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Arts & Culture

Legendary South Texas newsman dies

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Jon King Keisling, San Antonio Sports
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Gary De Laune accepts at award from San Antonio Sports in 2015

A legendary Texas newsman died on Sunday. Gary DeLaune spent 60 years in broadcasting, and while most of that was in San Antonio, he first made a name for himself in Dallas radio.

In the early 1960s DeLaune was a newsman at KLIF, and the history he witnessed while working there was incredible, as archived broadcasts from that day depict.

“Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy and their official party began their Texas tour yesterday morning,” DeLaune said.

In a split second, though, everything went wrong on that drive through downtown Dallas. DeLaune’s connections at the police department told him what they knew about what had happened.

“The police department is still trying to confirm the fact that President Kennedy and Gov. John Connally have been wounded,” he said.

He was one of the first to report live on the tragedy and that three shots had hit their marks.

”Both have been cut down by at least three bullets that pierced the atmosphere,” DeLaune said.

Gunman Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, and two days later as he was being transferred from city to county jail, DeLaune was just feet away.

“Here he comes, Lee Oswald, accused assassin…,” DeLaune said.

Suddenly nightclub owner Jack Ruby rushed forward and shot Oswald in the stomach. The audio from that Sunday morning is intense and chaotic.

“A shot has rang out! Lee Oswald has fallen!” DeLaune said.

His reporting after 1963 was usually less tragic, and over time he chiseled out a career in Texas news. By 1971, DeLaune was working in San Antonio at CBS affiliate KENS TV. Bruce Kates remembers meeting DeLaune.

“Oh, I remember it very well, I came to San Antonio in June 1981. My desk mate was Gary DeLaune,” he said.

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Jack Morgan
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Bruce Kates

Kates is retired now, but worked with DeLaune for decades. Asked to describe him, he spoke highly of him.

“Professional, friendly, just possibly the best friend you could ever have,” Kates said.

He said DeLaune really knew how to make an impression.

“The first thing I noticed about Gary was the fact that he had the most outlandish outfits I've ever seen in my life,” he said.

Plaid suits, wildly-colored sports coats, loud ties. As DeLaune knew well, TV is a visual medium.

“I think he did this so that people saw him coming,” Kates said.

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Jon King Keisling
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KENS TV's Joe Reinagel with Gary Delaune

Friend and workmate Mary Ullman Japhet laughed to think of DeLaune’s wardrobe.

“To say Gary is colorful is an absolute accurate statement. He did have some crazy fashion sense! It was his signature and everybody knew it,” she said.

Japhet said standing out in a crowded broadcast field was second nature to him.

“You just never knew what Gary was going to pull out of the closet next,” she said.

Son Shannon DeLaune said in a KENS TV retrospective on his father that when he stopped working in TV, he retired that wardrobe too.

“He came home and my mom said, ‘That’ll about do it with the sports coats.’ And most of those went to charity auctions, people who were passionate and wanted those autographed. Even one guy who was buried in one,” he said.

Japhet said that while his larger-than-life wardrobe was interesting, Delaune had a larger, more genuine side.

“I first met Gary when I was just a punk little reporter at KENS TV. He was already a veteran and just the kindest guy,” Japhet said. “He was so very concerned and supportive and encouraging.”

Bruce Kates said that who DeLaune was on the inside was far greater than what viewers saw on the outside.

“Once you got to know Gary, you knew that he wasn't somebody who just dressed up in weird clothing to attract attention. He was a great, funny guy,” Kates said.

Funny is right. Footage can be found on YouTube of DeLaune reporting quite close to naked from a very small wash tub. He also had a streak that resisted change, though not stridently. At KENS TV, they decided to shorten the reporters’ stories down from 1 minute and 30 seconds.

“And then the edict went out and cut everything down to a minute, 15 (seconds). And everybody complied with that, including Gary,” he said. “But Gary didn't cut his copy. He just read the lines faster.”

Japhet made an interesting distinction about DeLaune.

“I would say Gary was old school, but you know what? He embraced everything that came along. If there was something new that he had to adapt to, he adapted because he wanted to keep working,” she said.

DeLaune kept working, even after retiring from TV reporting. Kates said he stepped up in another of his long-standing passions: sports.

After the fact, he did all the football announcing in San Antonio. He went from one career to another. What a life well lived!” Kates said.

“He was always interested and engaged, and I think that is something that all of us can learn from,” said Japhet.

Kates wistfully cited a Joni Mitchell song in reflecting back on DeLaune.

“If there's any kind of legacy people are going to think about with Gary, maybe it's that you just don't know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” he said.

Services are scheduled for this Friday but details are not yet finalized.

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