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Ezzell: Panhandle Iconoclast By Donald Williams Miami, Texas For eight months, starting last August, I had the only openly liberal editor in the Texas Panhandle as a colleague and next-town neighbor. That was the period in which I was editor of The Miami Chief, a county-seat weekly, and Ben , Ezzell was putting out, as he has been doing for 34 years, The Canadian Record, a tabloid like the late Chief but far more profitable. Though I do not as a rule agree with Ezzell’s political opinions, I admire his courage in expressing them to his decidedly conservative , readership. It has been interesting and a little surprising to find out how his readers generally take him and how he takes them. When I say Ezzell is the only liberal editor in the 26 northernmost Texas counties, I set aside the editors of college papers, who, however, to show the extent of conservatism in the Panhandle, are by no means always liberals. I take into account, too, the fact that H. M. Baggarly has retired from the editorship of The Tulia Herald, though he still contributes a regular column. I can hardly consider as exceptions such editors as may keep a liberal preference between themselves and one or two town Cassiuses who slip in to drink a beer and talk wild on paste-up night. Ezzell, Lord knows, has not kept his opinions quiet. He supported George McGovern for president in 1972, as did only 214 out of the 1,156 Hemphill County voters. He supported Carter over Reagan while the county was going the other way by nearly two to one. In 1961, when liberal tendencies were only beginning to stir in him, he called the John Birch Society’s programs subversive. In 1970, he outraged even some of the local liberals by comparing the shootings at Kent State University to those of the My Lai incident in Vietnam. At 65, Ezzell says he has mellowed. Maybe he has, as a person. When he walks down the sidewalk of the Main Street hill, nearly everybody he meets businessmen in town suits, real estate women, ranchers heading for the coffee shop smiles at him in the open, warm way of Panhandle people, and he smiles back. He looks mellow, too, like a Norman Rockwell editor, when he composes on his old Underwood, rocking a little from side to side in the way of most twofingered typists. When he talks about his years on the Record, it is true, the lift to his features seems maybe half from good humor and half from his having bitten into a memory that never properly ripened, and his husky laugh comes out when nothing is really funny. He has some memories that would make anybody half-sour. He has had his home windows knocked out with rocks and the front door at the Record peppered with pellets; has had the middle of the same glass door spat upon regularly by a nightwalker so that in the morning the hate has to be washed off; has been beaten up, called a liar and a Communist in letters in his own paper; has been cursed on many occasions, a few times boycotted, and once unsuccessfully sued. Still, there are the almost universal smiles, which may be in part a neighborly recognition of Ezzell’s belligerent loyalty to Canadian against all big-city as well the fact that the Record runs countless pictures of smiling Canadian cheerleaders, of all-district athletes, of civic club members receiving plaques. Mothers and dads swoop down upon newsstands on Thursday mornings; about half of the Record’s 2,630 circulation is by newsstand sales a remarkably high proportion for a country weekly. Whatever the stimulus of the Ron Brown smiles may be, Ezzell loves to get and return them, and he mentions them prominently in explaining why he and his wife have stayed in Canadian through the bitter times. Ezzell gets smiles from his fellow editors, too. From all I have heard and seen, they look upon him as a wise and generous colleague, and never mind the political differences. Troy Martin, who as editor of The Canyon News is one of the outspoken conservatives’ of Panhandle journalism \(though J. Evetts Haley, the conservative of conversatives in West Texas, once hurt his feelings by that some years ago Ezzell phoned hiM after reading one of the News’ editorials and threatened to drive over and whip him. “I told him, `Well, Ben, if you do, you’ll just have to go ahead and hit me, because I like you so much I won’t fight back,”‘ Martin said. \(When I told Ezzell the story, he laughed but shook his head. In Canadian, Ezzell supports and praises civic leaders as often as he excoriates them, and in the past he has been both president of the Chamber of Commerce and the chamber’s Citizen of the Year \(so has Nancy, his wife and THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9