Remembering Rich at 116: Have Pencil, Will Travel

Today would have been his birthday—his 116th. For forty-seven of those 116 years Clarence Leon Richhart was “just a reporter” for the Star-Telegram. A blithe spirit, Rich sometimes confounded editors with his disregard for convention even as he became publisher Amon Carter’s go-to guy. Equipped with a pencil and notepad and blessed with an insatiable curiosity, Rich wrote about everything under Amon Carter’s sun: churches, cowboys, fan dancers, murder trials all over the state, Christmas trees, communes, school integration, “the kissing veep,” and—especially—canalization of the Trinity River.

Those of us who knew Rich know that he also was possessed of a charm not often found in a profession that skews toward cynicism.

rich censusRich was born in 1902 in Illinois. By 1910 the family was in New Mexico, by 1920 in Shreveport, where as a boy Rich sold newspapers on the street. The ink from those newspapers obviously seeped into his blood. Soon thereafter the Richharts moved to Fort Worth, where Rich attended Fort Worth High School and helped to found the Pantherette school newspaper. (Fort Worth High School would become Paschal High in 1935.)

rich column 2-5-22While still in high school Rich was working for the Star-Telegram. Clip is from February 5, 1922.

When he attended TCU he was the university’s first sports public relations director.

rich 24 churchBy 1924 Rich was Star-Telegram church editor.

rich 31 stockHe covered the Stock Show in the 1930s.

rich 34 stamfordAnd the annual Texas Cowboy Reunion in Stamford when it began in the 1930s.

rich 37 trinityAlso in 1930 Rich began what for the rest of his career would be his main “beat”: the Trinity River, especially efforts to canalize it to Fort Worth. Canalization of the Trinity was a pet project of Amon Carter, and Carter made Rich his plenipotentiary.

In 1936 Rich interviewed exotic dancer Sally Rand, who was in town to perform for Fort Worth’s Frontier Centennial. When Rich was ushered into Rand’s dressing room, he found her lying on her stomach and reading a black book—in the nude. When Rand rolled over to meet the press, Rich recalled, she modestly covered as much of the Rand lower forty as the two testaments of that Bible would stretch across.

rich 31 kristenRich also covered the Kristenstad commune in Hood County in the 1930s.

In 1949 Rich wrote about Vice President Alben Barkley, “the kissing veep” who, at his wedding, paid mere lip service to his reputation.

rich 56 mansfieldRich wrote about school integration in Mansfield in the 1950s.

rich 63 worthiansHe covered the bittersweet meetings of the last-man club of the Worthians, a group of Fort Worth businessmen. In fact, he covered the meetings for so many years that the surviving Worthians finally made him their official club mascot.

Rich was known for being generous with money—Amon Carter’s money. Each year the Star-Telegram funded a picnic for employees. It had always been a modest outing—deviled eggs, iced tea, horseshoes. Then came 1948, the year Rich was in charge of the picnic. In Star-Telegram writer Jerry Flemmons’s obituary of Rich, Flemmons wrote that the picnic Rich orchestrated was extravagant—speedboat rides, goat rides, hayrides, seaplane flights, free liquor, gambling, headliner bands for dancing, a fireworks display, and the likeness of Amon Carter etched in fire over the water of Lake Worth. The bill: $12,000 ($121,000 today). After that the company stopped funding the annual picnic.

rich-merci-47When Amon Carter needed a train rerouted, he appointed Rich. See, in 1949 France sent its Merci Train on a tour of the United States. The train was France’s expression of gratitude to the United States for aid given during and after World War II. Flemmons wrote that Fort Worth was not included on the train’s route. The nearest stop was Austin. Carter, incensed because Fort Worth had donated so much aid to the French, dispatched Rich to Austin. Somehow, Flemmons wrote, Rich persuaded French and Texas officials to bring the train to Fort Worth.

rich 51 treeWhen Amon Carter needed a Christmas tree editor, he appointed Rich. It was the job of the Christmas tree editor each November to go up to the Rockies and help select and escort to Fort Worth the stately evergreen that would be erected in Burnett Park and sponsored by the Star-Telegram. Except that now and then after Rich and his pencil and notepad got to the Rockies, he kept right on going—to Seattle, for instance. C. L. Richhart always wanted to know what was around the next bend.

rich tra 11-22-65By 1962 Amon Carter was dead, but Rich was still writing about the Trinity River—for Amon Carter Jr.

When the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Trinity River navigation and flood control bill that year, Rich donned a yachting cap at a jaunty angle and paraded around the newsroom waving the wire-service bulletin. In 1965 Rich was honored along with fellow Trinity River navigation proponents Amon Carter Jr. and O. P. Leonard. Clip is from the November 22 Dallas Morning News.

When Rich retired—at least officially—in 1968 he reflected modestly on his forty-seven years in the reportorial harness: “I was just a reporter. ‘Alleged reporter,’ I should say.” He retired just before I hired on at the newspaper, but he was frequently in the newsroom. One day he found out I had been assigned to drive out to Stamford to cover the Texas Cowboy Reunion—which he had covered thirty-five years earlier. Rich asked to tag along with me. As soon as he got out there among all those cowboys, among all those old stories to hear and new stories to tell, that was the last I saw of him that weekend. I have no idea how he got back to Fort Worth.

Rich didn’t drive. That makes his wanderings all the more remarkable. He did not seem to dwell on details such as “how do I get back to Fort Worth?” He seemed to trust in—or to make his own—luck.

Rich and his wife Lucille lived in a big house on Cooper Street in the city’s original medical district. Rich and Lucille kept expanding the house outward and upward until it annexed a fully grown hackberry tree. So be it. Each autumn as the tree shed its leaves Rich raked the upstairs floor. As the wrecking ball gave the kiss of death to more and more of Fort Worth’s grand old houses on Quality Hill, the Richhart property became a conservatory of architectural treasures that Rich and Lucille rescued from doomed buildings, such as the monolithic limestone columns they saved from the Christopher Augustus O’Keefe mansion on Summit Avenue when it was demolished in 1950. Rich’s family donated the columns to Botanic Garden.

The O’Keefe mansion was located at 520 Summit at Tucker Street.

This photo shows that the columns have been disassembled for display in Botanic Garden.

When Rich and Lucille celebrated their golden anniversary in 1974, Jerry Flemmons wrote, they returned to the exact spot where they had been married at Central Methodist Church on Lipscomb Street in Fairmount fifty years earlier. Except that by 1974 the church building had become the Panther Boys Club, and the spot where the altar had been had become the club’s boxing ring. So be it. Rich and Lucille renewed their vows by putting on boxing gloves, stepping into the ring, and pulling a few punches.

richhart-strangers-1979

richhart-and-jerry2In 1979, when Flemmons created the fictional Fort Worth Strangers baseball team, Rich, then seventy-seven years old, was drafted as team manager Leonard L. Leonard.

Rich relished the new career, including his appearance on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite:

richhart with bell

Rich may have been at heart a gypsy, a whiskered zephyr, but he did have one tradition: Every New Year’s Eve he became Father Time. At the stroke of midnight he strolled through the Star-Telegram newsroom ringing in the new year with a school bell that had belonged to his mother. One New Year’s Eve Rich was out of the country on assignment. It appeared that the tradition, alas, would be broken. At midnight a phone rang on the desk of night city editor Cal Sutton. Sutton answered the phone and heard a festive “Happy New Year!” followed by the clanging of a bell. It was Rich, of course, ringing “Feliz Año Nuevo” from Mexico City.

rich-obitRich died in 1985. His official obituary in the Star-Telegram reveals little of a remarkable man.

rich-obit-jerryBut Jerry Flemmons made up for that with an eloquent front-page tribute.

Rich’s funeral was what I think many people would want their own to be like. Yes, a dear man had died, and mourners shared a sense of loss. But what I remember is the laughter. As we shared our memories of Rich, the chapel rang with laughter. And I know that Rich would have appreciated that laughter as the “-30-” at the end of a career and a life well written.

In his final years I picked him up at his big rambling house each New Year’s Eve to take him to the Star-Telegram building to ring his bell at midnight. On his last appearance as Father Time in 1981, I took along a VHS video camera and made a short recording, recorded and edited on the primitive equipment of that era. You can see a few minutes of the man himself, ringing from newsroom to press room and recalling his days as “just a reporter”:

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4 Responses to Remembering Rich at 116: Have Pencil, Will Travel

  1. Linda Brown says:

    Our family knew C.L. and Lucille in the 1970s when our dad was the pastor of Ft. Worth Bible Church. I remember well their incredible home! Lucille gave our parents some of her artwork, two of which I have hanging here in my home in Boise, Idaho, and some sketches that hang in our younger brother’s home. They were a fantastic couple and I think of them often!

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