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January 19th, 2013
Bob Barton, larger-than-life publisher and politician, passes away

bob barton

Bob Barton, 1930-2013


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.

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8 thoughts on “Bob Barton, larger-than-life publisher and politician, passes away

  1. Rest in Peace Bob. You were one of the most empathetic and colorful souls I have ever had the pleasure of knowing (although I must admit I still have nightmares from driving your broke down vehicle filled with way more papers than I would’ve thought humanly possible). This world and county would be better off and more interesting if we had more folks like you. Much respect.

  2. Greatest journalist of Hays County in our history. Fearless, progressive, risk-taking leader who mentored many and helped transform San Marcos and Hays County politics. There are many broken hearts today. Blessings to the Barton family and thank you Bob for EVERYTHING.,

  3. Mr. Barton was truely a good example of what a responsible press person should be. Like all of those who will post on here, I too have a special story of Mr. Barton, in fact several. He never let his own person political views ever prevent him from printing the truth and from truely being fair and balanced, unlike the press today who see that as a catchy phase. He practiced what he preached. Thank you Mr. Barton, now enjoy your rest which have earned. God Bless you.

  4. Bob Barton was a brave, courageous, inspiring advocate for fairness, equality and social justice (long before that term was in vogue). He and Tutta worked alongside various Hays County progressive citizens, including my parents. He was inspiring to many young people in my cohort as well! I am very sad that he is gone, and my sympathies to Tutta and the rest of the family. His presence and his voice will be missed!

  5. Sandra Tenorio and I visited with Bob in the hospital a couple of weeks ago – and he told us about the doctor’s prognosis. In good spirits, he said, “five weeks, five months or five years…” and shrugged as he went on to talk about politics, history, journalism, underdogs and old friends, and more.

    If given a time frame of X amount of time left on this earth, I hope that I can learn from our conversation and take each step with such grace and celebration of all that has come before. If the measure of a man is what he leaves behind, Bob has raised the bar high in this good life.

    When I told Mark about our visit, he shared this excerpt by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry with me. I sent it to Bob the next day, along with a note that read, in part:

    “I appreciate all that you have done for me through the years, – more than I could mention here – as a mentor, a boss, a teacher, a champion of all that is right, and a hero. My greatest wish is that you are like Mr. Willie, who dug his grave and then had a good fifteen more years. You have proven experts wrong more than once in these 82 years.

    Well, before I go re-reading and editing this I will remember what a very wise man often told me: “You’re not writing the Bible here – let’s go.” – And so I am going to hit send and let this email go to press.

    Thanks Bob,
    And all my best,

    Diana Finlay Hendricks
    Managing Editor
    The Chautauquan
    A Barton Publication

    Nothing, in truth, can ever replace a lost companion. Old comrades cannot be manufactured. There is nothing that can equal the treasure of so many shared memories, so many good times, so many quarrels, reconciliations, heartfelt impulses. Friendships like that cannot be reconstructed. If you plant an oak, you will hope in vain to sit soon under its shade.
    For such is life. We grow rich as we plant through the early years, but then come the years when time undoes our work and cuts down our trees. One by one our comrades deprive us of their shade, and within our mourning we feel now the secret grief of growing old.
    If I search among my memories for those whose taste is lasting, if I write the balance sheet of the moments that truly counted, I surely find those that no fortune could have bought me. You cannot buy the friendship of a companion bound to you forever by a life endured together.
    — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Wind, Sand and Stars)

    I send my deepest and most sincere condolences to the friends and family of Bob Barton. Bob loved to debate. One felt like an unarmed man in a gunfight when “discussing” politics with Bob. I regret not spending more time getting to know Bob. When a topic interested him, he was a tenacious bulldog fighting for anyone he saw as an underdog. I was so glad that the Historical Society deigned to feature Bob among those who commented on their lives in Hays County. One never doubted that Bob loved his friends, his family, the Democratic Party and Hays County. Bob relished being a “newspaper man”.
    Mr. Barton (Bob) will be remembered tomorrow in the Commissioners Court for his service to the people of Hays County. He will be missed by all who knew and respected him. I, too, will miss his “knowing smile” and the twinkle in his eyes when the underdog prevailed. Adios, mi amigo.

    Bert Cobb, M.D.
    Hays County Judge

  7. Bob Barton saved me from the tedium of my last year at Hays High School. By hiring me to work part-time at the Citizen in 1975-76, he freed me from that full-time monotony to expose me to the world of professional journalism. In this instance, that meant a small independent weekly, staffed by a caring and protective cadre of tightly-knit, well-trained and passionately dedicated professionals who took me on with good humor despite my green youth.
    I knew him for such a short time, but Mr. Barton left an indelible impression. An authentic soul and a true gentleman, he cared always for the welfare of others and practiced what he preached: engagement with the community improves the lives of all.
    To his family and friends: my condolences on your loss. Though your grief is sharp, you have such a life to celebrate.
    Congratulations, Bob, on your recent ascension to a higher plane. I don’t doubt that you’ve already begun involving those you meet in working collectively toward improvement of the common good. Happy trails, teacher.

    Tammy Lundy
    San Francisco Public Library

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