Ben R. Ezzell
Hall of Fame Class of 2009
Ben R. Ezzell was born May 22, 1916, in Alvord, Texas, to Benjamin Roach and Blanche Ray Ezzell. He was a graduate of West Texas State College in Canyon.
He joined the Air Force in 1941, foreseeing the country’s entry into World War II, was commissioned in Miami, Florida on August 5, 1942, and served overseas for 2-1/2 years as an Air Force intelligence officer in New Guinea, the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines.
Ben met Nancy Morgan on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941 in Denver, and they were married the following August in Miami, the day he was commissioned.
After the war, he returned to the Texas Panhandle and was managing editor of The Hereford Brand for two years before moving to Canadian. He and his wife, Nancy, became co-editors and co-publishers of The Canadian Record in 1948.
In the intervening years, the newspaper and its editors won many professional honors. Ben had been a longtime member of the Panhandle Press Association, served as secretary of the group for a number of years, and was a past-president of the organization. In 1992, he was among the first group of journalists inducted into the PPA Hall of Fame. The honor recognized his lifetime commitment to unflinching reporting and commentary.
He was named Canadian Man of the Year in 1968.
In his book, “The Editor’s Ass,” Ezzell recounted the trials and tribulations he encountered as a journalist running a small-town newspaper in the Panhandle. The title refers to what disgruntled readers sometimes declared they would do to him.
“I don’t know exactly why, but people who get all worked up about editors always seem to be obsessed with that particular portion of the editorial anatomy,” Ezzell wrote. “What they really have in mind, probably, is bashing in the editor’s head, but they invariably express it by threatening to ‘whup your ass.’”
Ezzell’s no-nonsense editorials and journalistic approach brought other responses, such as a concussion suffered in a fight with a mayoral candidate in response to an editorial in 1955, and 19 shots from a pellet gun through the Canadian Record’s door and plate-glass windows in 1971.
“Someone was expressing an editorial opinion. It is a great American privilege,” he said of the gunshots.
In 1961, Ezzell’s reach extended beyond the Panhandle when he wrote an expose on the John Birch Society. He revealed the secret society’s intentions to undermine the U.S. government, which the society alleged was full of Communists. Both fan mail and hate mail poured in as the story was reprinted around the country. Following his sudden death after heart surgery in January of 1993, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock—who was a personal friend and admirer of Ezzell’s—made this statement:
“Ben Ezzell was the conscience of newspapering in Texas. Truth and common sense were his creed in all things big and small. He was absolutely fearless when it came to standing up for individual and human rights.
“Neither the threats of fire bombs nor the siren of personal ego changed Ben Ezzell’s course or convictions, not in business, not in politics and not in friendships.
“Texas has lost a great man, and I have lost a good personal friend of many years standing. I hope that Nan and family find some solace in knowing that their grief is shared by many.”
Today, The Canadian Record continues under the ownership and editorship of Ezzell’s daughter, Laurie Ezzell Brown.
In 2007, The Canadian Record and the Ezzell family were honored as winners of the Gish Award for Courage, Tenacity and Integrity in Community Journalism by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.
Ezzell was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2009 as one of four members of the Hall’s third class of honorees.