Prominent sports figures in the Dallas-Fort Worth area offered their condolences to Richard Durrett’s family one by one late Tuesday as word of the well-known media figure’s death quickly spread.
TCU football coach Gary Patterson, Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki and Rangers broadcaster Eric Nadel all posted messages on Twitter, while Rangers manager Ron Washington simply called Durrett “a Texas Ranger” in an interview on MLB Network.
The news of Durrett’s sudden death at the age of 38 from undetermined causes was deeply felt in Denton, where the TCU graduate’s rise in the media business began.
Durrett began his career working for Denton Publishing Co., the parent company of the Denton Record-Chronicle. Durrett first worked at the Grapevine Sun in 1999 before moving on that year to the DRC, where he was the sports editor.
Those who knew Durrett during his time working in the Denton area remembered him not only as a talented journalist but also as a warm and caring person.
“He was the nicest guy in the world, would do anything for you and help in any way he could,” DRC publisher Bill Patterson said. “He loved sports, whether it was at the local high school or youth league levels or what he has been doing of late with colleges and pro teams.
“He had a great personality and always warmly greeted you. It always seemed like there was never anything in his life that was going bad.”
That personality helped make Durrett a popular figure in the Denton area, not only with his colleagues but also with the coaches, players and administrators he covered at North Texas and in the community.
Several of those figures expressed shock and grief at the death of Durrett, who is survived by his wife, Kelly; son, Owen; and daughter, Alice. The Rangers announced Wednesday that they have set up the Richard Durrett Family Fund in his memory.
“It was obvious that he was a talented journalist, but even more than that I knew him as one of the most genuine and caring human beings I have ever met,” said Eric Capper, UNT’s longtime sports information director. “He never asked how you were doing just to create small talk. He genuinely wanted to know the answer. He always had a smile on his face.”
Hank Dickenson, UNT’s senior deputy athletic director, described Durrett as a throwback to the old days of the media business, before Twitter and blogs.
“He was one of the nicest, most positive guys,” Dickenson said. “He had an old-school approach. He was always looking for something positive. He would report bad news if he had to, but he tried to look for something good to say.”
Durrett’s diligence was evident in his work, according to those he covered.
Capper said that Durrett carefully gathered all the information he could to put the news of the day in context during his time in Denton.
Mike Heika, who covers the Stars for The Dallas Morning News, recalled Durrett going even further.
“Richard would look through an entire queue during a chat session to make sure that every fan would have one of his questions answered so his name would appear in it,” Heika said. “He did that to make fans feel better. He cared about making people happy.”
Durrett first displayed those traits at the Sun, where he covered high schools and community sports.
“He had a talent for communicating well with people — players, parents and everyone in the community,” said Les Cockrell, the former editor of the Sun, who now works at the Record-Chronicle. “I can’t remember anyone having a bad thing to say about him.
“He was a fun guy to be around.”
Durrett went on to work for the Morning News, where he covered a variety of assignments beginning in 2000. He then joined the staff at ESPNDallas.com, where he spent the last five years of his career.
Durrett covered the Rangers for ESPN and co-hosted a daily sports talk show on KESN-FM (103.3) with Ian Fitzsimmons.
While Durrett spent most of his career working in print and digital media, he spent time working on television late in his career. He appeared on ESPN’s national baseball coverage and filled in on Ranger broadcasts when Eric Nadel was forced to leave a road trip last month for personal reasons.
“Richard always wanted to be a broadcaster,” said Cockrell, one of several people Durrett worked with in Denton and Grapevine who watched over the years as his career took off.
“It was great to see him go on and know that we played a small part,” Patterson said. “It was great to hear him on the radio every once in a while.”
What Durrett accomplished professionally, both before and after he left Denton, is just part of what those who knew him best remembered about him. What left a far larger impression was the personality that made him a beloved figure in the community.
“He is not only a role model for everyone in the business but also for everyone in life,” said Steven Bartolotta, an assistant sports information director at UNT. “I miss him already, but his life deserves to be celebrated and remembered for his amazing contribution to so many people’s lives.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.