Hall of Fame Class of 2010
Rigby Owen Sr., president of the Texas Press Association, 1971-72, was born June 17, 1912, in Rosebud, Texas. Owen graduated from high school in 1931 in Norman, Okla. At 19 he enrolled as an engineering student at the University of Oklahoma. During his first semester, his father had an automobile accident that resulted in a permanent back injury that would keep him from working the rest of his life. Owen quit college after one semester and went to work to help support his parents. In 1932 he moved to Cushing, Okla., to assist his older brother in distributing The Oklahoma City Times and the Daily Oklahoman.
During that year, Owen’s brother was transferred to El Reno, Okla., to work as a distributor for the two Oklahoma City papers. Owen remained in Cushing and met his future wife, Jo Briley. They married Feb. 14, 1933. Later that year, Owen was hired as circulation manager of The Cushing Daily Citizen. During his two years there he converted all the routes so the carriers would do the collecting and pay for their papers. This was called the “Little Merchant Plan.” In making this change Owen was able to double the paid circulation for the newspaper. While working for the Citizen he wrote a column titled “Red Visits the Rural Routes,” so named because of his red hair. The Owens’ first child, Sandra, was born in Cushing.
In August 1935 the district manager for the Oklahoma City papers, C.A. Lane, was named circulation manager of the Little Rock Democrat. Owen was offered a job as city circulation manager by his longtime friend. He took the job thinking this was quite a move for him and stayed there about one year before deciding to move on because he seemed to enjoy working on smaller newspapers. In September 1936 he moved to Shawnee, Okla., and worked for the local newspaper in advertising and circulation. After about six months he moved to Ada, Okla., where he was hired as circulation manager for the Ada News. During his six years on this job he wound up making more than men who had been on the job a lot longer. Two sons, Steve and Rigby Jr. were born in Ada. In 1937 Owen was appointed an Honorary Colonel on the staff of the Oklahoma Boys State for his enduring work with young newspaper carriers under the “Little Merchant Plan.”
In January 1941 Owen was elected president of the Ada Junior Chamber of Commerce. Early in 1942 Owen resigned from the Ada News when he had an opportunity to buy one-fourth interest in the Opelousas Daily World in Opelousas, La. The World was a year and a half old and was started by John Thistlethwaite for about $12,000. There were several other stockholders owning 50 percent of the stock. When Owen arrived in Opelousas, Thistlethwaite sold him 25 percent of his stock, mostly on credit. The next day Thistlethwaite left for the Army.
During the next few years the minor stockholders wanted to sell out. Thistlethwaite did not want to participate. Owen was able to purchase an additional 50 percent of the outstanding stock, again, mostly on borrowed money. When World War II ended, Thistlethwaite came back to be the editor of the World and Owen was publisher. Thistlethwaite was offered a chance to be a 50-50 partner with Owen but was not interested. Owen considered Thistlethwaite an equal partner and good friend during his nine years in Opelousas.
The Daily World was the only offset daily newspaper in the state at the time and later was declared the first successful offset daily in the United States. During his nine-year tenure in Opelousas, Owen co-owned nearby newspapers, including The Eunice New Era, The Lafayette Pictorial and The Lafayette Progress. The paper in Eunice was later renamed The Eunice News. Owen was elected to the Louisiana Press Association board of governors in April 1944 and elected president of the LPA at their annual meeting in New Orleans in 1947.