Jerol Garrison Dies at 86; Former Gazette, AP&L Communicator

by Kyle Massey  on Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2018 4:07 pm   3 min read

Jerol Garrison

Jerol Garrison, the ex-Arkansas Gazette reporter who made a name for himself in business as director of communication for Arkansas Power & Light Co., died Thursday in Fayetteville, his home for the past seven years. He was 86.

Garrison wrote for the Gazette for 14 years, mostly covering the federal courts beat. He covered political figures like Orval Faubus, George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey and Wilbur D. Mills, as well as several legal minds in civil rights litigation, including John Walker, Wiley A. Branton and eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“He is the only journalist I’ve ever known who I’m quite sure never made a single mistake, not even a transposed number,” said former colleague Ernest Dumas, who now writes a column for Arkansas Times. “He was a fanatic about accuracy, enraging sources on the federal beat and the Capitol and the editors at the Gazette with his nitpicking questions and painstaking work on every story.”

A native of Columbia, Missouri, Garrison met Sally Ingels while they were studying at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. There, he was editor of the Arkansas Traveler and a clarinetist in the Marching Razorback Band. After he got his degree in journalism and she earned hers in social work, Jerol and Sally Garrison were married for 64 years.

Military service brought a two-year posting at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, then Garrison earned a master’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After a stint at the Neosho Daily News in Missouri, he landed at the Gazette in 1958.

Beyond being prized for his diligence, Garrison was a quiet, steadying influence on a Gazette reporting staff that included outsize characters like Charles Portis, who would go on to write “True Grit,” Roy Reed, who became a correspondent for The New York Times, and Patrick J. Owens, later a Newsday columnist who once described “false prophet” as a redundancy.

Dumas recalled a rare moment at the Gazette when Garrison lost his composure. Bob Douglas, later the paper’s top editor, tapped a metal pica ruler on Garrison’s desk, asking, “Jerol, did anyone ever tell you that we’re a daily paper, not a weekly?”

“Jerol, the mildest-mannered person I’ve ever known, had had enough,” Dumas said. “When Bob walked back to the rim [a desk populated by the paper’s copy editors] Jerol picked up his old Underwood [typewriter] and sent it crashing to the floor.”

The whole newsroom burst into applause and cheers.

Garrison himself thought the episode had been magnified in legend, according to another journalistic colleague, John Obrecht. "Jerol once told me that the typewriter story had been embellished over the years. He said he only lifted his typewriter a few inches off his desk and let it drop. And considering Jerol's reputation for accuracy ... "

Weary of deadline pressure, Garrison left the newspaper business in 1972, becoming information director at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He joined AP&L in 1980, and was respected for his ability to spread the utility company’s story while staying true to his journalistic instincts.

His favorite memory of the Gazette was “that it was an institution, and it was really a treat to work for the Gazette, something that had been there for so many years and had such a good reputation,” he told Reed in an interview for the Arkansas Gazette Oral History Project by the University of Arkansas’ Center for Oral & Visual History.

When the Gazette was shut down in October 1991, its assets sold by national newspaper chain Gannett to the rival Arkansas Democrat, Garrison and colleague Kay Kelley Arnold arranged for AP&L to host a dinner for all Gazette news employees. Garrison called it “a joyous evening which gave the Gazette people a chance to come together and have a drink and chat about things.”

Jerol Herreid Garrison was born Oct. 4, 1931, in Columbia, Missouri. His family moved to California, where he attended high school, and then to Fayetteville in 1949. In his private life, he loved camping in national parks, and he led frequient Girl Scouting adventures for his daughters, Linda Richmond, Margaret Holaway and Catherine Stark. Holaway and Stark, along with their mother, survive him.

Gene Foreman, the Arkansas State graduate who rose to be executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer in its heyday of Pulitzer Prizes, offered an anecdote by email from their time together as young journalists at the Gazette.
“I remember a group of us (not including Jerol) coming out of the Gazette Building one evening in the late 1950s, just as a 1920s automobile passed by on Louisiana Street. It was in perfect condition, an antique even then. Roy Reed admired it for a moment, then said it reminded him of Jerol: ‘Big. Honest.’”

 

 

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