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Opinion: Wade Goodwyn brought Texas spirit to NPR

Wade Goodwyn reported on his home state of Texas and the southwest United States for NPR since 1993.
Kate Mackley Media
Wade Goodwyn reported on his home state of Texas and the southwest United States for NPR since 1993.

Wade Goodwyn had a voice big as a Brahman bull, and sweeter than Texas pecan pie. He subbed for me now and then, and I'd return to a slew of emails asking, "Why did you have to come back?" I told Wade once, and he said just what you'd expect of a cowboy star. "Shucks, Scooter, no tellin' what some folks will write, now is there?"

And Wade could write with a grace to match that gorgeous voice. He opened a 2013 story on Texas Democrats by saying, "It's not easy being a Democrat in Texas. You're like an armadillo crossing a six-lane superhighway, running as fast as you can from the Republican 18-wheelers coming at 70 miles an hour."

Wade Goodwyn died this week of cancer at the age of 63. He worked for NPR since 1993, when he helped cover the standoff at David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound near Waco. Eighty-six people, including 28 children, died. Wade went on to cover lots of disasters, natural and human-made, but made even tragic stories shine with images and insight.

He reported on a tornado that tore through Dallas in October 2019. "The tornado spun through upscale neighborhoods," Wade said, "denuding trees ... leaving them forlorn skeletons in advance of Halloween. One man looking at a large tree laying on his lawn told a reporter in surprise, 'This is not my tree.' "

I found myself going through some of Wade's stories yesterday, and always found phrases to admire.

He took us to an Arkansas campground, devastated by a flash flood. "Pickup trucks and 25-foot campers are strewn about the campground," said Wade, "as if Mother Nature had turned into a spoiled child and thrown a tantrum. Next to the river, massive trees are rolled flat like stalks of wheat."

Remembering a man who trained Hollywood actors how to handle a prop gun, his opening line was, "Joe Bowman was so good with a single-action revolver, he could turn an aspirin into powder at 20 yards."

And he began a report from a small town music festival by saying, "In Goree, Texas — population about 300 — there are people who step into a stirrup with the same ease that you press your keyless remote and climb into the car."

Wade Goodwyn's church bell voice and artful words brought us the kind of sharp, human details that make stories live. And live on.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.