Rest In Peace: BWWG Core Member Ann Arnold

September 1, 2012

Core BWWG member and long time supporter of improved public warnings Ann Arnold passed away Saturday, September 1. She was 67. Her relentless support for improved warnings will be sorely missed by us all, but Ann’s work in other areas on both the Texas state level and nationally leave a deep void in our industry that will not easily be filled. The following obituary was prepared by the Texas Association of Broadcasters.

In a fifty-year professional career, she was a groundbreaking Texas journalist, first female press secretary to a Texas governor, and the longtime president of the Texas Association of Broadcasters. For 25 years, Arnold’s vision, fearlessness and tenacity allowed TAB to flourish and prosper. Her accomplishments and leadership helped ensure the continued vitality of the Texas broadcast industry.

“Ann Arnold was an extraordinary and inspiring woman,” said TAB Chairman Mary Mike Hatcher of Bryan Broadcasting.

“She was fearless in her advocacy for local radio and television broadcasters, for the public’s right to know how elected officials run our government, and in her long fight with cancer,” she said. “Texas is a better place because of her.”

Beverly Ann Watson was born April 6, 1945 in Jackson, Mississippi, the first daughter of Bill and Mildred Watson. She spent her early years in Little Rock, where her interest in journalism was fostered by the publicity generated by the forced integration of Central High School in 1959.

“I was always fascinated by the media and its ability to uncover the truth…how important that was,” she would say later.

After her family moved to Fort Worth in the 1960’s, journalism clearly became her passion. She started her junior high school newspaper, wrote for the L.D. Bell High School newspaper and moonlighted for community newspapers, covering evening city council and school board meetings. She attended Texas A&M Arlington, later transferring to the University of Texas at Austin where she graduated with a B.A. in Journalism in 1968. She worked three jobs to pay her way through college, including the Capitol bureau of the Dallas Times-Herald.

Arnold won a 1966 Headliners award for a Dallas Times-Herald series on LSD use and also worked on the Daily Texan staff. When she graduated Arnold joined UPI’s Capitol bureau under David Anderson, now a professor at the UT School of Law.

That year, she married her high school sweetheart, Reg Arnold, and worked at UPI while he finished law school. The couple’s first son, Bill, was born Jan. 14, 1972. Never one to slow down, Arnold was hanging sheetrock at home the day before Bill was born and a few weeks later jumped back into reporting on the gubernatorial election that featured a primary runoff between Frances “Sissy” Farenthold and Dolph Briscoe.

The Texas Capitol was rocked by a series of scandals in the early 1970s. Arnold reported on everything from state agency nepotism, the Sharpstown scandal, to a state official who used state paid postage stamps to buy a new pickup truck. Arnold joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1980 working in the newspaper’s Capitol bureau. While reporting on Gov.-Elect Mark White’s plans for his administration in 1982, he asked her to be his press secretary.

“I had never thought about leaving journalism,” she recalled and agreed on the condition the Administration be as open as possible with the public. She was the first female press secretary to a Texas Governor.

Serving as press secretary was hectic, made even more so by the birth of second son, Jon, in 1985. It was common to see months-old Jon crawling around the Governor’s Mansion and Press Office before he could walk. Gov. White’s administration brought MCC and other high tech industry to Texas, but the biggest accomplishment was passing education reform in a special session in 1984. When the Texas economy crashed in 1986, jeopardizing the hard-won education reforms and crucial state services, White persuaded the Texas Legislature to increase taxes in a bid to keep Texas’ future economic standing bright. it worked, but cost White re-election. After White left office, Arnold decided to check with doctors about nagging health problems.

She soon faced the biggest challenge of her life. Doctors diagnosed her with leukemia and said she had six months to two years to live. Arnold rejected that death sentence, joined an experimental treatment program at UT’s M. D. Anderson facilities in Houston and lived a remarkable 20+ years with the disease. She was not one to stay home and feel sorry for herself.

In 1987, she was asked by a group of radio and TV station owners and operators to head up the Texas Association of Broadcasters, taking over the reins of the organization when long-time Executive Director Bonner McLane died suddenly. With her legendary power of persuasion and tireless dedication, Arnold developed a state and national reputation of championing the work of the Texas broadcast industry.

She was instrumental in broadcasters’ fight to achieve a positive business climate in Texas through her work at the Texas Capitol, before Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. Arnold also positioned TAB as a primary defender of Texas’ Open Government laws which were borne out of the very Sharpstown scandal she had covered years before. Arnold was recognized for Open Government efforts with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ James Madison Award in 2001 which she received with then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn. She was broadcasters’ fiercest advocate for enhancing the Emergency Alert System and laid the groundwork for the successful effort to pass a Free Flow of Information Act in Texas.

During her tenure at TAB, Arnold doubled station membership, expanded an array of member services for stations and recruited top professional staff. She oversaw the creation of TAB’s permanent home just blocks from the State Capitol which the association has occupied since 1999. The building hosts industry events and meetings with legislators and other Texas and U.S. policy makers.

Arnold also grew the Texas Broadcast Education Foundation’s endowment and organized successful fundraisers to create scholarships honoring Lady Bird Johnson, Wendell Mayes, Vann Kennedy and Tom Reiff. She was President of the National Alliance of State Broadcast Associations in 2005. Texas broadcasters honored her for legacy of work on their behalf by presenting Arnold TAB’s first Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

“Ann was passionate about Texas and optimistic about the future,” said TAB Vice President Oscar Rodriguez. “She cherished the opportunity to help local broadcasters strengthen their communities and had yet to find the challenge that would daunt her,” he said. “The broadcast industry and local communities throughout Texas will long benefit from her dedication and passion.”

She is survived by her son and his wife, Merle and Julie Arnold of Fort Washington, Maryland, son Jonathan Arnold of Austin, and sister Sue March of Friendswood.

Memorial information is pending.