Former editor remembered as cutting-edge newsman

HARLINGEN — Family and friends yesterday remembered former Valley Morning Star Editor Jerry Deal as a hard-edged newsman and demanding boss who helped sharpen the newspaper and sway city politics.

Deal died yesterday at South David Medical Center in Austin about two weeks after suffering a stroke.

He was 86.

Born in Broken Bow, Neb., Deal was raised in Lincoln, where he began his newspaper career in high school as a sports reporter for the Lincoln Journal.

During the Korean War, he served on active and inactive duty with the Naval Air Corps.

An award-winning journalist who started his career in 1955, Deal characterized the stereotypical hard-nosed newsman who learned the trade in the days of hot type and manual typewriters.

“He was a very good guy,” Darla Deal, his daughter-in-law, said yesterday. “He was very passionate about what he did. He loved to tell stories. He was the best.”

Since 1959, Deal worked in South Texas journalism, covering many of the region’s biggest stories as an investigative reporter and editor.

By 1960, he was working as a reporter for the Valley Morning Star.

Between 1961-1964 and 1969-1981, Deal worked for the San Antonio Express-News, where he covered police and city hall before working as an investigative reporter and night city editor.

“That was probably the most colorful time of my career — investigative reporting,” Deal said before retiring from the Star in 2001.

For a story he wrote about a statewide prostitution ring that operated under police protection, a madam put a contract on his life, he said.

“It was only for $10,000, so it wasn’t too important,” Deal said with a chuckle in 2001. “We got wind of it through a Houston snitch and she called it off.”

As a result of another article, his credibility stood up against five lawyers who each sued him for $1 million, he said.

Deal also worked as a freelance writer, spending two weeks on country singer Willie Nelson’s tour bus.

In 1988, Deal came to the Star for the second time, taking a job as assistant city editor.

After moving to the city editor’s desk, he was promoted to managing editor in 1993.

In June 1997, Deal became the Star’s editor, guiding the newspaper to several awards.

In 2001, he retired before launching the Los Fresnos Leader, a weekly newspaper that spawned his website

Across the Valley, Deal was known for his Sunday column, The Real Deal, in which his blunt criticism helped push for open city government.

Friends and more

“Jerry was always a good friend to me,” businessman Bill Peacock posted on Deal’s Facebook page yesterday. “He will be missed by so many.”

But Deal also made his share of enemies.

“I’m sure not everyone has fond memories of Jerry Deal,” Allen Essex, who worked as a reporter and assistant city editor at the Star, stated. “But we’ll never forget him — that’s for sure.”

Hard-nosed newsman

Essex, now a reporter for the Raymondville Chronicle, remembered Deal as “a tough, demanding boss.”

“He wanted the Star to be a real newspaper,” Essex stated. “He put me through the wringer, over and over.”

Deal also loved good times.

“He would throw parties at his home for his staff,” Essex recalled. “Everyone who worked at the Star was part of a family — for better or for worse.”

Essex remembered the day the hard-working newsman held his wedding reception inside an office at the Star.

“His wedding reception was a quick lunchtime party,” Essex stated. “But Jerry’s bride Pat had to get back to her nursing duties at the hospital and we had a paper to get out.”

Laura Martinez, city editor at the Brownsville Herald, remembered Deal as an “old-school” newsman “who taught me all I know and made me the journalist that I am today.”

“I was more afraid of him than I was of law enforcement officials,” stated Martinez, who worked as a reporter and city editor for the Star.

“I used to sit as far away as I could from him,” she stated. “Then one day, management decided to move our desks around. I decided I would sit right in front of him. He asked me why and I responded, ‘So you won’t have to yell that far at me.’”

The Real Deal

Bill Hethcock, who worked as a reporter and city editor at the Star, remembered Deal as a tough newsman who pushed reporters to dig deep for news.

“I remember the way Jerry always pushed to get the story and how he always backed his reporters,” Hethcock, now a staff writer for the Dallas Business Journal, stated.

“Jerry truly was ‘The Real Deal.’ He was old-school, hard-core and an adventure-a-minute to work with by day and drink with by night,” Hethcock stated. “I always figured he’d die at his keyboard at the Valley Morning Star or maybe of a hangover at Juan O’Leary’s, the Irish-Mexican pub where he would hold court after a long day of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

Deal loved news — and he loved to write about the people who made it happen.

“He got so excited about the great stories — giddy, actually,” Hethcock stated. “Jerry always had cool stories about people he’d worked with or covered — Willie Nelson, Herb Kelleher, etc.”

On Sundays, Deal’s column would help spike newspaper sales.

“The way Jerry would call out people in his columns, you did not want to be the target of his wrath,” Hethcock stated.

Reaching out

At the Star, Deal worked to make the newspaper part of the community.

At Christmastime, Operation Noel helped hundreds of poor children.

Deal also launched the Valley Morning Star Rio Run 10K Run-5K Walk, raising money for 62 scholarships.

“I’ve had an interesting career,” Deal said before retiring from the Star in 2001.