This story is the feature that inspired my “In My Life” piece on Gordon Baxter titled “Old Bax.”

Gordon Baxter spent the better part of four decades chronicling his life in print and on the radio, enriching the lives and touching the hearts of his audience. “Bax,” as people call him, is one of the top writers in the nation ever to call Southeast Texas home and, at 75 years old, is more an icon than media personality. Love him or hate him, his influence and following cannot be ignored. With countless awards, nine children and nearly a dozen books to his credit, recent health problems have prompted Baxter to take it easy for a while, though he still has that old Gordon Baxter spark in him.
Radio and writing were not what Gordon Baxter thought he would do with his life. Born on Christmas day in 1923 in Port Arthur, Texas, he grew up the oldest of two boys.
Baxter was president of his class in 1942 and was the editor of The Pilot school newspaper but chose not to go to college. The sky was calling him instead. “All my life I knew I wanted to be an air flying hero,” said Baxter, with a look of delight in his eyes. “I was always watching the sky. When a barnstormer pilot would land, I would run up to the pilot and offer to watch his plane for the night in exchange for the first ride at dawn.”
In those days, said Baxter, boys his age were itching to get into the military right out of high school. He saw his chance to become an “air-flying hero” and joined the Merchant Marines. He was shipped out as a Cadet Midshipman in 1942 but had a short-lived military career. He served on tankers and on a U-boat as a gunner, but severe motion sickness would plague him in the service. He was eventually given a medical discharge and was sent back home to Port Arthur.
“I was terribly disappointed because I wanted to be a hero,” Baxter sighed. “I felt guilty, walking around in civilian clothes.”
Following short stays with local tugboat crews and a brief re-entry into the Navy, World War II ended and Baxter was again back in Port Arthur looking for work. He got his big break when a friend told him that KPRC radio station was hiring. He walked in the door with no experience but told the bosses there that he was a “quick learner.” From that simple start in radio was born one of the pioneers in radio broadcasting history. The 1950s was a tame time in radio where producers ruled and advertisers basically signed the paychecks and dictated on-air content. Baxter was one of the first radio announcers in the nation who was self-directed and allowed to ad lib his show.
“Radio turned out to be my calling,” said Baxter. “It took me a while to make it come out just right, but it lasted me 40 years. God gave me a gift and I made use of it.” Baxter was with KPRC for many years until the first time he was fired, one of many radio firings to come, which is not uncommon in the radio business. A new, young station manager took over and summoned Baxter to meet him in his office. “He said, ‘Bax, you’re old, your music’s old and your audience is old. Why don’t you just go home and stay there?’ I was hurt of course, but knew my time wasn’t up.”
With his reputation established and the sponsors to back him up, he found another job in radio the very next morning. He sold his own show and carried his sponsors, meaning Baxter could walk in the door of any station in the Golden Triangle area of Texas and get a job, a feat he would pull off many times throughout his career.
In those four decades of radio broadcasting, he also carried a second career, that of a journalist, syndicated columnist and author of nearly one dozen books. His first writing job was for the Kountze News in the early 1950s. He was paid for his work in jars of mayhaw jelly – one jar a month. His boss at Kountze News was, according to Baxter, a colorful character, and a bit of an oddball, but was well liked by everybody.” Some of his boss’ color must have rubbed off on Baxter; he went on to become even more colorful and peculiar than his first news boss.

“The best there ever was”
If it happened in the late 1950s, 60s or 70s, Gordon Baxter was either there reporting on it as only he could, or he could tell you all about it. Baxter was in Dallas in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and he did a live broadcast from the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whom Baxter had known and admired. As a writer and journalist, Baxter covered the Jack Ruby trial in 1963 and reported on the goings-on in Washington D.C. for newspapers from Louisiana to Dallas. He wrote columns on everything from his love of flying airplanes and driving cars to writing about his family and friends. Diane, his second wife, says her husband has a style all his own. “Gordon can describe in new ways all the common human experiences people identify with,” said Diane.
“He has a seamless style and is the best there ever was at that kind of storytelling.”
Baxter managed to land a reporting spot with a military unit in the Vietnam War in 1965. His experience, like so many of his life’s experiences, became a book titled “13/13 Vietnam: Search and Destroy,” a political essay named for the 13 casualties he witnessed in his 13 days in Vietnam. His automobile columns were carried in Car & Driver Magazine from 1976 to 1987, and his aviation columns were a staple of Flying Magazine from 1970 to as recently as the late 1990s when the magazine was still running reprints of his popular stories.
He is a three-time winner of the Aviation and Space Writers Association Writing Award for Outstanding Excellence in Aviation/Space Journalism. He was voted Best Feature Writer by the Texas Press Association in 1969. In his younger years, Baxter was a multi-instrument rated pilot for more years than he can remember – always flying like he wrote: barefoot. His list of awards and notable accomplishments in journalism and radio could fill a book of their own.
Baxter’s columns focused primarily on his personal experiences with people and places, mainly about his growing family. Each story stood on its own and delved into the essence of human feeling and emotion. His radio shows from KPRC to his most recent shows with KLVI in Beaumont were an extension of his humorous and insightful columns. On those radio shows, some of which are probably still bouncing around somewhere in outer space, he played an irreverent but hilarious mix of gospel music, old cowboy tunes and comedy records. His play list included favorites from Spike Jones, Marty Robbins and Bob Wells. Baxter would even broadcast Christmas mornings from the Baxter family living room on the banks of Village Creek.
“My dad has a vision on life,” said Baxter’s son, Jim. “When he reported news stories, he had a way of finding the real human interest in the story. On his radio show and in his writing, he shared with the world all the great things that were happening in our family. Perfect strangers feel like they know us from that.”
Roney Baxter, another of Baxter’s many children, says growing up in the fish-eye lens of public life was quite interesting. “His life and ours was an open public book,” said Roney. “He always tended to embellish a little when it came to family, but the heart of it was there for all to read.”
The Baxter’s were the Southeast Texas equivalent of the Kennedy’s and Camelot, except Baxter was not and would never be President and they lived in a house overlooking Village Creek – a house he built with his own hands – instead of calling 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home. Diane and the entire Baxter bunch have watched his metamorphosis from brash young radio dee jay to macho pilot to respected writer and broadcaster, and later, to a doting househusband who washed dishes and changed diapers.  Baxter says his first marriage was an old fashioned marriage in which the man worked and the wife raised the children. His marriage to Diane and the birth of their only child - a girl they named Jenny – would bring about the most profound change in his life. That change was recorded in his most poignant book, “Jenny ‘N’ Dad: The Love Story of a Very Young Daughter and a Very Old Dad.” In the book, father and daughter Baxter share life’s most mundane and most profound of moments. Jenny is now in her early 20s.
“My dad’s book is the greatest way to show he loved me,” said Jenny. “He symbolizes a way to look back and remember old times to so many people. His name will always be on my mind and on the minds of his audience because he played such an important part in all of our lives.”

All the world is a stage
Shakespeare wrote that all the world is a stage, and we are all merely players. Gordon Baxter has played many parts in his years. From the “Whispering Voice of the Piney Woods” to “the Rebel Yell” and being a crazy country boy on the radio, he played them all to the fullest. For the last 20 years, his role was that of a devoted daddy and homemaker, but poor health and time have brought on another role for the self taught “Jack of all trades.”
“Epilepsy has crept up on me in the last few years,” Baxter says with an air of sadness about his face. “I can’t drive, and I can’t fly anymore, and I sure do miss it.”
He spends his time reading and writing and keeping scrapbooks. A born tinkerer, he still enjoys woodworking in the neatly arranged shop in his West End Beaumont home. Diane works for the Red Cross while Baxter stays home and watches news programs and looks after their pets.
“My dad has grown comfortable with the role of ‘little old man’ with his quiet time and all his records,” said Jim Baxter. “He has become closer to God, and it is a beautiful thing to watch my dad go through.”
“I am lucky to have lived this long, and I am trying to live my life in such a way that it pleases God,” Gordon said as afternoon gave way to early evening. “I am in maybe my last role in life, and I am facing my own mortality, so I figure I better get straight with God. Most everything I’ve done has been from the heart. Writing what you know can touch people to their soul. I can’t quit writing, and I haven’t quit, but I have not been very productive lately.”
As the Baxter family cat crawled up into Baxter’s lap, he relit his weathered corncob pipe, pausing briefly as if searching for some deep inner thought. “Everybody has a story to tell, and every life is full of stories… I’m a teller of tales.”
Bax’s wife Diane joined in the evening’s conversation and crafted a heart felt summary of how her husband – the quirky and enigmatic Gordon Baxter – will be remembered years from now when the Lord takes him on his last canoe ride down the majestic Village Creek.
“Just when we think we’ve got him figured out, he turns another corner,” Diane said. “He is endearing and infuriating, he can put into words the range of human emotions that we all share, and he is in touch with the free child that so many of us leave behind. Gordon captures those fleeting moments that enrich our lives.”
I'm a Teller of Tales
I will never forget that long summer day I spent listening to Gordon Baxter in 1998. In just a few hours with him, I learned more about writing "what you know" than four years of college could ever have taught me.
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