Orville Monroe Henry Jr. (1925–2002)
Orville Monroe Henry Jr., the best-known newspaper sportswriter in Arkansas history, worked for the state’s two largest newspapers, the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat (later the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette). Although he covered other sports, he is most identified with writing about Arkansas Razorbacks football at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).
Orville Henry was born in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on February 19, 1925. His father, Orville Monroe Henry Sr., was a traveling salesman who later became a farmer; his mother, Frances, raised eight children and took care of a very active home. When Henry was in the ninth grade at Pulaski Heights Junior High, he decided he wanted to be a newspaperman and worked on the school newspaper. He also caddied at Fair Park Golf Course and occasionally worked in the concession stands at what was later named Ray Winder Field. At age seventeen, in 1942, he was hired as a copy boy at the Arkansas Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper, in Little Rock. Eventually, he was asked to write some sports stories and served as an apprentice to the sports editor. He graduated from Little Rock Senior High School (now Central High School) and later from Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock).
In September 1943, he became interim sports editor at the Gazette when the sports editor moved to a newspaper in New York. After only a few months, Henry was offered the job on a permanent basis. Sports coverage in the Gazette in those days was relatively minor, usually less than ten columns during the week and only three or four pages on Sunday. Even though World War II was raging, Henry was physically exempt from military service because he was underweight.
After the war, Henry began increasing his sports staff, as well as the sports section in the newspaper. To stretch his limited budget, he hired “part-timers” to develop as sports writers. He hired young people in or right out of high school, kept them while they attended Little Rock Junior College, and then sent them on to the University of Arkansas to be correspondents for his newspaper. This on-the-job training program lasted for much of three decades—late 1940s into the 1970s—and produced some of the most successful media figures in the state, including Bill Simmons, Robert Shaw, Harry King, Adrian Cooper, Wes Pruden, Gene Foreman, and Tom Dygard, among many others.
Henry developed a distinctive writing style that attracted readers and fans throughout the state. He described it as “state a fact, use an anecdote, state a fact, use an anecdote.” The approach resulted in long articles with an abundance of details. Readers loved it. Following detailed game stories on Sundays, he would continue the game analysis on Mondays. His sports stories and sections sold many newspapers.
Henry’s reputation extended throughout the country. Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, most identified with the University of Alabama, once remarked that Henry covered the University of Arkansas more completely from two hundred miles away in Little Rock than most writers could on campus. Beano Cook, of ABC-TV and ESPN, said that Henry had written more about the Razorbacks than “Carl Sandburg did on Abe Lincoln.”
Henry began his sports-writing career at the Arkansas Gazette (1942–1989). When he saw that the Gazette was failing—and feeling ill-treated and underpaid—he decided to quit and was hired by the Arkansas Democrat (1989–1991); when that newspaper bought the assets of the closed Arkansas Gazette from the Gannett Company in 1991, he worked for the re-named Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (1991–1996). His last newspaper stop was at the Arkansas newspapers of Stephens Media (1996–2002), where he was senior sports columnist until his death, making a total of sixty years writing sports for Arkansas newspapers.
It is widely thought that Henry’s move to the Arkansas Democrat in 1989 was one of the major factors in the closing of the Gazette in 1991. Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said that Henry “brought credibility” to his newspaper. Many readers followed Henry to his new newspaper.
Henry received many awards and recognitions over the years for his sports department and personal columns and articles. Eight times, he was named Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. He was elected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the first print journalist to be so honored. Among his other honors were the Ernie Deane Award by the University of Arkansas Department of Journalism, the Arkansas Alumni Association’s Honorary Distinguished Alumni of the Year, the Arkansas Press Association’s Golden Fifty Award (for working for newspapers for fifty years or longer), and the Distinguished American Award. He also was a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. In addition, Henry was honored by the Football Writers of America in 2002 with the Bert McGrane Award for lifetime service to that organization.
Henry co-authored the book The Razorbacks: The Story of Arkansas Football. Henry served as president of the Football Writers of America and the Southern Association of Baseball Writers, and was chairman of the Heisman Trophy Committee of Arkansas.
After covering Razorback sports from Little Rock for so many years, Henry finally moved to Fayetteville in 1983. But he moved back to central Arkansas, to Malvern (Hot Spring County), in 1993 to live in semi-retirement, continuing to write sports columns until his death. He died in Malvern on March 16, 2002, after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
For additional information:
Bailey, Jim. “Interview with Orville Henry.” Arkansas Gazette Project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. Online at http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/project.php?projectFolder=Arkansas Gazette&thisProject=2&projectdisplayName=Arkansas Gazette Project (accessed December 9, 2016).
Bailey, Jim, and Pete Perkins. “Arkansas Legend Lost.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 18, 2002, pp. 1C, 3C.
“Legendary Sportswriter Orville Henry Dies.” Hawgs Illustrated, March 17, 2002.
Obituary of Orville M. Henry Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 19, 2002, p. 4B.
Reed, Roy, ed. Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette: An Oral History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2009.
C. Dennis Schick
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated: 12/09/2016