Friday, June 25, 2010

Recalling Peppy Blount

My brother Gregg called to let me know Peppy Blount had died. The news wasn’t surprising but sad. Peppy has been in failing health for a few years, though each time we talked his voice was strong as ever.

Peppy was one of those larger-than-life Texas characters that the state would have created out of whole cloth just to keep its reputation intact — if folks like him didn’t exist. Born in 1926 in West Texas, he flew B-25 bombers in World War II and then came home to attend the University of Texas and play football. Peppy, who gained his nickname in childhood because he couldn’t pronounce his mother’s term of endearment, “Precious,” became a star receiver on a great Longhorn team led by legendary quarterback Bobby Layne. Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach, was also on that team. It didn’t take much prompting to get Peppy talking about his football days, I promise you.

While playing football and attending classes at UT, Peppy decided to run for the Texas Legislature to represent his West Texas district. He won, becoming one of 26 UT students — all veterans — elected to the Texas Legislature in 1946, a year after the war ended. He ended up serving three terms, though he ended up getting his name legally changed to R.E. Peppy Blount after an opponent tried to keep his nickname off the ballot in an effort to defeat him.

Peppy ended up going to law school and eventually hung his legal shingle in East Texas, first in nearby Tyler and then in Longview, my hometown. I became his paperboy in the late 1960s, selling him a copy of the Longview Daily News every weekday afternoon at his law office up on the ninth floor of what then was known as the First National Bank building, the tallest building in downtown Longview. It was still his law office when I returned to Longview as publisher 40 years later. Not long after, my phone rang. It was Peppy, welcoming me back and urging me to come visit.

With his full head of hair, long turned white, his booming voice and his gift for telling a story, Peppy was a tireless civic booster. He and my late grandfather worked together for many years. Grandpa was a professional Boy Scout executive. Peppy was a longtime volunteer and fund raiser. Both were the kind of people who would walk into a restaurant and shake hands with strangers, introduce themselves and start up conversations with strangers. As a teen-ager, this would embarrass me to no end when Grandpa did it. I figure Peppy’s four boys were used to it.

For decades, Peppy wrote letters to the editor, not just to the Longview newspaper but to area newspapers. His politics and mine didn’t exactly jibe, and his letter-writing had slowed considerably by the time I had returned as publisher. But that didn’t stop him from calling and leaving voice-mails, thanking me for a column I had written. I don’t really know why he liked me, but he did.

I interviewed him in the fall of 2008 about when he became Gregg County judge in 1962 on a last-minute write-in bid. (That’s where Longview is county seat; a county judge is the chief administrator of the county, sort of like mayor, though the post also holds some judicial duties as well.) The incumbent had become entangled in a slant-hole oil scandal along with a host of well-known local figures. Folks were drilling sideways into other, more productive oil wells. The practice had been going on for years. The big oil companies, who held most the leases, had finally had enough and blown the whistle on the slant-hole drillers.

It was making headlines all over the state. Hearings were being held, lawsuits filed in courthouses all over East Texas. The incumbent, who held several crooked oil leases, had decided it was in his best interest to repair to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for treatment of an undisclosed ailment.

On the Sunday before the general election, three local attorneys including Peppy all ran ads in the Longview paper announcing they were running as write-in candidates against the incumbent, who until then was unopposed. Peppy won easily. As he put it, “We had a lot of fun out of that one… I announced on Sunday, campaigned on Monday and was written in and elected in the general election on Tuesday.”

He roared with laughter. That’s how I’ll remember Peppy. Telling a story and roaring with laughter.
Originally published in the Junction City (Kansas) Daily Union, June 26, 2010


  1. I remember seeing Peppy and his mother-in-law at Bodacious, on 6th Street. He was talking to everybody and she tells him to be quiet that everybody knows he is there.

  2. Peppy's my grandfather, and I can't even begin to thank him for the infinite joy and pride he has given me every day of my life. Sometimes it's easy to forget where you have come from when you are in the midst of celebrating your own personal triumphs in life, but I feel as if I can reflect on his own life and personality, and in turn attribute many of my own qualities and victories to him. Peppy shaped my life in ways that I cannot begin to completely comprehend right now or explain to you, but he played a significant role in the shaping of me and my views on life. I will miss him so dearly, but I also know that he is in my blood, and in all of my siblings' and cousins' blood, and that this part of his persona that we all experienced and enjoyed, lives on.