Longtime Statesman op-ed editor Arnold García will be missed

Unpublished, August 16, 2021

The Austin community has lost a treasure, an old-fashioned gentleman and old-school newspaperman of the highest and best tradition.

Arnold García was the longest-serving editorial page editor in Texas when he retired in 2013.

“Opening doors” is a common theme of what has been written about former Statesman op-ed editor Arnold García who died last week, as he opened so many for those traditionally not heard. He opened a door for me, too.

After publishing several of my health care commentaries for several years, in 2009 he invited me to write a monthly commentary for the paper. He knew I was a practicing neonatal intensive care nurse and writing a monthly nursing publication for the Seton network, and he wanted his paper to reflect the perspective of a working stiff, especially one in health care. At the time, Obama was passing the Affordable Care Act, and from the debate you’d think the world were coming to an end.

He not only hired me, but he also set out to introduce me to influencers. He seemed to know everyone in town, and everyone loved Arnold. Of course some readers were nasty to him, calling or writing him to ventilate, sometimes calling him names. Arnold said sometimes he felt like a human piñata, but I knew it didn’t bother him. He knew that was part of being an opinion writer. Arnold was tough.

Arnold was an old-fashioned editor who was heavily involved in the community at large.

If you work with someone for 10 years, you get to know them. Always smart and clever, he made me laugh every time we interacted. He was concise and straight-forward yet gentle with suggestions. Once I was late getting in a commentary, just couldn’t get inspired. After two weeks past deadline without communicating, I got an email from him saying, “Where you bean? Your horse came home hours ago.” (We both speak Spanish, so often we’d use Tex-Mex, hence “bean” instead of “been.”) That’s all he said, and the laugh from it cleared my head so that I quickly produced the commentary. When he started to tell a joke, which was often, you knew you were in for a great laugh.

Speaking of opening doors, when we went somewhere in a car, he’d never fail to open my door. When we walked downtown, he made sure he was the one walking next to the street. He was an old-fashioned gentleman in every way. He honored his mother and family. He always dressed well. When I would ventilate to him about someone, I could never, ever get him to say anything negative about anyone, that is except elected officials. He said they were fair game.

He was imaginative as an op-ed editor. Once I sent him something funny I’d written for Seton because I knew he’d love it. He read it and told me he wanted it for the paper. I was shocked — humor on the op-ed pages? “Why not?”, he asked, “Our readers would appreciate some humor on these pages once in a while.” He was an old-fashioned editor who was heavily involved in the community at large; he made frequent appearances and speeches at important events.

Arnold and Vida celebrate their wedding in 2010.

When I visited Arnold a few days before he died, his sister and two children and sundry friends and relatives were at his house, solemn, waiting. His wonderful wife appropriately named Vida had died only a few months before. He was a mere shadow of himself. His mother Bertha was stroking his full head of salt and pepper hair, still mostly pepper. As I held her and Arnold’s hands, she said, “What are you gonna do? It’s God’s will.”

The Austin community has lost a treasure, an old-fashioned gentleman and old-school newspaperman of the highest and best tradition. Rest in peace, Arnold, you are missed.

 

 

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident and retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews, writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.