“Few journalists, anywhere, ever, have been more dedicated to their craft or more respected by their peers than Mary Kate Tripp,” -- David Stevens, Amarillo Globe-News, 1994, on the occasion of Mary Kate Tripp’s induction into the Panhandle Press Association’s hall of fame.
Throughout her 60-plus years as an area journalist, Mrs. Tripp, fondly called Katie by friends, accepted numerous awards, including one named in her honor by West Texas State University: the Mary Kate Tripp Award for Excellence in Journalism.
In a feature marking her and her sister Bobbie Fortenberry’s retirement from the Globe-News, the story suggested the two planned to travel. But Mary Kate continued to work from home as editor of the books page.
Nationally recognized, Amarillo’s book section in the Sunday paper contained Mary Kate’s column, Editor’s Notes, and usually a book review by her. She favored regional authors in her column and reviews, but being a published Amarillo author didn't guarantee anyone a place on the page. Mrs. Tripp rejected Jodi Thomas' request for a review twice. After Mrs. Tripp agreed to consider Tender Texan, she wrote “a nice review,” said Jodi whose novels have since placed on The New York Times Best Seller List.
Mary Kate welcomed local authors like Pauline Robertson and suspense novelist, Doris Meredith, to review books for the section. She also encouraged lesser known writers to choose books from the stacks in her spare room. If a review met her standards, a writer could break into print on her page.
Internationally published author Deborah Elliott-Upton “was in awe of” the distinguished book editor on her initial visit to Mary Kate’s home office. “When she answered the door, I felt like Mary Richards (from the Mary Tyler Moore television show) meeting Lou Grant for the first time. One day she invited me to sit and talk, and she told me of when she went to work as a nanny/teacher following college graduation. She'd sneak off to grab a cigarette because her boss didn't approve. It was a delightful story and I loved hearing about how things were in her youth.”
Today we could experience hundreds of Mary Kate’s stories, had she written her memoirs. In 2003, she related one memory that particularly had amused her and photographer Woodfin Camp. Sent to do a “man in the street” story in Vernon, Texas, she tried to interview a preacher. “He had it in his mind we wanted to get married.” She and Woodfin, both married to other people and strictly colleagues, “laughed about it all the way home.”
Knowing she could not be prodded to write her memoirs, I interviewed Mary Kate when she was 83.
“I’ve done a lot, seen a lot,” Katie began. As if reading a story aloud, she sat motionless as she spoke. Her mind still sharp, the stories came one after the other. She spoke of her family, her marriage to Fred Tripp, why she took the first journalism class offered by West Texas A & M University (it wasn’t because of interest in that field), and even touched on politics.
My voice recorder had quit, so as I madly scribbled notes, I heard or imagined the varied voices of the Mary Kate Tripp I so admired and had grown to love: trail blazer, ultimate professional, mentor, historian, long-time columnist. I regretted not having someone like Woodfin Camp along to capture the moment in pictures. The picture of that day is stored in my memory—the grand lady, finally retired, wearing a denim shirt, khaki pants and Christmas-red socks under brown sandals. The shelves of her living room are filled with the books she loved so much, books that she taught generations of readers to love as well.
(c) 2012, Bernice W. Simpson