DALLAS – Texas author Jay Milner, who went from being a football star to a coach to a journalist, novelist and teacher whose contemporaries included David Halberstam and Larry McMurtry, died Sunday in Fort Worth. He was 88.
Milner’s robust career brought him to Dallas in 1969, when Southern Methodist University hired him to reshape the school’s journalism department. By then, he had written “Incident at Ashton,” a 1961 novel about racial injustice, inspired by his years as a newspaper reporter in Mississippi.
He played football at Mississippi Southern after leaving his boyhood home in Lubbock and serving in World War II.
In 1954, he became managing editor of Hodding Carter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Greenville, Miss., Delta Democrat Times, which routinely challenged white supremacists.
His second book, the 1998 “Confessions of a Maddog: A Romp Through the High-Flying Texas Music and Literary Era of the Fifties to the Seventies,” is a madcap chronicle of Milner’s exploits with such writers as Bud Shrake and Larry L. King and musical amigos Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Joe Murray, 70, retired editor-publisher of the Lufkin Daily News, hired Milner to be a columnist in the late 1970s, at a time when Milner was seeking to recover from years of debauchery, a bittersweet confessional that frames much of his memoir.
“Jay always said that Lufkin was for people who couldn’t afford the Betty Ford clinic,” Murray said. “It’s too bad that more people didn’t know Jay or his writing. To those who did know him, he was beloved.”
Milner championed an unconventional approach to teaching journalism that defied what he called the factory programs at larger universities.
“Jay taught us that the most important skill a journalist can learn is art – the art of listening,” said Max Woodfin, 61, director of the Austin-based EarthShare of Texas.
Milner is survived by his wife, Gail, three children and three stepchildren.