Golden 50 — 2002

2002 Recipients

123rd Summer Convention, Friday, June 28, 2002, Corpus Christi

Gene Dow, Seminole Sentinel
Ted Leach, Panola Watchman
Rigby Owen Sr., Conroe Courier
Bert West, Palacios Beacon
Willis Webb, The Jasper Newsboy

Melvin "Gene" Dow

Melvin "Gene" Dow grew up in the newspaper business, while in junior high and high school, working with his father, Melvin N. Dow, and grandfather, James L. Dow, learning the printing trade on the Wink Bulletin.

He earned a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Texas in Austin in January 1952. He served as editor of the Wink Bulletin for almost a year before being drafted for military duty in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. After returning from overseas duty in Austria, he returned to Wink to again assume the editorship of his father's newspaper.

Ready to leave his hometown, Dow became news editor of the Monahans News in 1956. After 2 1/2 years, he and his new bride, Joyce, saved enough to make the down payment on the Van Horn Advocate, which they published for more than 13 years. While there they also acquired the Hudspeth County News at Dell City.

Dow earned his private pilot's license while still in high school, and in 1972, the opportunity was presented to combine his love for flying and still continue his newspaper career. He became editor of General Aviation News, aka The Green Sheet, a nationally distributed aviation newspaper, headquartered in Snyder. Dow later became publisher of

that publication.  Again, after a dozen years or so, Dow developed a strong interest in computers. He opened the Computer Case, Inc., an Apple computer store, in Snyder in 1983 and a branch store in Big Spring the following year. Three years later, Apple Computer Co. cut the dealerships of all smaller stores, forcing the Computer Case stores out of business.

So it was back to the newspaper business. Dow then became managing editor of the Colorado City Record for about two years before Roberts Publishing Co. selected him in 1989 to become publisher of the Seminole Sentinel.

Except for the two years in the Army and three years in the computer business, Dow has spent a lifetime in the newspaper business. In most cases, his wife has worked alongside. She retired in December 2000, as women's news editor for the Sentinel.

"Seems like I've made a major change in life about every 12 years or so -- this time it's retirement," Dow said.

The Dows have been active in local civic organizations and are members of First United Methodist Church.

They have reared two children, a son, James Dee, who works and resides in California; and daughter, Dana Joyce, who is advertising director for the Mineral Wells Index, thus a fourth-generation newspaper person. Their children each have three children, providing the Dows with four grandsons and two granddaughters. They plan to continue maintaining their home in Seminole.

Dow has been the 11th publisher of the Sentinel since its founding in 1907. Dow served as the publisher of the Seminole Sentinel for 12 years from 1989 until his retirement in December 2001.

He has served West Texas Press Association as a director, first and second vice presidents and president. He has served on the editorial board of Texas Press Association.

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 Ted Leach

Ted Leach began working for newspapers as a street delivery salesman in 1947, but three years later a near fatal accident on a motor route would create not only a change of professions, but a career move.

The drunk traveling an estimated 90 mph hammered him broadside on a Cushman motor bike while he was throwing his route.

Unable to participate in organized sports that summer, or in the future, Leach was devastated by his misfortune. Although it went unsaid, the newspaper family took Leach under its wing. Longview News-Journal sports editor Buster Hale offered a solution.

Keep score or umpire summer games and high school ball and cover the contests in the newspapers under Hales' tutelage. It would pay more than throwing routes.

Through high school at Longview, young Leach worked as a reporter of local amateur and some professional sports. He covered Kilgore in the old East Texas League, keeping score on the radio and calling in stories and boxes from his parents' home in Longview.

He was sports editor of his high school newspaper and class reporter and sports editor on scholarship at Kilgore College. All the time, he worked with many friends, and his ambition to follow in his father's footsteps was building.

"I had more spending money then than I do now," he often jokes.  His mother and father both worked, Kay with the Texas Employment Commission, Ed as sports editor, then reporter-columnist and finally editor and editor-in-chief of the Longview morning and afternoon newspapers.

Ed Leach earned a 50-year pin from Texas Press Association in 1983, finishing a distinguished career working for publications Leach helped found. He also cherished a Friend of the TPA honor.

Research shows Ed and Ted Leach are one the few father-son duos to reach this 50-year milestone from TPA.

With Buster Hale's help, Leach landed the sports editor's job at The Borger News Herald. His father was adamantly opposed to any move from the Longview area, but it was made without consulting him.

In 1960, Leach won the Texas UPI Editor's sports writing competition and Ed embraced the idea that maybe there was hope.

"The best competitor I've ever had," Amarillo Globe-News sports scribe Putt Powell once wrote of Leach.

"The greatest circulation builder I have ever known," Borger's Dean Preston believed.

An elderly gentleman who was hired in circulation at Borger took a great liking to Leach and promoted him to work with his friends at Wichita Falls Times-Record News, telling one of the managing editors that Leach was a writer who works circulation without pay in order to build a reputation.

Curtis Cook and Al Parker liked Leach well enough to hire him and eventually made him sports editor.

"I had to back up to the pay window, I loved that job so much," Leach said.

As sports editor he directed a four-man staff, wrote columns, covered the best schoolboy games in the city and area, covered the best of the Southwest Conference football games on Saturdays during football, and when the Dallas Cowboys came to being at the Cotton Bowl, Leach was there to write about the home games.

"It's been a great ride," he says. "I've seen many of the greatest athletes and coaches of my time and I've had a blast.

"There hasn't been a day I dreaded going to work."

He came back to Longview to get some news writing and editing experience under a master of the language,Wells Burton, but shortly accepted a position as chief cook and bottle washer (editor, photographer, darkroom tech, composition makeup assistant and circulation manager) of the Mount Pleasant Times. Operating on the promise he would someday be afforded the opportunity to buy the old hot type paper, he worked long hours in a very competitive market.

With his devoted wife Maudie entering the work force as wire editor and co-circulation manager, and their five children participating in delivery of The Times, as part of the work force, they were greatly pleased as a family to be a part of that town, until Leach was offered The Panola Watchman editor's job at Carthage. His wife would have a job as typesetter and would gather courthouse news, since there was no wire copy to edit.

While in Carthage, Leach aggressively covered controversies in the local school system and was eventually asked to serve on the PTA and run for school board. But the management shunned the idea and Leach said that when he didn't back down, he was fired. Shortly his wife was fired, too, and he and local city councilman, Robert Pike, started to co-publish a new newspaper.

The Panola Post was born in Pike's living and dining rooms, until a front porch could be enclosed to give his wife Hazel a good portion of her living quarters back. Devoted to her husband's causes, Hazel took Leach and Maudie under her wing and said little about the scraps of waxed paper she often had to remove by hand from her carpets.

"Hazel and Robert were fantastic," Leach said.

Leach would soon sell his portion of The Post to Lloyd Grissom, and then would join the Grissom Publications team (East Texas Light, Timpson Times and newly acquired Toledo Sportsman) at Tenaha.

He was hired as editor, writer, circulation manager, sales person and advertising director of The Toledo Sportsman. Throw in composition,  too, he said.

In his tenure, The Sportsman grew from a 24-page tabloid to 96 pages, including national, lake marina and local township ads from either side of the great lake.

All his life, however, Leach secretly wanted to be sports editor of the Longview papers. It was rumored his friend, John Inman, was looking at a public relations job in Dallas with the Cowboys so Leach agreed to come write a morning column, to cover Panola County events and be outdoor editor on the promise that Inman would not be forced to vacate his post.

Eventually he also joined Buster Hale at The Henderson Daily News covering sports, and working double duty.

From 1982 to 1990, Grissom urged editorial excellence through contests and The Panola Post and The Post-Watchman were dominant in their divisions of the Texas Press Association and North and East Texas Press Association competition.

The Post held its own in the Texas Gulf Coast Press Association, too. Leach served as president of that group in 1990-1991.

The weekly and semiweekly publications won 38 first places in a l0-year span in TPA, NETPA and TGCPA competition, including two TPA and two NETPA sweepstakes plaques.

Leach was editor and the only reporter, sports and otherwise, when the Watchman took one sweepstakes honor. He was editor or editor-in-chief when The Panola Post earned its highest honor. Leach took 22 first places with The Panola Post and Post-Watchman for sports, column writing, news photos and editorials in the period of 1982 to 1990.

Then the emphasis on winning awards waned.

Newspapering always has been a family operation with the Leaches. Sons David and Donald have covered area high school sports, daughter Debbie has helped keep statistics and drives Leach to his doctor appointments between games. Granddaughters Amber and Angel Leach assist their father as photographer and statistician for Beckville games.

Grandsons Donnie and Donald are paw paw's eyes and able assistants.

"I've worked with folks in this business that didn't like to show up at the appointed hour. All I have to do is ask," Leach said of his family sources.

"Does this guy Leach ever sleep?" a TPA judge once asked in a critique of sports entries.

"The family is my secret weapon," Leach said.

With five married children, 14 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren all living with 15 miles of Carthage, it's easy to get someone to a game if there's a conflict.

Trying to cover boys' and girls' and men's and women's games at the high school and college level, creates a hectic pace. Almost seven years ago (Aug. 7, 1995) Leach had a heart transplant.

With the aid of a portable computer, a fax machine, a telephone and great sources on the local sports scene to help in every way, he missed just one full and a partial issue of his semiweekly schedule. He would get scorebooks or information by fax, write the stories at night and send them by modem before deadline .

"Loyd once told me it's not what you print that always counts, but what you know," Leach said.

"If I reported the truth, I enjoyed the hatchet man reputation, too. That all changed, however, when I had a change of heart."

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Rigby Owen, Sr.

Rigby Owen, Sr., was born June 17, 1912, in Rosebud, Falls Co., Texas. In late 1918 Rigby and his only brother,  Irvin, moved with their parents to Oklahoma City via train. He remembers seeing soldiers on the train returning to their respective homes at the end of World War I.

He attended schools in Oklahoma City through the 11th grade and began his newspaper career there at the age of 12 delivering the Daily Oklahoman while attending Webster Junior High.

He consistently delivered papers through his junior year at Central High School. This was the beginning of a very successful career in newspapering.

Owen graduated from high school in 1931 in Norman, Okla., at the age of 18. At 19 he enrolled at the University of Oklahoma with his goal being a degree in engineering. During his first semester at OU, his father had an automobile accident that resulted in a permanent back injury that would keep him from working the rest of his life. Owen quit college after one semester and went to work to help support his Mom and Dad. They were living in Norman at this time.

In 1932 he moved to Cushing, Okla., to assist his older brother in distributing The Oklahoma City Times and the Daily Oklahoman, two Oklahoma City newspapers.

During that year, Owen's brother was transferred to El Reno, Okla., to work as a distributor for the two Oklahoma City papers. He remained in Cushing. In June 1932 Owen met his future wife, Jo Briley. They married Feb. 14, 1933.

On Sept. 25, 1933 Owen was hired as circulation manager of The Cushing Daily Citizen. During his two years there he converted all the routes so the carriers would do the collecting and pay for their papers.

This was called the "Little Merchant Plan."

In making this change Owen was able to double the paid circulation for the Citizen. While working for the Citizen he wrote a column titled "Red Visits the Rural Routes," so named because of his red hair.

The Owens' first child, Sandra, was born in Cushing.

In August 1935 the district manager for the Oklahoma City papers, C.A. Lane, was named circulation manager of the Little Rock Democrat. Owen was offered a job as city circulation manager by his longtime friend. He took the job thinking this was quite a move for him and stayed there about one year before deciding to move on because he seemed to enjoy working on smaller newspapers.

In September 1936 he moved to Shawnee, Okla., and worked for the local newspaper in advertising and circulation. After about six months he moved to Ada, Okla., where he was hired as circulation manager for the Ada News. W.D. Little was the publisher of the News.

During his six years on this job he wound up making more than men who had been on the job a lot longer. Two sons, Steve and Rigby, Jr. were born in Ada.

In 1937 Owen was appointed an "Honorary Colonel" commission on the staff of the Oklahoma Boy's State for his enduring work with young newspaper carriers under the "Little Merchant Plan" he implemented for the Ada News. In January 1941 Owen was elected president of Ada's Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Early in 1942 Owen resigned from the Ada News when he had an opportunity to buy one-fourth interest in the Opelousas Daily World in Opelousas, La. The World was a year and a half old and was started by John Thistlethwaite for about $12,000. There were several other stockholders owning 50 percent of the stock.When Owen arrived in Opelousas, Thistlethwaite sold him 25 percent of his stock, mostly on credit. The next day Thistlethwaite left for the Army.

During the next few years the minor stockholders wanted to sell out. Thistlethwaite did not want to participate. Owen was able to purchase an additional 50 percent of the outstanding stock, again, mostly on borrowed money.

When WWII ended Thistlethwaite came back to be the editor of the World and Owen was publisher. Thistlethwaite was offered a chance to be a 50-50 partner with Owen but was not interested.

Owen always considered Thistlethwaite an equal partner and good friend during his nine years in Opelousas.

The Daily World was the only offset daily newspaper in the state at the time and later was declared the first successful offset daily in the United States. During his nine-year tenure in Opelousas, Owen coowned nearby newspapers, including The Eunice New Era, The Layayette Pictorial and The Lafayette Progress. The paper in Eunice was later renamed The Eunice News.

Owen was elected to the Louisiana Press Association board of governors in April 1944 and elected president of the LPA at their annual meeting in New Orleans on April 12, 1947.

In 1951 Rigby sold his controlling interest in the World to his good friend Thistlethwaite.

In December of that same year Owen bought The El Campo News.

He sold the News in March 1953.While in El Campo, Owen coowned newspapers in Port Lavaca and Weslaco.

On Sept. 1, 1953, Owen bought the Conroe Courier and moved there with his family.

He was elected vice-president of the Texas Gulf Coast Press Association on May 10, 1954 at its annual meeting in Brenham. Patsy Woodall, publisher of the Huntsville Item was elected President.

In May 1955 he became president of the Texas Gulf Coast Press Association. In July 1971 he was elected president of Texas Press Association. At that time, he was only the second publisher in the United States to have served as president of two different state press associations.

On Sept. 1, 1971 Owen sold the Conroe Courier to Universal Publishing, Inc.,Wesley Attaway, chairman of the board. Owen served on the board for several years.

Other newspapers Owen owned prior to the sale of the Courier included The Tomball Tribune, The Cleveland Advocate and The Huntsville Pictorial. He also acquired an FM radio permit to begin operating radio station KNRO in Conroe.

In 1976 he bought radio station KMCO in Conroe and the call letters later changed to KIKR.

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Bert West 

Bert West's newspaper career has ranged from reporting on harness horse racing at county fairs in the Midwest to man's first landing on the moon, and from PTA meetings to murder trials in between.

On Sept. 7, 2002, West will have completed 55 years as either a sportswriter, sports editor, news editor, bureau manager, managing editor and publisher or owner of newspapers in Indiana, Missouri and Texas, 43 of those years in Texas.

An Indiana farm boy who dreamed of being a newspaperman since he was 5 years old, West started his career on Sept. 7, 1947, at the age of 20, when he went to work at $35 per week as one of two associate editors of The Horseman & Fair World, a weekly trade magazine devoted to the sport of harness horse racing, published in Indianapolis. He became editor of the magazine in 1949, at which time Billboard Magazine featured him as the youngest editor of any publication of worldwide circulation. The Horseman was one of two such magazines on the sport of harness horse racing.

While with The Horseman, West wrote weekly columns on harness horse racing for the Indianapolis Star; Lexington (Ky.) Leader and the Washington, D.C., Daily News.

In 1951, he became associate editor of the sport's other magazine, The Harness Horse, at Harrisburg, Pa., then spent a few months in early 1952 as editor of the brand new Harness Daily, at LaGrange, Ill., which folded in short order.

In July 1952, he joined the Indianapolis Star as a sportswriter. Then, after members of his wife's family had moved to Dallas, West, too, found Texas in August 1954, leaving Indiana with his family of four and no job in sight. Within a few weeks, he became managing editor for Rufus Higgs at the Stephenville Empire-Tribune.

In March 1955, he became news editor of the El Campo News, owned by a fellow Hoosier, B.W. Bradfute. When Bradfute sold the News in 1957, West became the first manager of the Port Lavaca bureau for the Victoria Advocate.When the Woodson group purchased the two competing newspapers in Port Lavaca, he became managing editor of the merged Port Lavaca Wave-Calhoun County Times, along with keeping his Victoria Advocate bureau duties.

There was a quick trip (five months) back to Indiana in early 1961 to be news editor of the Madison Courier, but the Texas fever was too much. He returned in June 1961 as sports editor of the Vernon Record.

In December 1961 he became managing editor of the Bay City Tribune.

Over the next five years, West was news editor, San Benito News; news editor, Lamb County Leader, Littlefield; and general manager, Calhoun County News, Port Lavaca. At San Benito, he founded and published the Valley & South Texas Football magazine in 1963-64.

In 1966, he joined the Pasadena News-Citizen as news editor. While there, he converted five weeklies between Houston and Galveston, which were owned by the Citizen, into the Spaceland Star.

In 1968, he accepted an offer from the Houston Chronicle to be manager of its news bureau at the Manned Spacecraft Center, where he covered the first six manned flights of the Apollo program, including the first two manned landings on the moon, Apollo 11 and 12.

During this time, he also served as Space Center correspondent for the French News Agency, the U.S. Information Agency, Japanese News Agency, Newsday and a Turkish news agency. Prior to Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon in 1969, he spent a week in Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio -- the first place West had gone to cover county fair harness horse racing back in 1947 -- retracing Armstrong's youth, family and friends, for the Chronicle and Texas Magazine.

Wanting to get back into full newspaper activity and responsibilities, after the first two Moon landings, West became managing editor of then three-times-a-week St. Charles Journal in St. Charles, Mo. This started a 5 1/2-year stay in Missouri, but it was again back to Texas in mid-1975, where he became editor-publisher of the Morris County News-Ledger and Cass County News-Ledger at Daingerfield and Hughes Springs.

He and son, Nick (fresh out of the Marines) purchased the papers from Grayford Jones, converted them into the Steel Country News-Ledger and also started the Ore City News-Ledger.

They sold the papers to the Bluebonnet group in November 1979, after which West spent about four months helping the new owners of the Johnson City Record-Courier revamp their paper before becoming editor-publisher of the Needville Tribune. In 1981-82, he was news editor for Dick Reavis (whom he had worked with at Port Lavaca 20 years earlier) at the Moore County News in Dumas.

For a brief spell in 1982, he was owner-publisher of the Bogata News and three other small weeklies in the area, before joining son, Nick, at the Palacios Beacon. From 1983-89, he was news editor, then general manager of the Yoakum Herald-Times. In 1989, he founded the requester weekly, Four Star Reporter at Yoakum.

After selling the Four Star to Buddy Preuss in 1994,West thought he was retiring, and was -- for three months. However, the owners of the Jackson County Herald-Tribune at Edna, on a tip from Tex Rogers, offered him a job of being their publisher-general manager, which he accepted. He remained there until July 1999.Within a month, he was back at it -- rejoining son, Nick, at the Palacios Beacon on full-time chores.

"Most of those job changes in the early years were due to my always looking for challenges. I would join a paper, help to build it up, then go looking for another to do the same,"West said. "Besides, I told my wife when we married that I wanted to travel.

"Of all the newspapers I've worked for, there wasn't a one that I didn't enjoy my job," he says.

Among his accomplishments, while at the St. Charles Journal, he was lead writer on a series of twice-weekly articles that ran continuously for 18 months, that resulted in St. Louis keeping its major airport, Lambert Field, in Missouri, instead of building a new one across the Mississippi River, in Illinois -- a deal that had been endorsed by St.  Louis' two daily newspapers and was all but completed by the governor of Illinois and the mayor of St. Louis, until the Journal series. Missouri would have lost millions of dollars, plus hundreds of jobs, had the airport gone to another state.

He also wrote a long series of articles at the Four Star Reporter in Yoakum that resulted in the State Department of Transportation keeping its District 13 intact and headquartered in Yoakum, instead of being merged into the Corpus Christi District as supported by then Gov. Ann Richards.

West also received a commendation from the Associated Press for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby while at the Indianapolis Star.

West was named Outstanding Secretary of the Texas Jaycees in 1957. He founded the Little League basketball program at Stephenville in 1954, the El Campo Little League in 1956, fishing tournaments at Port Lavaca and Palacios and was elected charter director and secretary of the Yoakum Hospital District. He has been national chairman of the public relations committee for the trustee division of the American Library Association. He was president of the Calhoun County Fair, president of the Palacios Chamber of Commerce, board member of the Texas Main Street Committee at Yoakum, president of the St. Charles County, Mo., Library District board of trustees, president of Port Lavaca Jaycees, and president of Rotary and Optimist clubs in Texas and Missouri.

West and his bride, Betty, whom he married in 1948, have had eight children (a daughter died in childhood). Son, Nick, is publisher of the Palacios Beacon; daughter, Leah Eames, works for a printing company in Naples. Other children are Pat West, Mount Pleasant; Dodie Edinger, Lake St. Louis, Mo.; Deborah West, Dallas; Karen Roby,  Longview; and Larry West, Yoakum. Grandson Michael "West" McCracken is sports editor of the Gonzales Inquirer.

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Willis Webb

Willis Webb began his career in newspapering at age 10 by working as a carrier throwing the Waco Tribune-Herald on a bicycle route in his hometown of Teague. And he's been "handling" newspapers up close and personal since.

Webb is publisher of The Jasper Newsboy and is second vice president of Texas Press Association. During his 50-plus-year career he has been a syndicated columnist, a managing editor, advertising director, newspaper consultant and an award-winning editor-publisher at several locations.

Webb rode his bike and tossed that Waco newspaper from 1947-1953 and then was distributor/carrier of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Teague, 1953-55.

In 1956 and 1957 he studied journalism at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, served as sports publicity director for Bearkat athletics and worked as a stringer for the Huntsville Item and correspondent for The Houston Post, Associated Press, United Press and International News Service (INS).

He returned home for one year as news editor of the Teague Chronicle, then finished his J-degree work in night school at the University of Houston, working days as a copy editor for The Cougar, student newspaper, and authored a syndicated column, "The Texian Editor's Frontier News Flashes," gleaned from Texas newspaper files from the 1860s and 1870s. More than 150 weekly newspapers carried the column.

On Jan. 1, 1959 he became an ad sales rep for the Galena Park Reporter and six months later was named general manager. In 1960 he became associate editor of Texas Industry magazine published by the Texas Manufacturers Association.

Webb worked as editor and then editor-publisher of the Fort Bend Mirror at Rosenberg for six years and spent the next three years as editor-publisher of the Cleveland Advocate. Next stop was Conroe where he was associate publisher, then editor, then publisher of the Conroe Courier, later the Conroe Daily Courier.

From 1976 to 1982 he was sales manager for Southwest Creative Graphics, worked as a consultant to Attaway Newspapers and brokered the sale of the Cleveland Journal to Attaway. He also did advertising, public relations and political campaign work.

He was editor-publisher of the Lockhart Post-Register 1982-84 and then the Fredericksburg Radio Post in 1984-85. During the next four years he worked for Hartman Newspapers, Inc. (HNI) in several capacities: business manager of The Herald Coaster, director of sales and marketing, vice president-operations and editor-publisher of the Fort Bend Mirror.

He was editor/publisher of the Fort Bend Business & Legal Review at Stafford and then joined the Houston Digest as an ad sales rep.

In May 1991 he became editor-publisher of The Jasper Newsboy, which is the oldest continuously published (under the same name) weekly in Texas. His wife Julie, a former schoolteacher, serves as contributing editor of the Newsboy. They have four children and two grandchildren.

Webb has received numerous awards in news, editorial and column writing, graphic design, ad copy and design, photography, and community service from the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, the United Press International Editors Association, Texas Press Association, Houston Press Club, Texas Gulf Coast Press Association, South Texas Press Association, North and East Texas Press Association, the Hearst Corporation and the Press Club of Southeast Texas in Beaumont.

In 1997 he became the first weekly publisher to receive the Hearst Corporation's Eagle Award for outstanding individual accomplishment in journalism.

He is a past member of the administrative board of First United Methodist Church of Jasper and is a past-president of numerous chambers of commerce. He was founding president of the Boys & Girls Club of Jasper and served on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Deep East Texas. He currently serves as a director of the Jasper and Sam Rayburn Area Chamber of Commerce and is a Jasper County Historical Museum director.

Since the James Byrd Jr. murder and trial, Webb has spoken by invitation at TPA, Panhandle Press Association and STPA conventions about the impact on Jasper and the Jasper area as well as on the newspaper.