PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

January 22, 2013

Texas Country Reporter shares stories at PA chamber banquet

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Bob Phillips knows it only takes a moment to change a person’s life. That’s all it took for him.

The Texas Country Reporter has spent the past 40 years traveling the back roads of Texas and telling the stories of “real Texans.” But he would have never had the opportunity to do so if he had never received encouragement from a 10th grade teacher, Phillips said at the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce’s 113th Annual Banquet at the Robert A. "Bob" Bowers Civic Center Tuesday night.

As the guest speaker of the evening, Phillips tossed out his prepared speech — literally — in favor of sharing a recent story that tugged at his heart along his trip back from Washington D.C. yesterday.

“This is one of those things that reassures us all that everything is going to be OK,” Phillips said before sharing the story.

For the past four and a half days Phillips and his wife, Kelly Phillips, Channel 6 KFDM news anchor, had been in Washington D.C. with a troop of high school students who had been invited to attend the inauguration. During their trip, the group had the chance to attend the ceremonial laying of the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and four students in the group were invited to participate in the laying of the wreath.

At first, Phillips had reservations, he said.

But as he watched the four students descend the steps, carefully carrying the wreath, and listened to the playing of “Taps,” his reservations melted. Two of the high school students had tears streaming down their cheeks. At that moment, Phillips felt like everything would be OK, he said. He was not so worried about the upcoming generations.

As theirs days at the Capitol wound to a close, Phillips got to know the students better and was impressed by the fact that most had plans for their futures. Phillips never had such a plan, he said.

At most, Phillips said, he wanted to be a garbage collector as a child — the one who sat on the truck and caught the trash can the other person threw up to him. That was his plan.

Until 10th grade. That was when Phillips had a teacher tell him how well he wrote stories for his journalism class. A career in journalism never occurred to him until then.

“That one moment changed my life,” he said.

The simple act of someone applauding his work altered Phillips’ perspective and made him realize that he was good at something. All it took was a simple phrase.

“That happens all the time,” Phillips said.

People watch what other people do and listen to what they say, and they remember, he said. That sticks with a person, and it could change that person’s life. It changed Phillips’.

He went to college and majored in journalism. He got a job at the local television station and worked his way up, covering everything from city council meetings to the inauguration of Richard Nixon. But Phillips always wanted to get back to writing the feature stories he had been so skilled at in high school — the “good news,” he said.

So, he pleaded and pleaded with his boss to let him try traveling and telling stories about ordinary people, much like his hero Charles Kuralt did with his “On the Road” segments for “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.”

Phillips got his wish in 1972, and he has been doing it ever since. He even got to meet Kuralt and become his friend. And it all started with one moment.

Prior to Phillips’ impromptu speech, outgoing Chairman Ike Akbari, president of the ITEX Group Inc., passed the gavel to incoming Chairman Conrad Cooper. Cooper is an advisor at the Lamar State College-Port Arthur Small Business Development Center.

Several chamber members received acknowledgment from the Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce, as well. Danielle Dedrick of HT Staffing was last year’s ambassador chairwoman. Karen Do of United Way of Mid & South Jefferson County was last year’s education committee chairwoman. And Nicole Phillips of Infinity Staffing received the Ambassador of the Year Award.

email: bcrum@panews.com

twitter: @broocrum