Obituaries published in the February edition of the Texas Press Messenger.
Rea Jane (Janie) Wardlaw Gray
DAYTON – Veteran newspaper publisher Rea Jane (Janie) Wardlaw Gray died Jan. 4 in Webster, following a brief battle with cancer. She was 61.
A native of Tennessee, Gray grew up in Baytown, where her family moved in 1961. She was editor of the Ross S. Sterling High School yearbook her senior year.
Shortly after graduating high school, she began a newspaper career that spanned nearly four decades. She began working full-time at The Baytown Sun in the classified department at age 18. This position was a springboard to a variety of roles – classified manager, circulation manager, advertising director and eventually publisher – that took her to The Houston Chronicle, The Paris News, The Fort Payne (Alabama) Times Journal, The Angleton Times, The Vindicator in Liberty and The Progress in Anahuac.
Returning to where her career started, she became publisher of The Baytown Sun in February 2010 and remained in that position until her retirement in March 2018. She worked with the Texas Historical Commission and was able to see The Sun’s historical marker installed before her retirement.
Her colleagues said Gray’s career was a success due to her hard work, tenacity, patience and commitment, along with a love for her profession. The only notable break she took from her full-time newspaper career was to attend Lee College and Southwest Texas State University, (now known as Texas State University) in San Marcos.
Working full-time while being a single parent, Gray endured countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation following diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1990.
In addition to her daily professional commitments, she was a community volunteer with memberships in the Rotary Clubs of Baytown and the other cities where she worked. She was recognized as a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow. She was also a long-time member of the Baytown Lions Club.
She served in many capacities with chambers of commerce and United Way organizations in the communities she served. In addition, she was a Bay Area Heritage Society board member and volunteered with the Dayton Ole Tyme Days and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.
She also taught CCE classes at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Dayton.
She is survived by her husband William “Bill” Gray of Dayton, daughter Laura Suzanne Halter of Crosby and other relatives.
Celebration of life services were held Jan. 11 at Pace Stancil Funeral Home.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, www.stjude.org.
SNYDER – Steve Reagan, a longtime newspaper journalist and managing editor of the Snyder Daily News, died Jan. 10 in Abilene after a brief battle with cancer. He was 65.
A native of Big Spring, Reagan joined the U.S. Air Force shortly after graduation. He served as an air traffic controller at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.
After his military service, Reagan returned to Big Spring, eventually joining the Big Spring Herald for several years before working as an administrative assistant to the Howard County district attorney. He later rejoined the Herald, where he worked more than 25 years. He moved to the Snyder Daily News in February 2017 and won reporting and column-writing awards for the newspaper. He was promoted to managing editor shortly before his cancer diagnosis. Colleagues said he worked hard to provide accurate and fair coverage of the news and genuinely cared about the communities he served.
Reagan was active in the Kiwanis Club and was a former president of both the Kiwanis Club of Big Spring and the Kiwanis Club of Snyder, where he worked with the club’s scholarship program.
A memorial service was held Jan. 18 at Calvary Baptist Church in Snyder.
Reagan is survived by three brothers, a sister and other relatives.
Memorial donations may be made to the Kiwanis Club of Snyder, the Snyder Education Foundation, Calvary Baptist Church or Hendrick Hospice Care.
San Antonio – Fred Reininger, former Seguin Gazette employee who taught generations of printers as a San Antonio ISD vocational teacher, died Jan. 7. He was 91.
After graduating high school in Seguin, Reininger went to work for the Gazette in 1946. He worked there seven years as a printer, operator, writer and sports editor. In 1953, he started a 40-year career as a vocational teacher at Sidney Lanier High School, where he taught printing until he retired in 1993.
Reininger also served in the Army Reserves from 1950 to 1988, retiring as a command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank.
While working, he continued to pursue a higher education and earned a degree. In both his teaching and military careers, he was recognized through various awards and commendations for his dedication, hard work and excellence.
After retirement, he worked part time at Retama Park for 24 years as a pari-mutuel teller.
Reininger was preceded in death by his wife Louise after 54 years of marriage. He is survived by three children, three grandchildren, a great grandchild and other relatives.
Funeral mass was held Jan. 15 at St. Pius X Catholic Church in San Antonio, with interment in Holy Cross Cemetery.
Michael Eugene Finley
BAYTOWN – Former Baytown Sun journalist Michael Eugene Finley, 73, died Dec. 27.
A native of West Columbus, Finley worked for several newspapers, including the Brazosport Facts, Bay City Tribune, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the Altus Times Democrat in Oklahoma before joining the staff of the Baytown Sun in 1971. He started work with the newspaper as a sports reporter, then was promoted to sports editor and later became news editor.
During his time with the Sun, Finley worked with his brother, Jim Finley, former managing editor, who continues to write a column for the newspaper.
For a feature published in 2017 when the Texas Historical Commission awarded a historical marker to Baytown Sun, former employees were asked to share their memories of working at the newspaper. Finley’s submission was:
“I worked for the Baytown Sun during the years 1971 to 1981, under the late, great Fred Hartman and Leon Brown. The highlight of my career, sports-wise, was Sterling’s road to the state 4A state finals in 1972. The fire that destroyed the Baytown Sun building (in 1979) was something I will never forget, that plus the fact we never lost an edition because of the fire. We were leaving at 4 or 5 a.m. to go to Galveston to put out The Sun. One highlight, or lowlight, of that time was when were held up at the bridge on Highway 146 because of the tugboat traffic.”
After leaving the Sun in 1981, Finley worked for Houston Lighting and Power for 16 years.
Finley is survived by his wife, Judy Griffin Finley, a daughter, two granddaughters and other relatives.
Memorial services were held Jan. 2 at Crespo and Jirrels Funeral Home in Baytown.
Reba Lou Weaver Campbell
WACO – Reba Lou Weaver Campbell, who helped map the future of what became the wildly popular Texas Football magazine published by her husband, Dave Campbell, died Jan. 5 after years of declining health. She was 95.
Campbell had a pioneering journalism career, covering presidential visits and bus crashes in a newspapering era in which hard news primarily was the province of men.
She and Dave Campbell met at the Tribune-Herald. Reba was a young reporter and Baylor University graduate from Navasota. Dave was moving up the ladder of success after Baylor and a hitch in the military.
“An inspiration to women journalists, Reba refused to be relegated to writing for the society pages,” said a funeral notice prepared by her family. “She was a news reporter and feature writer for the Waco News-Tribune and Waco Tribune-Herald for 10 years and also was the Central Texas correspondent for United Press International, covering such stories as President Dwight Eisenhower’s journey through Texas.
“After leaving the newspaper, she was a lecturer in the Baylor journalism department and led several groups of students on trips to New York City and Washington D.C., where they met with Walter Cronkite at CBS News and with LBJ at the White House.”
Reba and Dave Campbell formed the perfect team, say friends and family members. She was a self-professed “word nerd” who adored traveling, often accompanying Dave to college bowl games and Heisman Trophy induction ceremonies. She also was a freelance contributor to Waco Today, the Tribune-Herald’s monthly magazine.
“She was an editor’s dream, a seasoned pro, easy to work with,” said Bruce Kabat, former Waco Today editor. “She and Dave were cut from the same cloth, both having come up in a different era. She knew Waco inside out, and it was great to have her contribute to the magazine.”
Reba made her kitchen table available when Dave Campbell and Hollis Biddle, a fixture in the Tribune-Herald sports department, began mapping their dream to make their magazine, Texas Football, a household name. The first issue was published in 1960, bearing 96 pages and a 50-cent price, and today the magazine remains the Bible of Texas football to many.
“Texas Football began as a family enterprise, and Reba was a big part of making it a success, including providing her kitchen table as office space for Dave to work during the days before he had a separate office for the magazine on Washington Avenue,” said the Houston Chronicle’s David Barron, contributor to Texas Football beginning in 1980 and later its managing editor.
Barron, in an email, recalled stories about Reba and the Campbells’ two daughters driving around Central Texas, drumming up interest in the magazine and lining up distributors. Appropriately, said Barron, Dave and Reba both were feted in December 2015 during a special ceremony at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco. The couple received the Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award during the Hall of Fame Legends Gala.
“Above and beyond the pleasure of her company over the years, anyone who appreciates Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine owes considerable thanks to Reba Campbell for her part in turning a dream into an institution that is treasured across Texas,” Barron said in his email message.
Waco native John McClain, who has covered NFL football for the Houston Chronicle more than 40 years, recalls his brush with Reba’s humanity.
“I was a freshman at McLennan Community College and selling men’s clothes at Goldstein’s at Lake Air Mall,” McClain said. “She came in to buy Dave some shirts. Introduced herself. Told me she taught at Baylor, never mentioned her husband. She asked me questions about my goals in life. I told her I wanted to be a sportswriter. She offered encouragement. Little did I know a year later I’d be working for Dave at the Trib. Reba was kind, caring and gracious.
“She and Dave were so natural together,” McClain continued. “She was the only person I’ve ever met who had the nerve to tell Dave Campbell what to do.
“And he did it,” McClain said. “Reba will be missed by many.”
Longtime Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott called Reba “a lady of journalism,” who, like former Tribune-Herald staffer Ann Roznovsky, paved the way for other women who made their mark in changing newsrooms nationwide. “I always admired her for that,” Lott said.
On the civic side, Reba was former president of the Waco Symphony Association and the Texas Association for Symphony Orchestras, as well as many other arts and civic organizations.
She and Dave Campbell celebrated 70 years of marriage in December.
In addition to her husband, survivors include two daughters, three grandchildren and other relatives.
A celebration of life service was held Jan. 9 at Austin Avenue United Methodist Church, were she was an active member.
Memorial donations may be made to the Waco Symphony Association or the Waco Symphony Council.
This article by Mike Copeland was originally published Jan. 7 in the Waco Tribune-Herald.