Athens Review, Athens, Texas

September 26, 2013

They just don’t make them like they used to, do they Art?

Scott McKee
The Athens Review

Athens — I hate to admit it. I miss Art Lawler.  Its been about a year now since Art swam back upstream to Oklahoma where he was born and raised. Not that I don’t love Kathy, Rich and Jayson, but Art is one of a kind.  

I will never forget the first time we met in person. “You’re a lot shorter than I imagined,” Art said. “5-foot-9 and taller than you,” I proudly stated. “But I’m not the District Attorney,” he shot back. I guess Art thought any Texas D.A. worth their salt had to be at least six feet tall. I’m sure he thinks that’s why I wear a cowboy hat. For the record: it’s my bald head and not my height that dictates the hat.

It’s not that I just sit around thinking, “Boy, I sure miss that old guy.” I love high school football. I mean, I really love high school football. So I often find myself wondering what ever happened to coach such-and-such or that QB? Whenever these types of questions creep into my mind, I turn to that great source of information always on my hip — Google on my iPhone. So I’m sitting in San Antonio, eating Mexican food by myself after a long day of learning the latest and greatest trends in criminal law when it hits me: Where in the world is Doug Wendel? 

Certainly you remember Coach Wendel of the Eustace Bulldogs. So I Google his name, and bam — an article from the late, great Cedar Creek Pilot written by none other than Art Lawler pops up. It’s been a couple of years since I first read that article, but I sat there stuffing chips and salsa into my mouth while annoying tourists who obviously are not from Texas milled about, reading Art’s article. As usual, the article dripped of sarcasm with Art’s confusing and amusing balance of ego and self-deprecation all at once. 

Among a whole host of other things, Art thinks he knows more about football than most coaches and athletic directors. If you ask him, I bet he will tell you he could have won 10 or maybe 11 2A state titles.

Art didn’t have to bug me for a story or information. Most of the time, I called him just to chat. I thoroughly enjoyed talking on the phone with him. Betty Herriage, my office manager who has a desk just outside my office, would just look in and shake her head at our exchanges.  I have what my wife describes as a very annoying habit of using the speakerphone in my office.  Art and I argued over everything. I’m still not sure where he falls on the political spectrum. I think he just likes to argue. 

I always teased him about his car. He had to have owned the worst car to ever travel Henderson County roads. I ran into him off duty once at an auto parts store in Gun Barrel. I was wearing an old pair of swimming trunks with paint all over them looking for a locking cap for a diesel tank. He was desperately trying to keep his car road legal. Somehow my shorts and not his beat-up car is what he remembers most. 

While at the Pilot and the Review, Art tended to shy away from the typical news coming from our office — murder, assault, drugs, etc. He liked scandal. I’ll never forget a story involving he and another man I dearly miss, Charles Stiff. When Charles and Art got together to get a story, there wasn’t much they wouldn’t do.

A group of citizens had filed a petition to remove former Seven Points Mayor Joe Dobbs. Before tying the courts up in litigation, I called a meeting between Mayor Dobbs and a city council member who wanted him to resign or be removed to see if I could get them to resolve their differences.  Somehow, Art and Charles found out about the meeting and its location. We even changed the time and location twice so the press wouldn’t be there to get pictures. The meeting took almost all day. We ran it like mediation. As I walked out the front door of the “undisclosed” law office late that evening, there was Art and Charles. Art was armed with a pen and paper and Charles with his camera. I stood there in the middle of the sidewalk on the south side of the square looking on in shock as Art and Charles took off in a full sprint up the sidewalk towards me. To this day, I swear Charles beat him. Needless to say, they got their picture. 

A few months later, Art poured his heart and soul into an article after the death of his friend Charles. There was no scandal. Charles Benjamin Stiff, the local legend who over the years had captured the images and hearts of so many citizens, died of a broken heart after losing his beloved Euthena “Sam” a couple of year’s prior.  If you ask me, it was his best writing ever.

Although Art and I were friends who talked almost weekly and argued over everything, he always reminded me that as a member of the press, he would never cut me any slack. “You ever do anything stupid, McKee, I’ll be the first with the story.” That was Art. 

I miss him. And yes Art, if you’re reading this, I’m still 5’9” and taller than you — without the hat!

Scott McKee is Henderson County’s district attorney.