By DAVID JONES
GREAT PAPER: This is the upper front page of the Tuesday, February 11, 1986 Tulsa Tribune. The top local article centered on Richard Roberts to be the successor to his father, Oral Roberts, as president of Oral Roberts University. The lead international article discussed another escapade of the Soviet Union.
Editor’s Note: The author is the grandson of Richard Lloyd Jones and the son of Jenkin Lloyd Jones. He was a writer and editor for the Tulsa Tribune for 28 years. This article is the sixth in a centennial year-long series saluting families who were in Oklahoma about the time of statehood and have since contributed to the state and Tulsa’s well-being.
Richard Lloyd Jones wanted to buy a newspaper. The one-time Broadway actor who had served as an associate editor at the prestigious Collier’s magazine before buying the Wisconsin State Journal had sold that paper and wanted to buy another.
A friend urged him to look at the brawling city of Tulsa in the rough-hewn state of Oklahoma where Charles Page, founder of Sand Springs, had two money-losing newspapers including the Tulsa Democrat.
According to legend Jones put it to Page this way: “Charlie, you’ve got a paper and you don’t want one. I want a paper and I don’t have one. Sell me your paper.”
The deal was made. On December 1, 1919, the Democrat became the Tribune-Democrat, and as the Roaring ‘20s began the Democrat was left out of the masthead. Jones had launched a newspaper that was to have a profound impact on Oklahoma for 72 years. Four generations of Joneses were to work on it.
Jones was not reluctant to take on the power structure. He once recalled that as a new newspaper editor he was invited by the Tulsa County Democratic Party to address the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner.
He started his speech by denouncing those Democrats he considered scoundrels, many of whom were in attendance. He had to be escorted off the stage for his own safety. The experience didn’t faze him.
Ever generous to the family, he helped a cousin who was an architect and was in financial difficulties by asking him to build a modest house. The architect was Frank Lloyd Wright, and the resulting house was both a magnificent piece of modern architecture (you can find it at 3704 S. Birmingham Ave.) and a disaster. On the night the Jones family moved in it poured, and the experimental flat roof allowed rivulets through countless crevices. Jones called his cousin and shouted, “Frank, I’m sitting in my study and water is pouring on my head,” to which Wright replied calmly, “Richard, move your chair.”
Jones’ two sons, Jenkin Lloyd Jones and Richard Lloyd Jones Jr., carried the newspaper to greater heights after returning from serving in the Navy in World War II. Both were conservative to moderate Republicans (in its 72 years the Tribune never endorsed a Democratic candidate for president and didn’t endorse one for governor until J. Howard Edmondson in 1958) but both were willing to take on the status quo and the rurally dominated Oklahoma legislature. The newspaper filed a lawsuit that led to the reapportionment of the legislature to reflect the population changes in the state, endorsed the end of prohibition, investigated the Penn Square bank scandal and unearthed the corruption of county commissioners which resulted in many of them winding up in jail.
Richard also served with distinction in aviation, serving on the Tulsa Municipal Airport Authority and the board of McDonald-Douglas for decades. Riverside Airport in Jenks was renamed in his honor.
Jenkin went on to become assistant secretary of the Navy under President Eisenhower, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, president of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Other members of the family got involved in the paper. Mrs. Howard G. Barnett (often known as Bisser), the sister of Richard Jr. and Jenkin, became president of the company after Richard’s death in 1982. When she retired her son, Howard Jr. took over the paper’s reins as president.
Richard’s son, Richard III, called Dex, was a vice-president until his family sold their interest in the paper upon his father’s death.
On the Jenkin side, oldest son Jenk Jr. served as both an Oklahoma City and Washington correspondent, managing editor and executive editor. He was with the paper 32 years. His brother, David, served stints as entertainment editor, Washington correspondent, associate editor and columnist (The Rambler). Their sister, Georgia Snoke, contributed a weekly column. Jenk’s son Landon worked as a reporter and Janny, Landon’s sister, worked as a copy girl, as did Heather, the oldest daughter of Georgia. When people spoke of The Tribune as being like a family they were nearly literally correct.
The two brothers, Richard Jr. and Jenkin, did not always see eye to eye. In 1968 the U.S. Senate race was between the Democratic incumbent Mike Monroney and former Gov. Henry Bellmon.
Richard, an aviation enthusiast who was grateful for all the help Monroney had provided for aviation in Tulsa and the industry in general, insisted the Tribune endorse Monroney.
Jenkin, who fully appreciated Monroney’s contributions but felt Bellmon would be a better representative for Oklahoma, supported the former governor.
The solution: In a few days the editorial page carried an editorial, “For Monroney,” by Richard Lloyd Jones Jr.
Next to it was an editorial “For Bellmon” by Jenkin Lloyd Jones.
Of the two, because of his writing, Jenkin is probably better remembered by the public. Widely traveled (he went around the world five times, was in each continent at least twice except for Antarctica which he visited once, was in roughly 125 counties and every state in the Union numerous times) he took a wide view of events.
He knew how to fight back. In a speech to newspapermen he said, “Let there be a fresh breeze of new honesty, new idealism, new integrity…You have typewriters, presses and a huge audience.
How about raising hell?”
The Tribune, like almost every other afternoon daily newspaper in the United States, ceased publishing. The last issue came out on Sept. 30, 1992.
For 72 years it had raised hell.