Travis Mac (Mike) Trimble (1943–2021)

Mike Trimble was an Arkansas-born writer who had a celebrated career as a reporter and editor for six different newspapers in Arkansas and Texas. His career spanned forty-eight years, starting at the Texarkana Gazette and followed by jobs at the Arkansas Gazette, Arkansas Times, Pine Bluff Commercial, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Denton Record-Chronicle. His remarkable observational skills and down-to-earth writing lent unusual humanity to his articles—whether they were news, features, or columns—and he always developed a large and fanatical following wherever he went, although the burden of high expectations and low self-confidence often led him to move to something else and start over.

Travis Mac Trimble was born on November 3, 1943, to Edgar Mac Trimble and Frances Trim Trimble, schoolteachers who had moved to Arkansas from Louisiana and settled in Bauxite (Saline County). His mother taught English—both Mike and his sister, Pat, were her students—but his father got a better-paying job as the personnel and safety director at Alcoa, which had a large aluminum-production plant at Bauxite. Trimble was the center and linebacker for the Bauxite Miners football team. That experience and his teammates’ exploits would become the subjects of legendary articles in the Arkansas Times magazine.

After two years at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), Trimble went to work as a reporter for the Texarkana Gazette, where his friend Jimmy Jones from nearby Hope (Hempstead County) was employed. Jones then was hired by the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and at a party at Jones’s apartment, another Gazette reporter met Trimble. He liked him and invited him to work for the Little Rock paper, recommending him to the managing editor. Trimble was soon hired, although he always said that he felt woefully inadequate.

His news stories and features usually picked up observations that other reporters would miss. Writing about a formal event at the Country Club of Little Rock honoring an early civic and civil rights leader, Trimble’s article noted that the steaks were “as big as saddle blankets” and that the honoree was the only Black person in the big crowd who did not wear the white jacket of servants. The publisher of his paper, who helped arrange the event, was irked by Trimble’s observation but did not fire him.

Finally, the editor assigned Trimble to write one of the two famous daily columns in the Gazette—“Our Town” and “The Arkansas Traveler”—that had been or would be written by such legends as Charles Portis, Ernie Deane, Charles Allbright, Bob Lancaster, and Richard Allin. Trimble felt inadequate but soon had a rabid following, especially in the newspaper corps. One especially memorable column, mournful but also funny, was about Trimble’s burial of Red, his dog and faithful friend. However, the expectation that every column had to achieve some majesty was more than Trimble could bear. He went back to reporting and soon quit.

One of his last articles for the Gazette was a long Sunday feature about a famous catfish restaurant on the White River at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) run by Olden Murry, a Black man who had once worked on riverboats on the Mississippi River. Trimble proclaimed it the best restaurant in Arkansas (the best food he had proclaimed to be the barbecue sauce at Fisher’s, a joint in midtown Little Rock that allowed white customers like Trimble in a shabby back room). The article recounted a typical day in the life of the aging Murry, busily preparing for the big crowds that crammed the ramshackle cafe made partly of old railroad cars. The Monday after the article appeared, Trimble got a call from his old deskmate at the Gazette, Bill Shadle, who had gone to work for the Social Security disability office. He congratulated Trimble on a fascinating article about Murry’s hard work but then said the only trouble was that Murry had been drawing 100 percent total and permanent disability benefits for twenty years. The agency went after Murry for recovery of the benefits. Murry hired one of his regular customers, Bobby Fussell, a former U.S. prosecutor and later Arkansas bankruptcy judge, to defend him. Fussell eventually told the government that Murry could not repay so it needed to take ownership of the restaurant. The government relented and dropped the case. Fussell rented a bus and invited Trimble and his friends, who included the then-presiding U.S. attorney, to ride to DeValls Bluff for a free catfish dinner. Late in the feast, Murry brought out a platter of fried crappie, which someone noted was illegal to harvest commercially. It was agreed, for the sake of the horrified prosecutor, that probably no crime had occurred because a friend of Murry’s had caught the crappie gratis and the meal was free.

Trimble went to work for the Arkansas Times, a monthly magazine, where he wrote such pieces as his Bauxite memories, but even there the high expectations every month were more than he could stand. Shortly before he departed, he wrote about the big new national headquarters building of Dillard’s department stores on Cantrell Road, saying that the structure looked like a mausoleum with a clock. Dillard’s was, until then, an advertiser in the Times, but it dropped the magazine, which in turn let Trimble go.

Trimble applied for a vacancy at the Pine Bluff Commercial covering several outlying towns. The executive editor, Jane Ann Ramos, the former editor of the Fort Smith Times-Record, hired Trimble and, the next year, married him. (Trimble had a daughter from an earlier marriage.) However, after the wedding, she had to fire him because the Commercial’s corporate owners had instituted a nepotism policy. He then went to work for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as a state-desk reporter and commuted to Little Rock. Soon, Jane Trimble was named publisher of the daily Weatherford Democrat west of Fort Worth, Texas, and she and her husband moved to Weatherford. Mike Trimble went to work as a copy editor and reporter for the Denton newspaper northeast of Weatherford, and three years later Jane joined him there, first as a city hall reporter and then as managing editor. She left the Denton paper to join the editorial staff of the Star-Telegram in nearby Fort Worth.

In his last job, as an editorial writer for the Denton Record-Chronicle in 2006, Trimble received an award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors for writing the best editorials in the nation that year. Six years later, he got himself fired by the newspaper’s publisher when he refused to retract an editorial mildly criticizing the Denton Chamber of Commerce for some stand taken by the chamber, of which Trimble’s newspaper and its publisher were members. Ironically, Trimble had previously received an award from the chamber, which earned him a unanimous resolution of praise from the Texas House of Representatives, proclaiming that Trimble’s “ability to inform, entertain and engage his readers…has gained the lasting respect and admiration of his readers and colleagues alike.”

When the Dallas Observer newspaper in 2012 reported his firing by the Record-Chronicle publisher, it quoted Trimble as saying: “It was just a difference of opinion. And he’s in a better position than I am.”

Trimble’s wife died in 2014. Trimble died on November 20, 2021, in Denton.

For additional information:
Bowden, Bill. “Journalist Known for Way with Words.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 22, 2021, p. 2B.

Brantley, Max, and Ernest Dumas. “Mike Trimble, Veteran Newspaperman, Dies at 78.” Arkansas Times, November 20, 2021. https://arktimes.com/arkansas-blog/2021/11/20/mike-trimble-veteran-newspaperman-dies-at-78 (accessed April 22, 2022).

Trimble, Mike. “Memories of a Miner.” Arkansas Times, September 1985. Reprinted at https://arktimes.com/news/cover-stories/2004/09/23/1985-the-greatest (accessed April 22, 2022).

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

 This entry originally appeared in a modified form on the website of the Arkansas Times and is reprinted here with permission.

Comments

    I laughed, I cried. I miss Mike.

    Leslie Mitchell De Quillacq Paris, France