Harlan Bridwell loved life.
Harlan was born September 19, 1917, in Dumas, Arkansas, to Louis Harlan and Elizabeth Fincher Bridwell. He was one of five children born to the couple.
He died at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday morning, September 8, 2015, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur, at the age of 97.
When Harlan was two years old, the family left Dumas, Arkansas, and moved temporarily to Forestburg, Texas, where they remained until Harlan completed the fourth grade. The family then moved to Leesville, Louisiana, for about a year before returning to Arkansas. Around age 14, Harlan and a friend ran away from home and walked, literally, from Arkansas to Texas, returning to Forestburg where they stayed briefly with friends before returning to Arkansas.
A few years later, the entire family permanently relocated to Forestburg, and it was there that Harlan began what would become his lifelong career as a newspaper publisher.
That career was interrupted for a time when Harlan elected to join the Army, temporarily leaving responsibility for publication of The Forestburger to his sister, Dorothy and his father, Louis Harlan Bridwell.
Harlan volunteered for the United States Army on October 22, 1940, prior to the commencement of World War II , and served his first three years as a Military Policeman. A year and a half of that time was spent in Iceland, followed by two years of assignments in various European countries. Harlan was a veteran of the infamous Battle of the Bulge. He was discharged from the Army in 1945.
It was during his military service that he noticed a brief article in The Forestburger about a young lady named Rosemary Terrell. "I didn't remember a Rosemary Terrell," he said, "but the next time I had a chance I hitchhiked from Fort Sam Houston to find out who Rosemary Terrell was." They dated briefly before he returned to his army duties, and their relationship continued to develop through their frequent correspondence.
When he greeted Rosemary at the train station in Rolla, Missouri at 9:00 am on September 11, 1943, it was the first time they had seen one another for two years. They got married at 4 o'clock that afternoon. "The JP said we would have to have two witnesses to get married," Harlan said, "so I went downstairs and stopped two MPs. Both were wearing six-shooters. They were still wearing them when they served as witnesses during the ceremony."
Rosemary preceded him in death in November 2006, after more than 63 years of marriage.
Bridwell devoted much of his life to his chosen profession as publisher of weekly newspapers. The flagship property of Bridwell Publishing Company was The Bridgeport Index, but Bridwell expanded his chain of publications to several other cities. Some were purchased from others, while several were started by Bridwell. Through the years, he owned such publications as The Forestburger (his first newspaper), The Tioga Herald, The Bellevue News, The Iowa Park Rocket, The Frisco Enterprise, The Chico Texan, The Wise County Shopper, The Celina Record, and the Ryan (OK) Leader.
He was one of the early pioneers of offset printing, which eventually replaced the traditional letterpress method. Harlan purchased a Harris offset press in the 1960's, and began printing the Index and other publications via the unconventional process. He was frequently recognized for his help in ushering the offset revolution into widespread existence.
Harlan served for several years as Chairman of the Travel and Tourism Committee of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce; was a past President of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce; was a past President of Wise County Toastmasters; was a past President of the North and East Texas Press Association; and was recipient of the coveted Sam Holloway Award in recognition of his accomplishments in the publishing industry. In the 1950's, he served a couple of terms as Mayor of Bellevue, Texas.
He was honored by the Masonic Lodge in 2007 for 60 years of service to the organization.
Harlan was a talented writer who is perhaps best known for his weekly "Shootin' Blind" column, a regular mixture of Harlan's opinions on various issues and glimpses into the personalities of local citizens, seasoned with a healthy dose of Harlan's homespun humor. The colorful column ran regularly for several decades, and sometimes dealt with more serious matters such as bond issues and politics in general.
He was a well-known collector of rare antique clocks and watches.
Harlan was self-motivated and self-educated. His formal education ended following his completion of the eighth grade in Arkansas.
In his earlier years, Harlan applied his musical talents, inherited from his father's family, as a guitarist performing routinely at area dances and on a weekly radio program in Gainesville, Texas, where he accompanied "The Harmony Girls," a female trio which included his sister, Dorothy.
Another talent inherited from his father was Harlan's creativity as a poet. Occasionally, one of his poems appeared in The Index, but most remained more private. As his children recalled, Christmas gifts were often accompanied not with a "to/from" tag, but with a brief poem that uniquely captured the spirit of the gift.
Harlan remained an enthusiastic reader throughout his life, staying abreast of current political and world events, and maintaining his ever-present vision for the future. He had strong opinions and was a passionate fan of the free enterprise system.
Harlan was instrumental in coordinating with long-time friend and noted philanthropist John Jackson for the relocation of the Bridgeport Public Library into its current functional and attractive facility on U S Highway 380.
He was an avid vegetable gardener, and always maintained a herd of cattle, which was pastured on various Wise County farms that he acquired through the years. He was a strong proponent of organic foods, naturopathic-style medical treatments, and healthy living.
Harlan is survived by his sons: Keith Bridwell and wife, Karen and Doug Bridwell and wife, Lynda; daughter, Melanie Fair and husband, Larry, all of Bridgeport; grandchildren: Jay Bridwell and wife, Tricia, of Bridgeport; Reid Bridwell and wife, Jill, of Decatur; Whitney Bridwell of Bridgeport; Morgan Cook and husband, Austin, of Dallas; Mason Bridwell and wife, Jaclyn, of Northlake, in addition to his great-grandchildren and numerous other family members, and a generous number of friends.
He is also survived by long-time friend, caretaker and companion, Joann Pritchard; by Larry's daughters: Laura Moore and husband, Scott, of Wylie, Texas, and Stacy Bost of Lubbock; and by Jill's children: Ivie and Isaac.
Pallbearers will be Jay Bridwell, Reid Bridwell, Joshua Bridwell, Mason Bridwell, Austin Cook and Scott Moore. Close friend and neighbor, Jerry Stinnett will serve as honorary pallbearer, as well as nephews: Lance Bridwell and Danny Lewis.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Louis and Elizabeth (Fincher) Bridwell of Forestburg, Texas; his wife of 63 years, Rosemary Bridwell of Bridgeport; son, Stan Bridwell of Forestburg; grandson Randall Bridwell of Decatur; brother, Dario 'Rio' Bridwell of Longview, Texas; sisters: Kathleen Smith of Fresno, California; Dorothy Shifflet of Fort Worth and 'Snooks' Bridwell, a sister who died as an infant in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Visitation is scheduled for 6-8pm on Thursday, September 10, at Jones Family Funeral Home in Bridgeport. Services will be at the First United Methodist Church of Bridgeport beginning at 1:00 pm Friday, September 11, with Rev. Sam Caldwell officiating, assisted by Pastor Kevin Casey and Rev. Johnny Irish. A private burial service open to family members will be in East Bridgeport Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Wounded Warriors Project, or the Alzheimer's Association.