Legendary Sportswriter Orville Henry Dies

Longtime sportswriter Orville Henry, 77, died Saturday evening. Here's a biographical sketch prepared by Jim Bailey.

Orville Henry died Saturday evening March 16th at his home in Malvern. He was 77. He had battled pancreatic cancer for the past 25 months.

Henry was a columnist for the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas after spending 60 years writing sports for the Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Donrey Media. He was the sports editor of the Arkansas Gazette for many years, gaining fame for his coverage of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Here is a biographical sketch supplied by longtime friend Jim Bailey, his colleague at the Gazette and now a reporter for the Democrat-Gazette:

Orville Henry, born Feb. 19, 1925, died March 16, 2002.

Joined the Gazette staff as a beginner in the sports department, at 17 in February or early March of 1942.

Became Gazette sports editor on an interim basis in September of 1943, at 18, after sports editor Ben Epstein was hired by the New York Daily Mirror. (Epstein soon distinguished himself as New York Yankees beat writer.) In a few months, Orville was told by managing editor Clyde Drew that he had the sports editor's job on a permanant basis. World War II was going full blast, and Orville was physically exempt from military service because he was underweight.

In those days, the Gazette (and the Democrat) sports sections rarely had more than 10 columns of space daily and about 3 or 4 pages on Sundays. After the war, Orville gradually built a sports staff. By 1950, he had added Wilbur "Bill" Bentley, a wandering veteran who had served previous hitches with the Gazette in the 1920s and early 1930s -- he had been sports editor immediately before Epstein, who took over about 1935. Bentley served OH's staff as a desk man, columnist, and occasional reporter. Charles "Chuck" Miller came in from a Beaumont paper as a desk man (primarily) in 1951. But Orville's early staffs always had two or three young "part-timers" -- part-time in payroll status but not in hours worked.

He'd find likely prospects coming out of high school, employ them while they attended Little Rock Junior College (now UA-Little Rock) and send some of them on to UA-Fayetteville to work as correspondents while they finished college. This system, which functioned to some extrent from the 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s, produced at least five future Associated Press reporters -- Adrian Cooper, the late Tom Dygard, Bill Simmons, Robert Shaw, Harry King. Dygard, Simmons and Shaw became AP bureau chiefs. Several others -- Pat Hogan, Eddie Best, Ron Robinson, Brenda Sisson, James Thompson -- went on to successful careers in public relations or advertising. Jerry Dhonau eventually became a Gazette editorial writer; Jim Standard was later a Daily Oklahoman investigative reporter and editor. All came out of OH's on-the-job development program.

Orville was with the Gazette 47 years, 1942-1989; with the Democrat (and Democrat-Gazette), 1989-96; with Donrey Media from 1996 until the time of his death. That was 60 years total.

He was elected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the first print journalist honored, after receiving an earlier meritorious service award from the Hall of Fame organization. In votes conducted by the National Sportscasters and Sportwriters Association, he was elected Arkansas sportswriter of the year eight times: 1959-60-62-63-64-65, '69. He was recently named recipient of the Ernie Dean Award for journalistic contributions, and named the Arkansas Alumni Association's Honorary Distinguished Alumni of the Year. He was a past president of the American Football Writers Association.

Starting with the Jan. 1, 1955 Cotton Bowl game, Arkansas vs. Georgia Tech, he covered every Razorback football game except two until illness forced him to miss some in the 2000 season. The game that broke the string was the Georgia game in Fayetteville. The two he missed in that 45-year stretch were the final two regular season games of 1964, SMU and Texas Tech, when he was hospitalized while Arkansas completed its first perfect regular season since 1909. He was back in action for the Cotton Bowl game against Nebraska that made Arkansas 11-0 and won it some citations as national champion.

He always claimed golf as his favorite sport. Many people considered him the best golf writer in the country, although of course his enduring public image was of the man who wrote thousands of words about the Razorbacks each week -- especially weeks in which they played a game.

In Frank Broyles' autobiography, published in 1979, Broyles wrote that Orville "understood game strategy and players' psychology and fans' psychology in a way that was almost unique for a sportswriter." In the book, he also answered critics who complained Orville had a "special pipeline" into the Razorbacks' operation.

"He did; it was called a telephone," Broyles wrote. "He called and asked and I told him. He worked hard at staying on top of his job."

Paul "Bear" Bryant once remarked that Orville covered Arkansas more completely "from 200 miles away" in Little Rock than most writers could on campus. Eventually, Orville did move to Fayetteville in 1983, and later moved to Malvern in 1993.

Beano Cook of ABC-TV and now ESPN said years ago that Orville had written more about the Razorbacks than "Carl Sandburg did on Abe Lincoln."

Orville grew up on the western edge of Little Rock "when it was still out in the country;" the family home was approximately where part of Park Plaza Mall is now. He caddied at Fair Park (War Memorial) and occasionally worked in concessions at what is now called Ray Winder Field.

 

Orville Henry

Orville Henry at the dedication of the monuments in front of the Broyles Center. (Photo by Tom Ewart)

 

Orville Henry

Nolan Richardson and Orville Henry watch the Red-White game two years ago. (Photo by Tom Ewart)

OIdtimers

Orville Henry (seated, right) with Wilson Matthews (seated, to OH's left) and Charles Ripley, Harold Horton, Louis Campbell and Ken Turner.

Robby Edwards and OH

Orville Henry (right) with Robby Edwards, UA assistant sports information director.


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