It has been a year since arriving at the Bee-Picayune offices every morning at 9 a.m. has not been a part of Gary Kent’s routine.
Kent, 75, who spent 40 1/2 years of his life as a reporter at the newspaper, retired Dec. 31, 2019. But to him, it never was work.
“I never thought of journalism as a job, and I loved it,” he said. “And I hated to leave, but it was time. I was 74; I wasn’t as sharp as I had been and I didn’t want to make mistakes.
“It was time. I finally could afford it.”
While Kent enjoys retirement and not having to come to the newspaper every morning, he admits that his alarm still goes off at 7:30 a.m.
Prior to coming to the Beeville Bee-Picayune in 1979, Kent served in the U.S. Army and then studied at Eastfield College and North Texas State University – where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1975. Afterward, he spent two years as a reporter at a newspaper in Llano before working for a few months in Dallas as a carpenter installing cabinets.
Realizing that work as a tradesman is not always steady, Kent said he realized that journalism was a means of doing something he enjoyed while having a steady paycheck from work every day.
But the people, he said, were the best part of the experience. In addition to Bee County’s residents and officials, Kent had the honor of meeting notables such as every governor since Mark White, Geraldo Rivera, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.
However, covering the men and women of law enforcement was Kent’s greatest joy, particularly veteran lawman and former Beeville Police Department Detective Sgt. Bill Lazenby. Kent still vividly recalls the first time he went on a civilian ride along with the officer.
“He asked me to go with him the one night, it was the first time I rode along with an officer,” Kent said. “We ended up actually in a fight behind the First Christian Church and when Lazenby jumped on this big guy when the fight started, I ran back to his car ... picked up the radio and said, ‘503 needs help behind the Christian church.’”
Another man involved in the fight retreated to a vehicle and left with two women, he recalled. When a second officer responded to assist, Kent said he took a swing at the man Lazenby was trying to subdue.
“He said, ‘I have never ever seen a newspaper reporter get into a fight to backup an officer,’” Kent said. “From now on, anytime you want to ride with me, you just say so.”
His close working relationship with the area’s officers resulted in Kent also shooting many crime scene photos over the years. In one particularly morbid year, he remembered photographing 32 people who died because of suicides, car crashes and homicides.
“I said, ‘My God. I’ve seen about three dead people a month. Unbelievable.’
“ ... After I realized I had seen 32 dead people, I was in the PD and I was talking to Lazenby. I said, ‘Bill, for this rest of this year anyway, if you’ve got anymore pictures of dead people, why don’t you take pictures of them yourself. I think I’ve seen enough this year.’”
Just as members of the public safety community must keep moving and do their job in the sight of carnage, journalists must do likewise. Like other veteran reporters, Kent still holds many memories of the things he has seen.
“You dream about it,” he said. “For me to say it never bothered me would be really wrong. But you instead learn to deal with it.”
Like most writers, Kent prides himself on being a voracious reader since his childhood, which led him to write short stories and to take interest in writing classes in high school and college. It was through these activities that his instructors began advising Kent that he ought to consider writing as a career.
Prior to earning his living in soy-based ink and newsprint, Kent served four years with the Army Security Agency, where he repaired teletype machines. Kent’s military service took him to the Philippines, Okinawa and Taiwan – places that he would like to again visit when travel restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic start to ease.
“I want to go back to Asia,” Kent said. “I want to go back to the Philippines. I loved it there. I love the people.”
But prior to his international travel, life for Kent began in West Virginia, where he was born the eldest of three children. The family then moved to Garland, where Kent grew up.