John DeVillier, longtime sportswriter for The News, credit union committee member, dies at 90

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, March 17, 2020

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Bob West supervised a number of sportswriters at The Port Arthur News for 43 years, and he gave John DeVillier very high praise.

“He’s the best writer that I’ve ever seen in Southeast Texas,” West said. “I put no one’s ability to write above John DeVillier’s. He just had a gift for words that was extraordinary. The whole time I was sports editor, John was always there in some form or fashion.”

DeVillier, a 34-year sports-writing veteran who also spent the last 50 years on the supervisory committee of Neches Federal Credit Union, died Sunday morning at his desk in his Groves home. He was 90.

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But his sports writing career was done “on moonlighting hours,” his brother Russ DeVillier wrote in an obituary. John DeVillier began working at Jefferson Chemical Co., now known as Huntsman Port Neches Operations, in 1956 and retired in 1988 after 20 years as employee benefits supervisor. He also served as a lab technician and shift supervisor.

It was in 1956 when Port Arthur News sports editor Dick Oliver asked DeVillier to begin writing for the newspaper. DeVillier covered Nederland and Port Neches-Groves high school athletics, as well as Lamar University sports, until 1990.

“From the time I started until the time I stopped, John was always there in some form or fashion,” said West, who was The News’ sports editor from 1972-2015. “He was the best part-timer, or whatever you want to call a part-timer, I can ever imagine any newspaper ever having.”

DeVillier took on coverage of state championship events not often afforded to part-timers at the time, including Port Neches-Groves’ 1975 AAA football title victory.

“That’s how highly I thought of him,” West said. “Burt Darden was the main beat guy, and, of course, John was our correspondent with Port Neches. We assigned him to write the game story, and Burt wrote the sidebar. We felt good about that. He just had a gift.”

Born April 13, 1929, John Earl DeVillier ran track at what was then Port Neches High School and “even had a short fling at boxing,” but went into sports journalism after suffering from asthma, Russ DeVillier wrote in an obituary of his brother.

John DeVillier began writing for the Beaumont Enterprise at age 18 while he was a student at what was then Lamar College. He held that gig for about two years.

John DeVillier went into the U.S. Army in 1954 and took an assignment to a Signal Corps company in Germany. He returned to the plant from the Army after two years.

Amanda McLauchlin, one of John’s nieces, compiled many of his musings in a booklet called “Walking the Sidelines … and Beyond.”

John DeVillier was appointed to the Neches FCU supervisory committee in 1970, a position he took to heart, his brother wrote.

“Decision-making with colleagues was vital, but he always sprinkled business with cheer and goodwill for 50 years,” Russ DeVillier wrote.

During and after his time at Huntsman, John DeVillier gave “wise counsel” to retirees on insurance and investment issues.

He collapsed three weeks ago at Walmart on Twin City Highway but was revived by a woman named Jeanie Louviere, who had just walked into the store. He was hospitalized for a week and then returned home, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung damage from asbestos hampered his progress, Russ DeVillier wrote.

“John’s family will cherish memories of his encouraging smile, strong faith convictions and tales of days gone by,” Russ DeVillier wrote. “… He will be missed by many at Magnolia Manor, where he faithfully made daily visits for over three years with the love of his life, Barbara Travis Echels DeVillier. In addition to Barbara, many residents of the Manor were cheered by John’s presence as he joined the lunch crowd, passing out newspapers and wheeling folks around.”

John and Barbara DeVillier were married 48 years.

Survivors include his wife, son Louis of Nashville, Tenn., daughters Donna Garrett (and husband Bruce) of Coppell, Sue Autry (and husband Hector) of Norborne, Mo., Terry Thibodeaux (and husband James) of Groves and Eileen Schell (and husband Gordy) of Columbia, S.C., and many others.

Funeral arrangements have been tentatively planned for Friday at Levingston Funeral Home in Groves. A time has not been set.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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