J.J. Dillard founded what became The Avalanche-Journal, which set the stage for Chas. A. Guy and Parker Prouty to usher the newspaper into an era of partnership and prosperity while never forgetting a commitment to community journalism.
As it turned out, all three were larger-than-life figures who understood not only how to forge and foster the alliances necessary to help a town become a city, but also how to help a paper become an institution.
"Parker and Charlie had in common a great sense of where Lubbock was, where it needed to be and what it was going to take to get it there," said Burle Pettit, whose four-decade tenure with the paper culminated as A-J editor from 1995-2000. "Lubbock's well-being was their only objective."
Guy arrived in Lubbock in 1924 and was editor of the Plains Journal, a rival of the Lubbock Morning Avalanche, for two years before the papers merged in 1926, according to an A-J article. Five years later, Guy was named editor and publisher, a post he held until The A-J was purchased by Morris Communications Corp. in 1972.
"I remember Charlie Guy was THE editor, and very much in control of the news operation, even though editors down the chain of command were delegated some authority," longtime A-J reporter Ray Westbrook said in an e-mail response reflecting on his memories of Guy. "A young photographer or reporter approached him with a degree of fear and trembling because he was like a general among his troops."
Guy began his column, "The Plainsman," in 1927. It resonated with readers and became a mainstay of the paper's daily offering for the next 45 years. Generally, the column comprised bits and pieces as well as Guy's take on local and national issues of the day, touching on everything from Prohibition to the war in Vietnam.
In 1931, A-J business manager Herb Quinn died suddenly, but opportunity emerged from that tragedy as Parker Prouty, an ad salesman at the paper in Amarillo, was named president of The A-J. Prouty would oversee the financial side of the newspaper's operation, providing the perfect complement to Guy, and the two men guided the newspaper together for the next 41 years.
"Both Parker and Charlie were very highly regarded as leaders of Lubbock, and their input and opinions were much respected by city and state officials," Twila Aufill, who joined The A-J in 1962 and recently retired as the paper's general manager, said in an e-mail. "It was not uncommon to see Lyndon Johnson and other state officials in their offices at the newspaper. Of course, I was new in the newspaper business and was in awe by all of this."
Together, Guy and Prouty established a legacy built on the mantra that if something was good for the South Plains or Texas Tech - constituencies both men saw as partners in their enterprise - then it was good for the newspaper. Prouty was a longtime president of the Red Raider Club and was seen as such a faithful Tech servant that he was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Honor in the early 1990s.
"In my mind, there's no question The A-J, Lubbock and the South Plains are much better off," Guy's son, George, said in an A-J interview in 2000. "For the most part, he was Mr. South Plains. He fought tooth and nail for the South Plains and Lubbock, whether it was in Lubbock, Austin or Washington."
"I personally believe he was the best newspaper editor in Texas," Pettit said. "His daily column was fantastic, and he did a good job of letting everyone run their area."
Guy and Prouty had another common denominator, though. They believed in and backed their people, allowing them to develop professionally.
"I learned a great deal about the newspaper business and life from watching and listening to both Mr. Prouty and Mr. Guy," Aufill said. "I had great respect for both of them."
"He (Guy) could be understanding and very supportive," recalled Westbrook, who joined The A-J news operation in 1960. "I remember when I was attempting to make a transition from photographer to reporter that he walked up to me over by the elevator, put his arm around my shoulder and said for me to remember that he and (fellow newsroom leaders) Jay Harris and Charlie Watson and the others were willing 'to throw a base.'
"I was never certain what he meant by that, but I perceived it as a baseball idiom that meant he would be supportive toward me in my learning and working process."
Guy and Prouty retired together in 1972, leaving an indelible fingerprint on a newspaper and the region it served.
Longtime U.S. Rep. George Mahon might have summed up their partnership best. "A better team never came down the pike in the history of the country," he said upon Guy's death in 1985. "They set the tone for the community for all these years. The story will never fully be told what these gentlemen have done for the community."
The same could be said for J.J. Dillard. Had he and business partner Thad Tubbs not "thrown in" together, those first 40 copies of the Lubbock Morning Avalanche never would have been printed, and the A-J itself wouldn't be closing in on its 109th birthday, which will take place May 4.
"We called our paper Avalanche because we knew the aversion the average cowman had for a paper too small to carry market quotations," Dillard told The A-J in a 1944 interview. "I guess to the average cowman the paper at that time used too much space for the 'nester.' Anyway, Thad Tubbs and I decided to call our paper Avalanche. We were going to slide under the cowman's aversion to small local papers."
Dillard arrived in Lubbock County in 189. His family moved to Texas in 1875 before leaving for a year because of Indian uprisings and then returning for good in 1877, according to an A-J story that appeared in 2000.
In 1900, Dillard told Tubbs, a cowboy, speculator and part-time gambler, of his desire to start a newspaper. Tubbs was thinking the same thing, and the two reached an agreement to collaborate.
"We ordered our press from Connecticut, sent $25, and made arrangements to be informed by the depot at Amarillo when the stuff arrived," Dillard said in that 1944 interview. "Amarillo was the nearest railroad center. When the notice came, Tubbs freighted the machinery back in a two-horse wagon."
During the return trip, Tubbs stopped in Hale Center, where he received his first subscription and a dollar from one of his friends who wanted the paper. Tubbs left the operation in the fall of 1900, but Dillard kept the Avalanche rocking along, so to speak, until 1908, when he sold the paper to James L. Dow.
Dillard left the paper, but he never wavered in his calling as a Lubbock promoter. He is credited with being one of the primary advocates of Lubbock's drive to secure rail service. "He wanted a railroad here," his grandson, Joe Dillard, told The A-J in 2000. "He was also instrumental in helping get Texas Tech up here instead of Plainview. He devoted all of his time to promoting Lubbock."
He was elected a state representative in 1910 and also served as one of the first seven trustees on the Lubbock school board. From 1936-41, he was a justice of the peace. Dillard died Feb. 5, 1949, just a few months shy of his 80th birthday, but his impact remains intact.
"He was very instrumental in getting many things done for Lubbock," said Ada Dillard, a granddaughter. "I don't know if people really knew that."