Cowles to retire from The Port Arthur News

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, December 7, 2016

After 40 years in the newspaper business, Editor Roger Cowles is finally putting down his pencil.

Cowles’ down-to-earth, no nonsense approach to journalism and dedication to community does not go unnoticed to those he has worked with through the years.

Dr. Sam Monroe, president emeritus of Lamar State College Port Arthur, said Cowles has seen the community evolve over time and has a unique perspective.

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“He’s a longtime figure in his position as editor of The Port Arthur News and has an immense knowledge of the newspaper, the people here and various aspects of life here,” Monroe said. “It’s hard to imagine the newspaper without him.”

Monroe recalled some past experiences with Cowles that helped shape history.

“One of the pivotal things, in my experience with him, was when the college was talking about getting state support,” he said of the Texas State University System. “He was very instrumental in carrying stories about it and explain it to the community.”

Cowles also saw the foresight to run stories about the influence of Port Arthur native Janis Joplin back when the Museum of the Gulf Coast was considering adding an exhibit on Joplin.

“There was so much opposition to it at that time. This was back in the late 1980s, and Roger took interest in the story and started publishing stories on the front page on the effort to recognize Janis in a museum exhibit,” he said. “It went a long way in convincing local people of the national and international influence of the performer and singer and that she should be honored.”

Port Arthur Realtor Jeff Hayes described Cowles’ influence in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Roger understands our community as well as anybody and he’s used that knowledge for the betterment of the community,” Hayes, who is a member of the Rotary Club of Port Arthur along with Cowles, said. “He’s been a great leader in Rotary, great president of Rotary and instrumental in the Holly Days fund (which benefits local agencies to help meet the needs of people in the area), which I hope will continue. That project, which is co-sponsored by The Port Arthur News, the Rotary Club of Port Arthur and the Retail Merchants Association, has raised more than $300,000 for the community through the years.”

Cowles, he said, gets things done in a quiet way because he knows the community.

“He has a lot to offer and we are fortunate in a community our size to have somebody as dedicated with the knowledge he has,” he said.

Bob West, former sports editor with The News, knows of Cowles’ dedication to the craft.

“Having worked with Roger for over 40 years, I have the utmost respect for him and what he has meant to the Port Arthur News, especially in the years he served as editor,” West said. “His efforts were mostly behind the scenes, so few people know what Roger had to cope with and how well he was able to adapt through numerous sales of the newspaper and an ever-changing cast of publishers. Replacing him is going to be extremely difficult.”

Cowles came into his career working weekends as a copy boy in June 1976 while a student at Lamar University. At that time he was a pre-med student and the part time job was just that, a job.

He soon became addicted to the adrenaline-filled job, rushing typewritten stories from reporters to typesetters.

“It was fun,” Cowles said when asked what kept him at the job that later became a four-decades-long career. “Friday night football was exciting and the staff was busy.”

Cowles, an amateur photographer, soon got a gig working at University Press on the LU campus.

“I was an amateur photographer and they had a dark room and let me use it,” he said.

Cowles worked his way up the staff at UP, began taking some journalism courses and became editor. This, he said, is where he got a lot of real training in the field.

Around this time he learned there was a job opening on the copy desk (editing stories) at The News and hired in for “$145 a week and all of the copy paper he could carry home.”

Through the years he moved up through the ranks, tackling and learning new skills, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s that he agreed to cut his long hair in order to land the position of city editor, where he supervised seven reporters. By the early 1990s he found his final spot as editor.

Paul Brown, who worked with Cowles from 1988 to around 1991, then from 1996 to 2001, said Cowles is the best editor he has worked with.

“You wouldn’t believe the amount of stuff I learned from him about editing and the way he would edit me. Even the times he would send something back and say, work on this a little bit,” Brown, a former journalist who now works as senior planner for the city of Port Arthur, said.

Cowles hired Darragh Doiron Castillo right after her graduation from Lamar University to cover school boards and features.

“Roger had “back-in-the-day” stories of journalism when I met him in the ’80s. We couldn’t have imagined how “printing” the news would evolve from typewriters and dark rooms to Tweets,” she said. “He demanded high standards with no short cuts all along the way. Naturally, I learned from him. But I’m proud to have eventually convinced him that readers enjoy news about food, cooking and how it brings people together,” she said.

Castillo now covers the area’s attractions to promote tourism for the Port Arthur Convention & Visitors Bureau. She still supplies the Culinary Thrill Seeking column/blog for Port Arthur News.

Former reporter Chris Castillo says he thanks Cowles for shaping his future on many levels.

“I owe Roger Cowles for showing me the ropes as a cub reporter at the Port Arthur News and introducing me to the woman who would become my wife, Darragh Doiron,” Castillo said.

These two were among many News couples who met and married over the years. Castillo began as a police reporter, then covered court and county news. He is now a volunteer coordinator with Criminal Justice Ministry, Diocese of Beaumont.

Jeree Powell, business manager at The News, first met Cowles when she started the job in 1978.

“I thought, wow, he sure is young to be working here. He looked like a 14-year-old boy. Little did I know he was exactly my age,” Powell said with a laugh. “He was very quiet and didn’t talk very much. Through all these years, Roger has always been so dedicated to his job, working his way up to the top position in the newsroom. He was a true leader in the journalism world. He was a good man and father to his children, sharing many stories about their vacations together. His knowledge of our area and the people in it will be a hard task to follow. I wish him well and he will be truly missed.”

The Port Arthur News Publisher Rich Macke said Cowles is probably the best editor he has had the pleasure of working side by side with.

“His dedication to accurate community journalism is second to none. In our industry, it is very rare to find someone that has been a part of the same newspaper for 40 years, but Roger is a rare breed of journalist,” Macke said. “The communities that make up The Greater Port Arthur area have been lucky to have him for as long as they have. With his 40 years comes tons of experience and community understanding that one cannot just pull from their pocket.”

This, he said, is what the newspaper will miss after Cowles leaves but what employees and staff will miss is much different.

“We will miss a great person who always lends a hand to help. Someone who is always supporting change to move forward. Someone who is witty and enjoys a good laugh to lighten a stressful day,” he said. “Someone who wants to see those around him succeed and strives to make those around him better. Yep, that’s what we will miss. Congratulations Roger, to a much deserved retirement.”