Guest post by Bill Murphy
Assistant Director of Communications
Office of Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel
“He came over quickly to put flags all around our house as he did not want people to stereotype against us mistakenly just based on our appearance,” Ali said.
Like so many of King’s legion of friends, Ali was touched by his decency, integrity, smarts, kindness and humor.
King, who headed the District Clerk’s communications section from 2000-2008 and returned to the DCO as a writer and researcher from 2013-2014, died April 10 after battling post-polio syndrome and ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was 69.
His family, friends and former colleagues at the Harris County District Clerk’s Office, county Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office, the Houston Police Department and the Houston Post mourned his death at a memorial service at Bellaire United Methodist Church April 18.
District Clerk Chris Daniel said, “I greatly admired Fred for his even-handed, diplomatic approach to thorny issues. He was a top-notch writer and editor and was a blessing to have at the DCO because of his good humor and decency. He will be missed.”
Outside work, he was active in many organizations, including ones that brought people together or kept them in touch, such as a Houston Post alumni group and a networking group for media relations and communications workers.
At the DCO, he advised then-District Clerk Charles Bacarisse on media relations and communications and viewed reporters as customers whose requests should be met quickly.
“From the first day on the job, I knew we were fortunate to have him,” Bacarisse said. “Fred was the consummate professional, serving the reporters covering the courts and managing the requests for information from other media less familiar with the office and courthouse.”
Bacarisse said King was a straight-shooter who wasn’t afraid to critique him or the DCO.
“He was a no-nonsense guy who often would come into my office and say, ‘Reporter X is on his way down here with a camera crew and he wants your comment about Y issue. What are you going to say to them?’ ” Bacarisse said. “I’d give him some answer and he would often have some coaching tip to make my response sharper, more accurate and to the point. Once he told me my answer was ‘hogwash’ and that I’d better come up with something more substantive than that or I’d be in trouble. That sort of straightforward honest counsel is rare.”
Rick Sander, who served as the District Clerk’s chief deputy under Bacarisse, said King shined in his role as media relations/communications chief and helped the DCO newsletter, Hearsay, realize its potential. Within the DCO, few knew that King had more expansive duties and helped shape DCO policies, procedures and standards by serving as the writer and researcher, at times, of a strategic plan, policy manual, mission statement, administrative standards and annual reports.
“Fred fueled the vehicles we used to bring about change in the organization,” said Sander, a deputy assistant director at the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
Among those who knew him at the DCO and elsewhere, many remember King for his natural, unwavering decency and positive attitude.
“Fred did not have sharp elbows or a mean heart,” wrote former Post journalist John Boudreaux of Goodyear, Ariz., on King’s memorial site. “That, I found, made him quite different. The world has lost a good man.”
Born in Houston in 1946, Alfred T. "Fred" King III, was the eldest of seven siblings. When he was 5, he came down with polio. After his mother, Audrey Thornton King, prayed at his hospital bedside and dedicated his life to God, he began to recover.
Polio didn’t appear to affect him – he grew up to be a tall, strapping youth. He graduated with honors from Bellaire High in 1963 and went on to the University of Houston, where he graduated with a degree in journalism.
He was an officer in the Army and served in armored units in the U.S. and Korea. A crack marksman, he became a member of the All Army Rifle Team. He also taught marksmanship to recruits.
King began his journalism career working for newspapers in the small Texas communities of Gonzales, Georgetown and Paris.
He moved on to the Houston Post in 1976, serving as a copy editor, police reporter, state prison reporter (when the prisons were under scrutiny) and assistant editorial page editor during an 18-year career.
Wayne Dolcefino, a media relations consultant and former Channel 13 investigative reporter, wrote, “The very first day I walked into the HPD press room nearly forty years ago as an intern I got to work right next to legendary Houston Post reporter Fred King. Fred was a champion for honesty in government and hated waste and corruption and he was the kind of journalist that sadly is disappearing in Houston. I was proud to call him a colleague and friend. God has a great edition to heaven's newsroom.”
King’s faith was central to his life. He was active at Bellaire United Methodist participating in Sunday school class, the men's Wednesday night Bible study, James 1:27, a men's service group, and a second bible study group.
Although he didn’t put up with nonsense wherever he worked, he wasn’t prone to a cynicism common among veteran journalists.
“Fred was an old school, just-the-facts-ma’am journalist,” said Mary Flood, a former Post and Chronicle reporter now at Androvett Legal Media & Marketing. “He went by the book. But his work was always infused with his general kind and decent spirit. He was a genuinely nice guy and was always willing to help out the next person. He was very good to me when I moved here from Michigan in 1979. But he was very good to everyone. I think his faith kept him from being as jaded as a veteran journalist often becomes.”
In 1994, King brought his media relations knowledge to the Houston Police Department, serving as a public information officer for six years.
“The HPD PIO office back in the mid to late 90s was such a fun place to be,” said HPD public information officer John Cannon. “Long-time (former) TV newsman Jack Cato was our director, and to listen to he and Fred interact, share stories and trade barbs aimed at one another was as entertaining as it gets. It was laughter that brought tears to your eyes.”
The Houston Press named King the best public information officer in Houston in 2001, saying he was a "master translator into understandable terms."
Besides keeping Post alumni in touch with each other, Fred ran Spokespersons Anonymous, a networking group for media relations and communications specialists in Houston. King would alert group members of media relations job openings and pass along resumes of those between jobs – help that was especially valued during the Great Recession.
“As downsizing turned the media world upside down, Fred was always sending out olive branches of job openings and resumes on behalf of his peers,” wrote Cindy Gabriel, public information officer at Harris County Community Services. “He felt their pain and wanted to do what he could to help. He was the definition of a good man.”
King is survived by his wife, Jo, son Tom, daughter Sarah, stepsons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At a reception that followed King’s memorial service, many of his friends remembered his kind ways.
“He always had a twinkle in his eye and a little smile that told me he knew something I didn't . . . and he usually did!” King’s friend, David Strauss, wrote on the memorial site.
Here is a link to Fred King’s obituary.