By Rix Quinn
Publishers’ Auxiliary Magazine called William H. “Bill” Quinn Jr. the youngest newspaper publisher in the United States when he was chosen to head the Grand Saline (Texas) Sun in 1935 at age 22.
When he died on Sept. 6, 2014, at age 102, he was likely the nation’s oldest writer. He wrote his last column on May 8, 2014, and taped an audio interview on his early years only two months ago.
In August 2013, he was also featured in the Texas Press Association’s publication, The Messenger, which said he “might be the TPA’s most senior member.”
During 80 years of writing activity, he covered some of this nation’s largest stories, including the tragic New London, Texas, school explosion, where 200 students were killed. He was also among the first to interview Postmaster General Jim Farley in 1940 when he tested the waters for a possible run at the White House.
Bill’s journalistic career started when — at age 15 — he won a writing contest sponsored by the Dallas News, and saw his bylined name. “It looked so good,” he remembered, “I told my parents I’d grow up to be a newsman.”
After high school graduation in 1930 — with no job, and no job in sight — he and another local boy started their own daily paper — The Dinner Horn — on a borrowed mimeograph machine. The paper soon folded, but that only sparked Bill’s desire to write more.
After being named publisher of the Grand Saline paper, he worked tirelessly to build readership and advertising. The paper’s owner soon named him editor of the neighboring Van Banner, too.
Bill first received national media attention and many speaking invitations when he kiddingly announced a run for the U.S. Senate by suggesting that people over 30 be put in “homes for the aged.”
In 1941, the Sun won awards as the state’s outstanding weekly paper for its size. Then, Bill was hired to edit a larger paper, the Mineola (Texas) Monitor. He did that until joining the U.S. Army.
In World War II, Bill started out in the personnel division, but because of his writing credentials, was named editor of the Sixth Corps’ daily mobile newspaper, The Beachhead News. It followed the Army’s path through Italy, France and Germany. Bill received the Bronze Star in recognition of these efforts.
Upon returning from military service, Bill moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where he married his longtime sweetheart — schoolteacher Lennie Roberson — and bought the small Ledger Printing Company. He started regional publications for laundry and cleaning, the rental industry, and safety engineers before finding success by building the Southern Bicycle Journal, a regional monthly magazine for bicycle dealers that he was already printing.
In the 1950s, Bill also started a monthly visitors’ guide for his hometown, aptly named The Fort Worther. It still exists today as Key Magazine.
Then, in 1959, he created Lawn Equipment Journal for the new and fast-growing lawn and garden industry. It was later renamed Outdoor Power Equipment, and grew to be one of the nation’s larger trade magazines.
His famous monthly columns — “Partly Personal” — helped develop readership for his magazines. These features mixed business, travel, industry information, government-related updates, and just plain good humor, and helped him attract thousands of loyal readers.
In 1988 — after Bill considered several offers to sell the magazine – OPE was bought by ABC/Capital Cities, the same company that had purchased the Star-Telegram.
Among the honors that Bill received were the Gold Medallion for outstanding leadership to the Outdoor Power Equipment industry; induction into the Garden Industry of America Hall of Fame; Award of Appreciation from the Engine Service Association; the Scroll of Honor from the Bicycle Wholesale Distributors Association; and — locally — The Silver Medal for outstanding contributions to advertising by the Advertising Club of Fort Worth.
After selling OPE, Bill saw himself at an awkward age…too young to retire (only 76) and too old to start another publication. Then, one of his friends — the founder of national book publisher Ten Speed Press (now part of Random House) — suggested he gather the stories from several of his retailer readers who struggled to compete with mass merchants.
This led to his best-selling book How Wal-Mart is Destroying America (and the World) and What You Can Do About It. The book — first published in 1998 — came out in three editions and reportedly sold about 100,000 copies. It also led to multiple talk-show appearances and interviews, including the ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings.
Bill and his beloved wife Lennie traveled extensively. Bill visited five continents and 25 countries on both business and pleasure trips. He met four U.S. Presidents (Hoover, LBJ, Nixon and Ford), and Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon.
Lennie died nine years ago at age 92, but Bill continued to talk to old friends, eat out regularly, and attend all family gatherings.
One hundred people came to his 100th birthday celebration, and at his 102nd birthday celebration this May, he blew out all those candles on the first try.
Here are some of his favorite bits of advice:
1. Look and dress the best you can afford.
2. Shake hands enthusiastically, and look your new friend in the eye.
3. The prime role of a newspaper or magazine is to support and unite the community or industry it serves.
4. He got this advice from an old aunt: travel first class. It costs a little more, but it makes you feel much, much better.
5. Stories about products may sell products, but stories about people sell ideas.
6. Remember…you are just one good idea away from $1 million.
7. Life is about building memories. Give everyone you meet something to remember you by. And find something unique about each of them, so you can remember them, too.
SURVIVORS: Son and daughter-in-law Rix and Erica Quinn; granddaughter and son-in-law Katie and Tyler Fultz; great-granddaughter Aria Fultz: niece Jill Baker and husband Bill; nephew Jack Quinn and wife Ann; niece Patricia Fraser; nephew Tim Roberson and wife Idylette; and great nieces and nephews and cousins.
MEMORIALS: The USO, or Quinn Scholarship Fund, Grand Saline High School, 400 Stadium Dr., Grand Saline, TX 75140.
1. NEWSPAPER WORK — Before beginning his career in the magazine business, Bill Quinn edited weekly newspapers. 2. BILL QUINN WAS NAMED to the Garden Industry of America Hall of Fame at its national trade show in 1985. Pictured at left making the presentation to Bill is GIA Show Director Paul Anderson. 3. NEWLYWEDS Bill and Lennie Quinn pictured shortly after their 1946 marriage. 4. DURING WORLD WAR II, Bill Quinn visits with his parents, and niece and nephew Jill and Jack Quinn, before heading for Europe. 5. BILL QUINN (shown at right) started the Lawn Equipment Journal in 1959 after a bicycle dealer wrote him requesting a magazine for lawnmower dealers that was similar to his monthly for bicycle retailers, the Bicycle Journal. 6. BILL QUINN meets Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. 7. BILL QUINN with granddaughter Katie (circa 1988). 8. FOUR GENERATIONS — Clockwise from left, Bill Quinn is pictured with son Rix; granddaughter Katie, who is Rix’s daughter; and great-granddaughter Aria Catherine Fultz, who is Katie’s daughter. 9. THIS 2004 HOLIDAY PHOTO shows Bill and Lennie Quinn with, back row, left to right, Rix, Katie and Erica. Lennie passed away in 2005 at age 92. 10. BILL QUINN CELEBRATES his 100th birthday with (standing, left to right) son Rix, granddaughter Katie and daughter-in-law Erica.