Bill Terry, 78, one of the founders of the Arkansas Times and its editor for many years, died last week in St. Louis of complications from cancer.
In 1974, Terry, who had recently been fired from the Arkansas Democrat, and I, who had recently been fired from the Arkansas Gazette, found each other just in time to save the foundering Union Station Times (later renamed Arkansas Times). Terry took over as editor and I became the ad salesman resulting in a great improvement in both editorial quality and ad income.
Terry continued irascibly as editor of the Times for nine years, attracting some of the best writers in Arkansas both as freelancers and staff members. He was mercurial, loyal, loving and a tad superstitious. He had his “lucky bed” at home where he would retire during especially close Razorback games, convinced that by lying there, he was giving the Hogs some kind of psychic lift to victory.
Terry was financially very conservative, but the Times had no working capital and periodically had to “bet the company” in an effort to get circulation or improve the publication. When the Times sent out 100,000 direct mail subscription solicitations with no hope of paying for it if it did not get a good response, Terry couldn’t stand it. He checked into a motel in Hazen to await the worst. He called into the office that morning to learn that we had received several thousand subscriptions and we would all have a job the next day.
The Times struggled for the first four or five years, trying to find its voice and an ad base. Then in 1978 Terry began a year-long series on organized crime and police corruption. It resulted in a number of death threats to Terry and arson destroyed the company’s headquarters — then on Second Street.
During that time he confided to staff members that he was frightened but he had developed excellent sources and kept returning to his subject editorially. It was during this period that the Times began to be noticed and taken seriously in the community.
Long-time staff members have always seen that series of stories as a watershed in the publication’s development, even though the arson almost destroyed the company.
Terry retired in 1983. He moved to the Berryville area where he wrote novels and coached and played baseball with men and boys a half century younger than himself. Days before he died, he remarked to me that six weeks earlier he had hit a hundred baseballs during practice.
He’ll be missed by all of us, his old staff members, his children and his extended family.