“Now as a president, I love the sports part of what happens at our university and other universities like ours. The appreciation of what it brings to our university, our people, started with my dad.”
Bob Hartzell was born in Camargo, the Dewey County hamlet 31 miles south of Woodward in northwestern Oklahoma. Hartzell eventually was raised in Woodward, where he met Carolyn and forged the desire to be a sportswriter.
The Oklahoman hired Hartzell while he still was an OU student. He moved on to the Topeka Capital-Journal (Jay Hartzell is Kansas born) and was hired by the Tribune in 1972.
Bob Hartzell smoked cigars and had a raspy voice from the cancer. He was rowdy as a sports columnist – Hartzell and the Tribune were famously sued by a Southwest Conference referee who took exception to a Hartzell zinger from an Arkansas game. The Tribune won the case.
“Impressed me from Day One,” said Jenk Jones. “I had heard a lot of good things about him. Liked the way he talked. Liked the way he was very honest in his writing, wasn’t afraid to tackle big issues.”
The Joneses and Hartzells became good friends. They played bridge together.
“I stayed out of reach of his obnoxious cigars,” Jones said. Jay Hartzell “came from two good parents, I tell you. Carolyn was a great mother, I could tell that. And Bob was just as straight an arrow as you could get.
“Always enjoyed him, and he knew I was watching things closely, because I was a sports fan.”
Mike Sowell, who had been hired by Hartzell, became the Trib’s sports editor and columnist after Hartzell’s death. Sowell went on to help found OSU’s nationally-acclaimed sports media program.
“Just a great person,” Sowell said of Bob Hartzell. “One of the most influential people in my life. Friendly, very outgoing.
“The thing that always amazed me and impressed me, he lived with that cancer the whole time I knew him. He went out and was doing everything the rest of us were doing back then. He didn’t let it interfere with his life.”
The president of the University of Texas recalls a man who left a lasting impression as a loving father, a man who instilled a love of sports in his son, a man who worked hard and loved his job.
Probably the same description fits Jay Hartzell, who is called approachable and likeable by those around the UT campus (and his OU counterparts) and certainly comes across that way in phone interviews.
Afternoon papers required early-morning hours. Bob Hartzell would rise around 4:30 a.m. and be out of the house by the time his son awoke.
But on what Sowell calls “Black Monday,” Hartzell didn’t make it to work. He died while shaving. The call came to the Trib newsroom around 6 a.m.
“Went through the newsroom like a lightning bolt,” Jones said. “Everybody appreciated him.”
A few days later came the funeral, complete with a sobbing boy and more than a few adults whose tears flowed, too.
Forty-one years later that boy is the 53-year-old president of one of America’s greatest universities. Jay Hartzell lost his father far too soon, but not too early to have sent his son on a path to success.