June 29, 2014
Billy Porterfield, the legendary Texas journalist and award-winning author, has died after a hard-fought battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
During a celebrated career that spanned more than 50 years, Porterfield became a major voice at leading national newspapers, covering some of the seminal events of the 20th Century with a distinctive style and keen ear for both the spoken and written word.
In lieu of flowers, comments are welcome on the website, and donations can be made in Billy’s name to the Texas State University Wittliff Collections or the University Star Scholarship Endowment fund. Gifts can be mailed to Texas State University, Office of Donor Services, 601 University Dr. , J. C. Kellam Building, Room 480, San Marcos, TX 78666.
A memorial celebration of Billy’s life was held Sunday, July 27, 2014, from 2 to 6 pm at the historic Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. Please visit the website, www.billyporterfield.com to share your comments, memories and stories about Billy.
He was born October 16, 1932 in Henderson, Texas to Tice Covey Porterfield and Janavee Elizabeth Harrell Porterfield, and died on June 29, 2014, at Seton Hospital in Kyle, Texas.
He grew up the son of an itinerant oilfield worker and attended dozens of schools before graduating from Woodsboro High School in 1950. In a self-penned biography, he said that in his initial 17 years, he “lived upon the flat bosom of many a hot, naked prairie.” His nomadic childhood informed his work, much of which takes place on the road, as well as his approach to finding stories. Curiosity, a notepad, a map, and a full tank of gas were the tools of his trade.
Starting on the crime beat for the Houston Chronicle, by the early 1960s Porterfield had earned a reputation as a dedicated reporter and gifted writer. After winning the coveted Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, he went on to cover national stories, such as the civil rights marches, for the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Daily News.
In 1967, Porterfield returned to Texas to become the first writer selected for the prestigious Dobie-Paisano Fellowship, a writer’s retreat at the former ranch of J. Frank Dobie southwest of Austin. In 1969 he joined Jim Lehrer at KERA-TV in Dallas as a commentator on Lehrer’s nightly news program, later taking over for Lehrer as executive producer. He also produced and narrated several prize-winning documentaries for public television.
In 1978, Porterfield became a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, and in 1985 he joined the Austin American-Statesman as a columnist where he enjoyed a decade-long tenure on the front page of the Metro section. His writings have appeared in a number of publications large and small, including The Saturday Evening Post, Texas Monthly, The New Braunfels Zeitung, the Malakoff News, and The Chautauquan. He also taught creative writing at Southern Methodist University, and shared his wit, wisdom, writing talent, survival skills and stories with a small circle of honored mentees and friends.
A prolific storyteller, Porterfield’s published books include LBJ Country (1965), A Loose Herd of Texans (1978), Texas Rhapsody: Memories of a Native Son (1981), The Greatest Honky-Tonks in Texas (1983), and Diddy Waw Diddy: The Passage of an American Son (1994).
He and his wife Diane shared many wonderful memories at their hilltop retreat near Wimberley. There he spent his days in his writing cabin, christened “The House of Fables,” working on, in his words, “a brace of novels, a wing of short stories, a poke of profiles, a blindfold and a dare of adventure sagas, and a grab bag of audacious essays and cognations.”
In 2010, Porterfield donated his archives to the Southwestern Writers Collection, a part of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University. The cataloged Porterfield archives comprise approximately 35 boxes and include clippings, correspondence, and manuscripts for all of his major books, numerous photographs, and other memorabilia.
Porterfield described the decision to turn over his archives to the Wittliff Collections as a homecoming of sorts, noting that he and his brother Bobby went to San Marcos in 1952 to attend what was then Southwest Texas Teachers College (Texas State University). His first job in journalism was as a staff writer at the College Star, and he was greatly encouraged by professors such as Joe B. Vogel and Brice Rucker. At the collection, his archives join those of his close friends and mentors, Hart Stillwell, Elithe Kirkland, and A.C. Greene.
Billy is survived by his wife and soul-mate, Diane Barnard Porterfield, of Wimberley; his children, Erin Porterfield of Tyler; Winton Porterfield and his wife, Kim of San Marcos; Oren Porterfield and her husband, Jordan Moser of Austin; Meredith Roach and her husband Chris, of Austin; and Nashu Barnard and his wife Rachel of Haslet. He also leaves behind his lifelong best friend and “almost twin” brother, Bobby Porterfield of Dripping Springs; sister, Joyce Porterfield Baugh and her husband Jimmy of Woodsboro; his mother-in-law, Doris Jean Mallin of North Hills, California and Wimberley; and his brother-in-law, Chuck Mallin and his wife, Julia, of Fort Worth.
Billy’s stories will echo through the generations, beginning with his grandchildren: Bailey Devine of Fort Worth, Zane Porterfield Liston of Tyler, Carlie and Sara Jo Porterfield of San Marcos, Samantha, Fox and Brooklyn Barnard and Crystal and Matthew Bishop of Haslet, and Emory and Annaliese Roach, of Austin.
He is also survived by numerous cousins, nieces and nephews; close family friends David Liston, Caryl Sherman Gonzales, and Diana Finlay Hendricks; as well as many other friends, colleagues, and former wives.
The family wishes to thank the staff of the memory care unit of the San Marcos Rehabilitation Center (formerly Texan Nursing Center) for their love and care for Billy in his final years, and the staff of Seton Hospital in Kyle, for their support in his final days.
"This is a journey internal as well as external. I've tried to keep my use as true to my total experience as a son as I can without strangling her. That means dream and fantasy play as much a part of my story as the gritty grind of what we take to be everyday reality... If it bothers you that I fly only a little better than a dodo bird and commune with ghosts and gods, it means you've been spending too much time at the office. Enjoy."
- Billy Porterfield
from Author's Caveat in Diddy Waw Diddy
The House of Fables
A working place for dreamers and broken angels.
More images here.
"I covered murders and manhunts and talked to men about to sit in the electric chair. I was with Meredith and King and Carmichael when they marched through Mississippi... I have sat down with whores and princesses. I have talked to astronauts and assassins. I have supped with presidents and sipped with peons. I have entered worlds my old man could never imagine. But he always told people I type for a living."
- Billy Porterfield
regarding his father's opinion
of his chosen profession
in Texas Rhapsody
Dear are the bones
Of our kin
And good is their blood
What we inherit from them
We must make over again
Before it is truly ours
To pass on.
- Billy Porterfield
Billy Mack Porterfield
Thanks to all who attended the celebration of Billy's life at Cheatham Street Warehouse. Family, friends, drama, love, laughter and the occasional clank of a longneck bottle made for a wonderful afternoon. Billy would have been honored, humbled, and enjoying every minute of it.
Please visit the contact page to share your comments, memories, and stories about Billy.