‘Speaker Doc’ dispenses humor for what afflicts us | Prolific writer Don Newbury nears 1,000 – columns, not years | News
Former Howard Payne University President Don Newbury has a wealth of talents. Perhaps most evident to those who have read his books and journal articles is his talent for good-natured, subtle humor.
The Hood County News is one of at least 125 newspapers currently carrying its popular and cleverly titled weekly column, “The Idle American.” At various times over the years, his columns have appeared in over 200 outlets (including blogs and websites). It might be called a “syndicated” column, but he always made it available for free.
I consider his column a service to his readers – a lighthearted escape from a world that seems to grow more unpleasant with each passing day.
He marks each of his newspaper columns with a number and distributes about 50 a year. Soon he will publish column #1000. He said he couldn’t be 100% sure of the exact number he wrote. His first came out in February 2003. His last, delivered again on time last weekend, was stamped under column No. 985.
Newbury also writes books and self-publishes them. So far there are 13 in total. His books have intriguing titles, including “Life by the Seat of the Pants”, “A Wheelbarrow Guy in a Digital World”, and “Life with IF in the Middle”. Some are compilations of his newspaper columns.
Some of the lessons the talented scribe learned from interacting with people include, “Most people are worth dealing with” and “Most people really want to ‘do better’.” He also absorbed “the importance of learning to listen”.
Newbury, who turns 85 on his next birthday on September 7, was born near the town of May. He attended school in Early, which is adjacent to Brownwood. He received his Ph.D. in 1973 from the University of North Texas.
Newbury was inducted into the Howard Payne Sports Hall of Fame in 2013. He was president of HPU from 1986 to 1997. This followed a stint from 1980 to 1985 in that same capacity at Western Texas College at Snyder.
He is known as “Speaker Doc” and his website is speakerdoc.com. He can also be found on Twitter (@donnewbury). As well as being a popular writer, Newbury is in demand as a public speaker.
“I have spoken about 6,000 times over the past 61 years, many times for the institutions where I have worked; other times as a professional after-dinner speaker or convention keynote speaker,” Newbury said..
Newbury and his wife, Brenda, were blessed with three daughters. The couple moved in 2002 to Burleson, where their daughter Julie resided. Julie then moved to Aledo before sadly passing away from a pulmonary embolism in 2020. Jeanie moved to Burleson from Sanger in 2005. Jana lived in Lewisville before moving to Burleson the following year.
“Jana and I wanted to say this about Dad,” Jeanie said in an email provided for this feature profile. “Dad is one of a kind. There’s no one like him…his zeal for life and people, the way he gives you the shirt, his faith that guides his life…and he seems to know everyone! C t was so much fun attending HPU when he was president. We know we won the lottery becoming his daughters, and we love him so much!
The first time I met Don was in the press box at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood. It was in the early 1990s, when I was a sports reporter for Abilene Reporter-News. My weekend football beat included coverage of two Abilene universities — Hardin-Simmons and McMurry, both of which attended the same conference as Howard Payne.
From the start, I knew he was no ordinary person. I was immediately impressed that he struck up a conversation with such a humble reporter – covering the “enemy” school rather than its HPU yellow jackets. And he always did it with a sincere smile. It was clear that he considered me another new friend on his life’s journey.
A description of Newbury that fits better than anything I could write comes from a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist.
“I was once introduced by George Dolan as the ‘tasteiest college president in the nation,'” Newbury said. “I loved the introduction and always tried to be simple, sincere and helpful.”
When I decided to write this feature film, the interview process started with key questions, such as where her motivation to write came from. He noted that he taught journalism for six years and also spent time as a public relations writer for universities.
“Growing up, my dad was a great storyteller, and he always laughed with his ‘listeners’, which were usually two or three relatives or friends,” Newbury explained. “I have long recognized the value of humor in keeping audiences in tune. Even now, I frequently write about funny things that I attribute to my late parents.
“I was (the) first in my family to go to university; Mom didn’t finish high school and dad finished when he was only 11 years old. My brother, Dr. Fred Newbury, seven years younger than me, also attended early schools, graduated HPU and UNT, as did I. He is (an) author and highly respected in economics. Now (he is) an original faculty member at Dallas College, where he has worked for more than 50 years.
A few months ago, a health crisis forced Newbury to undergo surgery to have a pacemaker installed.
“Another reason we moved to Burleson was to be close to medical specialists,” said Newbury, who serves part-time in senior adult ministry at Burleson First Baptist Church. “I have heart disease and Brenda is a cancer survivor. We are happy to be here.
One of the names most frequently mentioned in the Newbury columns is his good old Uncle Mort. By the way, Mort is a figment of his imagination.
“I ‘made up’ Uncle Mort to make comments that are truly mine, but somewhat inappropriate to me,” Newbury confessed. “(I) never imagined that I would have kept him in town for 15 years!”
One of his books, “Mostly Mort”, is a collection of stories about the imaginary parent.
Not all of Newbury’s writings are presented with humour. Among his columns that meant the most to him, he noted, was one about Hal Rowe, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease, whose “credo in (his) later years was ‘I’m not still dead,” or something like that. He donated a kidney to an acquaintance he barely knew, giving the man both life and (a) return to the piano. There were also articles about (a) young woman I met in (New York) who had both legs amputated at the knee, but forged, now serving in (her) home state of Alabama.
“I’m not working on another book,” Newbury told me in an email, emphasizing the word no. “That doesn’t mean I won’t be, but not now. Slowed down by the death of (our) daughter and the COVID, the latter gouged a big hole in my schedule.
Newbury recalled, “When I first started writing I thought I would sell a few books because of my column. That didn’t turn out to be true, but I found that I like to write every week, and it’s always fun. I never dreamed of writing for at least two decades.
Soon there will be another book with Newbury’s name on the cover, however. Author Loretta Fulton, who was one of my colleagues on the “news side” when I was a sportscaster in Abilene, is working on a book about our President Doc.
“Loretta’s book is pretty much biographical,” Newbury said. “She interviewed 30 to 35 people who know me well. She has also read reports and my books etc. and I think her book will be finished in (the) next month or six weeks.
I spoke with Fulton on the phone and she said that the completion of the book will likely take a little longer than Newbury’s estimate.
Looking ahead, Newbury wrote in his email that he will “start” his 20th year of column writing in February 2023.
I look forward to each of them.