Elmer Kelton Obituary:
Source: San Angelo Standard-Times issue of August 23, 2009.
Kelton remembered as writer and friend
By Rick Smith
Though he enjoyed a lifetime of success with careers in newspapers, magazines and books, Elmer Kelton always remained “the quintessential ‘good old boy,’” said Felton Cochran, a San Angelo bookseller.
Kelton “truly appreciated his many fans,” said Cochran, whose Concho Avenue bookstore features hundreds of Kelton’s books.
“He was always willing, even eager, to sign a stack of books for a fan.”
Kelton died early Saturday morning at age 83.
The writer published 62 fiction and nonfiction books in his career, said Cochran, whose friendship with Kelton began in 1995.
The secret of Kelton’s writing success?
“His honesty,” Cochran said.
“Elmer Kelton, the writer, didn’t write westerns — he wrote western literature. When you opened a Kelton novel, you knew beforehand that it would be clean, historically accurate and entertaining.”
Glenn Dromgoole, an author, book reviewer and co-owner of an Abilene bookstore, called Kelton “one of the giants in Texas literature.”
Dromgoole listed Kelton’s novel “The Time in Never Rained” on his top 10 list of Texas novels.
The writer’s personality, as well as his words, attracted readers, Dromgoole said.
“I’ve never known a writer who was as loved by his readers. People would come in for a book signing, and it was like they were coming in to see a good friend.”
Kelton received a number of awards during his career. The Western Writers of America awarded him its Spur Award seven times. The Western Writers also voted him “Best Western Author of All Time.”
Four of his books won the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 1987 he received the Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award for “continuing excellence in Texas letters” from the Texas Institute of Letters.
One of his novels, “The Good Old Boys,” was made into a TV movie by Tommy Lee Jones.
Kelton, a Crane native, grew up on the McElroy Ranch, served in World War II and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.
He spent 15 years as the Standard-Times’ farm and ranch writer-editor, five years as editor of Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine and 22 years as associate editor of Livestock Weekly, retiring in 1990.
He never retired from writing, though.
His first novel, “Hot Iron,” was published in 1956, and he recently completed his last book, “Texas Standoff,” due out next year. Another novel, “Other Men’s Horses,” will be released this fall.
While his books brought him fame, he will also be remembered for his humanity, San Angeloans said.
Jon Mark Hogg, mayor pro tem of San Angelo, described Kelton as “a great ambassador for San Angelo and for West Texas.”
“It so amazed me that someone with such great success was also such a humble, ordinary person,” Hogg said. “I have heard so many people say how the characters in ‘The Time It Never Rained’ so typified their families. He could really connect with people. He will be sorely missed.”
Howard Taylor, executive director of the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, said that when he was pondering moving to San Angelo he was told by acquaintances that “The Time It Never Rained” would give him the clearest sense of the place and the people.
Taylor met Kelton after arriving in San Angelo. “He was delightful, always pleasant and jovial, but a serious man,” Taylor said. “When I got here, he chatted with me briefly and counseled me, saying that whatever we did he hoped we would use art that people would enjoy.”
Angelo State University English professor Mary Ellen Hartje had a strong connection with Kelton, having been involved from the beginning in the annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton. The first conference was in 1997, when Kelton had a sponsored lectureship and taught a course at ASU.
“Can you imagine being a student in that course?” she said Saturday.
The first conference honored Kelton. A different author has been the guest and conference focus in each succeeding year, but Kelton never failed to attend, Hartje said.
“That sweet, precious man would come every year, and on the Thursday evening we would have an evening with Elmer Kelton, where he would read from one of his works, or speak,” she said. “It was a hometown crowd, and he would relax and share stories for an hour, then he would sign his books.”
Kelton, she said, was humble and his interest was always focused on the person he was speaking to. “He was such a gracious person, the complete opposite of egocentric,” she said.
Kelton lived long and gave much to the world and West Texas in particular, she said.
“I think Elmer was blessed to live a good long life. He gave us everything he wanted to give us with love, completely naturally. He never had to force his writing,” she said.
“He was put on this earth to give us that.”
Hartje said she just finished reading his last published book, “Many a River.”
“He did what he did so well,” she said. “The characters have such depth ... and it’s a learning experience to read his books, history, geography, the politics of Texas in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“He created real people in his books.”
Sabrina Roberts contributed to this story.
WINDMILL: Kelton was an inspiration, friend
By Jerry Lackey
The first time I met Elmer Kelton was in 1956. We were both taking pictures of a champion Angora goat at the Kimble County Livestock Show.
After that, I was the 14-year-old kid who followed him around like a puppy dog every time he came to Junction for a goat sale or whatever. Although he was a quiet man clad in a western hat, he always had a notepad and pen in his hand, which did his talking. He would slowly make his rounds, visiting with ranchers one-on-one, collecting information for the Windmill column.
Neither of us knew at that time I would be following for the rest of our lives. When I came to San Angelo in 1962 to attend San Angelo Junior College, I worked with him at the old Sheep and Goat Raiser magazine (now Ranch & Rural Living) when he was editor. He never liked it when I said he was my boss. “We are in this together. We don’t work by the hour, but until the job is done,” he would say.
So, Elmer became my teacher, editor, mentor and friend.
One of my passions was a desire to write the Windmill column, as he did for 15 years. I first started contributing in the 1960s, also working part time at the Standard-Times while in college. By that time, Elmer was already at the Sheep and Goat Raiser magazine and Al Sledge and Ross McSwain were part of the Windmill mix. I was named S-T agriculture editor in 1974, and except for 20 years as a farm broadcaster, I returned to the newspaper 10 years ago and am in my 22nd year of writing Windmill, thanks to editor Tim Archuleta.
Every summer when Elmer would take a couple of weeks to attend the Western Writers of America conference, he would leave me in charge as “acting editor” of the Sheep and Goat Raiser magazine. That meant I would travel to events, take pictures and write, do page layout, including collecting advertising copy and get the contents from cover to cover to the printer.
When Elmer was invited to join the Livestock Weekly, I was field editor for The Cattleman magazine in Fort Worth. I had previously worked part time at the Livestock Weekly for about one year while in college. One day, Elmer showed up at my office in Fort Worth. He wanted to tell me that he had recommended me for the editor’s job at the Sheep and Goat Raiser. He also wanted to quiz me about working for Stanley Frank, who was the Livestock Weekly owner and publisher.
During my many years in television, Elmer was a regular guest in the interview segment every time one of his new books was released. Years before, he encouraged me to put together my first book, “Papa Didn’t Spare the Rod,” which was compiled from my short stories he had edited in the Sheep and Goat Raiser. He also graciously offered to illustrate the book.
During the early 1970s, we partnered on a newspaper venture focusing on events of the Old West. The Pioneer News-Observer reprinted news and pictures from 1801 to 1901. We traveled several states, visiting libraries and museums to view microfilm, even interviewing many reflective old-timers, and compiled our findings in the 24-page monthly edition.
On several road trips together, I drove us back to San Angelo while Elmer put a story together using a portable typewriter in his lap from the passenger seat. (That was the first laptop I remember and could Elmer make it sing.)
When Elmer died Saturday, I spent some time during the weekend looking back at the more than 60 books he authored, re-reading certain passages and the many signed inscriptions he wrote for our grandsons and me personally:
“For my good friend with good memories.”
“For an old friend who sees most things the way I do.”
And perhaps the one that brought us full circle in 1996: “I remember you as a 4-H club boy, following me around with a camera. I am happy over the career you made for yourself.”
In May 2007, Dee and I attended an autograph party for Elmer and Ann Kelton celebrating the release of “Sandhills Boy The Winding Trail of a Texas Writer.” We were back home reminiscing about the Keltons attending our wedding in October 1968 before we read Elmer’s inscription: “For Dee and Jerry — who lived through some of this with us.”
Yes, indeed and what a Happy Trail it was sharing with Elmer and Ann. Thanks for the memories and for spurring me along.
Jerry Lackey writes about agriculture. Contact him at [email protected] or (325) 949-2291.
Area mourns loss of Kelton
[email protected] / 325-659-8237
Much-loved writer dies at 83 Brandy Ramirez
Fans of Western literature, bookstore owners and ordinary citizens were in mourning Monday, recalling San Angelo’s best known and most prolific writer.
Elmer Kelton, who died Saturday at age 83, was remembered as both an “amazing individual” and an “astounding writer” by those who knew him.
The writer’s funeral will be held Thursday at 2 p.m. in First United Methodist Church, 37 E. Beauregard Ave. Kelton, author of “The Time It Never Rained,” “The Good Old Boys” and “The Wolf and The Buffalo” among more than 40 works of fiction, was the recipient of several awards and was named the number-one Western writer of all time by the Western Writers of America.
Felton Cochran, owner of the Cactus Book Shop in San Angelo, said he’s received e-mails from people across the country asking when and where Kelton’s funeral will take place.
Cochran, who is also a San Angelo Area Foundation committee member assisting with the Tom Green County Library Elmer Kelton Statue Project, said the family has requested donations be made to that project in lieu of flowers.
The life-size statue of Kelton by Raul Ruiz will be placed in the reading area of the Western Book section in the new Tom Green County Library, which is scheduled for completion in 2010, said Larry D. Justiss, library director.
“This is real appropriate for our community,” he said.
Wanda Green, the associate director of the library, said Monday that people have taken a fresh interest in Kelton’s works since receiving news of his death and many have come to the library seeking his books.
Green said the library is setting up a small memorial featuring his work and information about his life.
Justiss said Kelton’s books have been in demand for years.
“He was a fabulous writer,” he said. “This is a real loss to the community.”
Kelton was known internationally but he remained a fixture and a familiar figure in San Angelo and West Texas.
“He was the best western gentleman I ever met,” said Ron Anderson, a friend of Kelton and former owner of Books, Books, Books in Fredericksburg.
Kelton came to the store for book signings twice, sometimes four times a year, Anderson said.
“He took his time with each individual he spoke to, even if the line was clear outside down the sidewalk,” Anderson said. “I had some of the best Texas authors to be found come to my store, but out of all the authors, he was the most courteous. When he talked to you, you were the center of focus, not him.”
Judy Alter, the retired director of TCU Press who knew and worked with Kelton for more than 30 years, said, “It’s very hard to imagine West Texas without Elmer Kelton.”
She also shared Anderson’s sentiment of Kelton being the “most gentle man you ever met.”
“He was a wonderful man, great friend, and great writer,” Alter said. “There is a big hole in West Texas, in western literature, and in friends.”
A friend and fellow writer, Carlton Stowers, said his death affects people across the nation. Although they wrote in different genres, Stowers said, Kelton always took an interest in his projects.
“As a writer, he is what we all hoped to be,” he said. “As a human being, he is what we all wished we could be.”