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Bob Porter’s roots in Denton carried him into history

Profile image for By Joe Simnacher
By Joe Simnacher

G. Robert “Bob” Porter Jr.’s life morphed through stages as a musician, writer and historian.

He was an aspiring trumpet player with the acclaimed One O’clock Lab Band at what is now the University of North Texas when illness took his ability to play. He became an arts writer for the Denton Record-Chronicle before moving on to a 29-year career as an entertainment writer for the Dallas Times Herald. When the daily newspaper closed in 1991, he found a new home at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where he co-founded the video oral-history collection.

Porter, 85, died Thursday of complications of dementia at his Dallas home.

He donated his remains to the Willed Body Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Services are private. His family will later have a celebration in his honor after scattering his ashes in New Mexico.

He always had a special place in his heart for Denton, where he met his wife and where his first two sons were born, said his wife, Pat Porter, of Dallas.

“He loved Denton,” she said. “We always actually thought we would retire to Denton, because we loved the environment, the energy, all the students. But then we settled here.”

Porter grew up in Mesquite, where his family had a drugstore on the square since 1910.

He was passionate about jazz and formed a dance band as a teenager, his wife said. He went to college in Denton, where he was in the elite jazz band. All four trumpet players in the group, however, contracted tuberculosis after sharing mouthpieces.

“That was back in the days before miracle drugs,” Pat Porter said. “So Bob was in the bed for six years with TB. His lungs collapsed and he could never play again.”

Porter recovered and returned to school to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in exceptional education. He planned to work helping disabled children.

He met his eventual wife at the university, and became interested in journalism while she was working as a journalist at the Record-Chronicle.

“He used to hang out, waiting to pick me up, and he said, ‘I can do what you are doing,’” she said.

He started out part-time in 1959 at the Record-Chronicle, then in 1961 went to work for the Times Herald, where he did all types of arts journalism.

“He was the film and theater critic for a long time,” his wife said. “He did a lot of personality interviews. He traveled to sets everywhere.”

“This is at a time when museums were only doing audiotapes,” Sixth Floor curator Gary Mack said. “We were quite advanced for the day.”

Porter was an ideal candidate for the history project, which seeks to preserve the sense of place of 1963 Dallas as well as personal recollections of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“He [Porter] lived through all of this and observed it as a writer and a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald,” Mack said. “He had a better feel for what the city was like in those days and what that weekend was like.”

On the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, Porter took a call from Jack Ruby.

“Ruby wasn’t really sure what to do with his strip club that evening,” Sixth Floor Curator Gary Mack said. “So he called the Times Herald and wound up talking to Bob. Bob didn’t want to reveal what the other guys were doing — that might not be appropriate — so he suggested that some people might close, but he really didn’t know yet.”

When the Times Herald closed, Porter planned to retire. But the Oliver Stone movie JFK prompted The Sixth Floor Museum to look for someone to handle an anticipated flood of media inquiries, Pat Porter said.

At the museum, Porter and former Dallas Mayor Wes Wise, a museum consultant, started making video recordings to preserve the history.

Porter was director of communications for the Sixth Floor Museum until he retired in 2001. He continued to write and was co-founder of the USA Film Festival.

In addition to his wife, Porter is survived by three sons, Robert Porter of Dallas, Paul Porter of Los Angeles, Calif., and Craig Porter of Jacksonville, Fla.; a brother, Mesquite City Council member Bill Porter; and five grandchildren.

Staff writer Dianna Hunt contributed to this report.