to live in a hotel and write cheap paperback novels about crime and detectives and other such Philip Marlowe-style prose.

During his second and last tour of duty at The Post, he accomplished the former, bunking at The Houston House downtown.

He wrote some novels, or at least took an honest stab at them, but never had one published to our knowledge before he suddenly passed away one night at his San Antonio apartment, after he joined the ranks of those fleeing the failing Post.

His wife, a lawyer whom he met while covering a story about the homeless in Houston (as we recall to the best of our recollection), reported to us that he complained of indigestion that night as they lay in bed. It was much more than that, as we now know, and he died on the operating table.
Personally, I should report that I first met John while stationed in the one-man Galveston bureau of The Houston Post in the early 1980s. I was the bureau chief (get it, one-man bureau?) and he was working at the newspaper in Texas City. We met at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Galveston Press Club, which essentially was a beer drinking bullshit session at someone's home. John introduced himself and mentioned a story I had written in The Post that he enjoyed reading. It was about a guy, George Pressley, who bore a resemblance to James Young, a guitarist/vocalist with the rock band Styx. Pressley managed to pass himself off as Young in the Hitchcock area of Galveston County and in due course was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girl "who fell prey to his charade," reported Rolling Stone magazine on Page 18 of the July 9, 1981 issue (Margot Kidder is on the cover.) I ran across a copy of that edition of Rolling Stone the other day while rummaging through old stuff, which included the photo above this posting, which led to what you're reading now.

I kept the copy of the magazine all these years since I authored the story in Rolling Stone, which was a rehash of the story I already wrote for The Post.

I probably should have given Whitmire a cut of the $350 fee that Rolling Stone gave me, since Whitmire suggested I should try to peddle the story to the fabled rock mag. Since I didn't cut Whitmire in on that deal, maybe this remembrance of him will make up for that. He'd prefer the cash, though.


Slampo said...

He was an interesting fellow, sensitive and very prideful behind the undertaker's mien. He was probably lucky to find a place he could feel at home in the newspaper biz in the 1970s; makes you wonder where guys like him, if they still make guys like him, and they probably do, end up these days. I guess I wasn't too surprised when he died, because he was always telling people about his ridiculously sky-high cholesterol levels, if I remember right. Once when he was moving out of the Houston House he called me, because I had a truck, to help him move; I went over there and instead of moving his stuff he and his wife, may have been his girlfriend at the time, we're dispossessing themselves, giving all their stuff away, and I made off with a bunch of his furniture, nice antique pieces, and even some of the stuff on his walls. I sold or gave away the furniture long time back but still have on my wall a picture he gave me---this kind of weird drawing of a 1930s socialite/debutante type in a shimmery cocktail dress, sitting on an ottoman holding a magazine.Beats me. Musta been his wife's. This was in the late 80s and early 90s, long after I had vacated the premises there at 4747. BTW, the Styx reunion should be in town shortly--you should look up Pressley and go. Bring Leslie Loddeke, too--ya'll'ed make a nice couple, if that picture was cropped right. Bring Margot Kidder, too. See ya there ...


I've still got one of his floor lamps and a print of a pencil drawing of a stack of newspapers. Got rid of the couch he gave me during that giveaway, but it served me well for many years.

I think that floor lamp is made of brass but never took a magnet to it.

Thanks for commenting, Slam.

jake77 said...

I was the media guy for the Houston Police Department and had the great pleasure of John's friendship. I tipped him to one of his biggest stories concerning mental patients being dropped off at the Greyhound bus station by state officials. He got 3 or 4 days of front page headlines with a series on the story. He also won several awards for the series.

He forever thanked me for that and even did a feature story on me later about how wonderful I was and how the police should deal with the media. Looking back John was the poster boy for a reporter who could be trusted and was always fair in his reporting. I was thinking of him today and found this site and I am so glad I did. J.C. Mosier


thanks for the comments, J.C.