SESQUI SAGAS A Texas Sage Saddles Up Alone

A couple of years back, then-editor Will Jarrett of the Dallas Times Herald decided this town just wasn’t big enough for all five Bill Forterfields. Jarrett couldrft quite figure out Porterfield, his sometimes esoteric but always literate and readable columnist. It was hard to predict what he’d put on the Op-Ed page, once he got going. “I wrote a lot about public affairs-and private affairs, philosophy, history, and psychology,” Porterfield says.

Since he wasn’t predictable or boring enough for Op-Ed pun-ditry, they tried packing him off to the Living section, where they wanted him to die and come back writing like Andy Rooney. “I just wanted to be Porterfield,” says the columnist.

Then Jarrett. apparently wishing to push his maverick scribe even farther out into the wilderness, put him on the good ol’ boy beat for the Sesquicentennial year. His mission: seek out the Man on the Unpaved Street, the legions with gravy on their chins. Por-terfield didn’t like the arrangement; he felt like a painter forced to use just one color on his palette. But Jarrett stood his ground and decided he wanted only one-fifth of his columnist. So Porter-field, fifty-four, took hat in hand and went to Miller Grove, a minor suburb of Cumby, Texas, to spend a year “wandering around like Mr. Texas in a straitjacket.” But the Sesqui started off pretty good for him. Jarrett was soon gone and the Times Mirror brought in yet another Great Herald Hope, editor Shelby Coffey III.

Things were looking up, it seemed. Says Porterfield, “Larry Tarleton [managing editor] gave me a raise at the beginning of the year. In the spring I won an AP award as the best big-city columnist in the state. I got a letter from [publisher] Art Wible saying what an asset to the staff I was.” Then the Times Mirror sold the colicky paper and new owner William Dean Singleton came into town with his sidekick, editor Dave Burgin. Porterfield, grazing in the hinterlands, was too far away to sec the handwriting on the wall at the Herald. And then he was laid off along with 108 other Herald employees, a victim of the lean-times budget cuts.

Four Herald bureaus, including those in such deadwood locales as Lubbock and Tyler, were sent to Boot Hill. “I just think they thought I was the Cumby bureau,” Porterfield says. “Now it’s root hog or die. All I do is work hard and try to write pretty.”

With a fistful of pretty good books and a thirty-two-year writing career to his credit, it shouldn’t be at all difficult for Porterfield to find freelance work-or targets. Says Mr. Texas: “I always remember my friends and my enemies-and I ain’t done for.”

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