12:24 p.m. JAN. 22: U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett released this statement over the weekend on the passing of Hays County publisher Bob Barton:
“As journalist, historian, legislator, Democratic leader, Bob was a voice for those qualities that reflect the best of the human spirit. For 40 years, I have valued his friendship, keen insight, and good humor, while respecting his significant, personal contribution to Hays County and social justice.”
Bob Barton, a boisterous liberal who agitated for progressive causes in Hays County for more than eight decades, died this morning. He was 82.
To Barton, politics and publishing were inseparable. During the 60s and 70s, he was an avowed liberal who championed the cause of Latino rights and was a thorn in the side of a more conservative Hays County establishment. He served a term in the Texas House in the early 80s and lived to see Jeff, one of his two sons, serve more than a decade as a Hays County commissioner.
As a student at Southwest Texas State in 1955, Barton bought The Kyle News with his friend from Buda High School’s Class of 1947, Moe Johnson. Barton and Johnson changed the newspaper’s name to The Hays County Citizen in 1956. As Barton and Johnson took turns experimenting with life, one of the two always ran the newspaper.
By the late 1950s, Johnson settled into a career in public education, first as a legendary basketball coach who took Kyle High School to the state tournament five times in six years, then as the Hays CISD’s founding superintendent in 1968.
Barton stuck with The Citizen, growing it into a force that almost ran The San Marcos Daily Record out of business by the 1970s. In 1978, though, a new ownership group with The Daily Record bought out Barton, who agreed to not start a competing publication in San Marcos.
Instead, Barton bought the Austin Sun, the predecessor to the Austin Chronicle as the capital city’s counter-cultural beacon. Barton soon moved the newspaper to south Travis County, oriented it to general interest readership and renamed it “The Onion Creek Free Press.” But that first issue of the re-named paper contained the residue of the Austin Sun. It’s only paid advertisement was a notice for an upcoming Jerry Jeff Walker show.
In 1982, Barton moved the newspaper into Buda and re-named it “The Free Press.” At first, the newspaper covered Manchaca, Buda and Dripping Springs, but it eventually shifted focus to Buda and Kyle with the Hays CISD’s contraction to those towns when Wimberley defected in 1986.
In 2006, after years of internal debate about associating the newspaper with any particular town or location, the newspaper changed its name to the Hays Free Press.
CORRECTION: This story originally said Barton was 83 when he died. He was 82.