I remember the first time I met Ken Bunting, in December 1986. I was assistant managing editor in charge of local news and he was in town to interview for a job as Austin bureau chief for the Star-Telegram.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make a great first impression on him. He was staying at what is now the Renaissance Worthington, and about 3 a.m. that Sunday a massive explosion from a gas line that had been tampered with leveled half a city block on Throckmorton Street.
And the Star-Telegram didn’t know about it until 2 p.m. the next day, when our regular Sunday news crew arrived to start work.
Remember, there was no Twitter or Facebook then, and TV news wasn’t 24 hours nonstop. Although we had an online news service called StarText, it only posted news after we printed it in the paper. So we normally didn’t have anybody on duty weekend mornings.
When I arrived for dinner, it was pretty embarrassing to sit across the table from Ken and try to convince him he should leave the Los Angeles Times to come work here.
Thankfully he did, and he went on to become one of the best journalists ever to work for the Star-Telegram.
I was stunned when I got the call last week from retired Star-Telegram Executive Editor Mike Blackman that Ken had died of a heart attack. But as Ken’s son, Maxwell, said in a Facebook post, at least he died while doing something he loved — playing tennis.
To look at Ken, you probably wouldn’t expect him to be quick and agile enough to be a good tennis player because he was a pretty stout guy, but he was.
I remember standing around in the newsroom one day with Ken, Blackman and Guy Unangst, who was Sunday editor at the time, and someone remarked that the four of us looked like we were beefy enough to play defensive line for the Dallas Cowboys.
And that’s when the Cowboys were good, during the Super Bowl years!
As Austin bureau chief, Ken was the person charged with editing legendary firebrand columnist Molly Ivins, who joined us after the Dallas Times Herald ceased publication. That’s like trying to disarm a nuclear bomb while wearing mittens and a blindfold. You know eventually there’s going to be an explosion, but Ken pulled it off with his traditional smile and good nature intact.
Later, he replaced me as editor in charge of local news and I went on to run a new daily edition focused on Arlington. Shortly after that, Blackman took over as editorial page editor and almost everyone expected Bunting to replace him as the paper’s first executive editor of color.
But that didn’t happen, and instead local section columnist Debbie M. Price became the paper’s first female executive editor. I replaced her as executive editor in 1996.
Though obviously disappointed by the turn of events, Ken didn’t complain and instead moved to the Northwest, where he became managing editor and then executive editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The paper earned two Pulitzer Prizes during his tenure; he was associate publisher when the paper printed its last edition in 2009.
Ken, a 1970 graduate of TCU who was inducted into that school’s journalism hall of fame in 2010, was a great ambassador for Fort Worth and TCU.
Although he spent the past few years living in Springfield as executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri, he still showed up regularly at events like TCU’s Rose Bowl game and the annual symposium Bob Schieffer of CBS News puts on in the spring at TCU.
If the Star-Telegram ever creates a hall of fame, Ken will be one of the first inducted.
Donations in Ken Bunting’s memory should be made to the TCU School of Journalism Scholarship Fund and sent to the attention of John Lumpkin, Director, TCU School of Journalism, TCU Box 298060, Fort Worth TX 76129.