After a career that included duty in the FBI and the Kennedy administration, network television producing, corporate communications, political campaigning and more than three decades as a newspaperman, Dick Snider called himself “a small-town guy, at my best when I don’t forget that much of what I learned about life, and how to live it, was small-town stuff.”
The words are from his valedictory column in a Kansas newspaper in October 2004, written as his health failed following a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He died in Topeka Nov. 23, 2004 at the age of 83.
Always self-deprecating, whether siting easy targets like lawyers or “Wingnuts,” the term he coined for right-wingers, or straining truth to find humor at the expense of friends and family, his final column was no exception.
Declining stopgap surgery in the summer, he “didn’t feel like gambling on paying out quality time to buy more quality time, with no guarantees.” So, he wrote, “I went home to recuperate. This process got a big boost when my children, deciding there would be no immediate division of the assets, also went home.”
A profile on his 80th birthday in the Topeka Capital-Journal described him as “a man whose irreverent and sometimes skeptical views of the world are forged by a lifetime of close contacts with the greats and would-be-greats of sports, government and corporate America. His often-embellished diatribes against people in power tickle the masses as much as they torment the targeted.”
Dick Snider was born in Oakwood, OK, March 20, 1921. Following a brief period in Wyoming after his Catholic family was cross-burned out of Oklahoma by the Ku Klux Klan, he spent his childhood in rural Oklahoma and graduated from St. Gregory’s High School in Shawnee, OK and Oklahoma State University with a degree in journalism.
Recruited to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC as a fingerprint technician, he completed three semesters of law school pursuing a degree to become an FBI Special Agent.
That ambition was cut short with the coming of World War II when he served as a Navy Chief and as an instructor at the Aviation Machinists School in Norman, OK. Following the war, he held a number of newspaper sports reporting jobs in West Texas, including the San Antonio Express and Evening News, the Odessa American and the Borger News-Herald.
In July of 1950, he came to Kansas to work as a sportswriter for the Topeka Daily Capital. In September of that year he was promoted to sports editor and also married Barbara Alice Linville of Harveyville, a United Press employee. He stayed in the former position until 1958, when he was named managing editor. He stayed in the latter position until the end.
In 1961, he joined the administration of President John F. Kennedy in Washington, DC as Director of Information and later Administrator of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Among the assignments was speechwriting for administration officials on the subject of youth fitness and physical education, including Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.
Following the assassination, he returned to Oklahoma as campaign manager for the 1964 U.S. Senate bid of former Oklahoma University football coach Bud Wilkinson. Returning to Washington to direct a sports trade association following the Senate defeat, he continued his association with Wilkinson by ghost-writing the former OU football coach’s nationally syndicated sports column, Time Out With Bud.
In 1965, he founded NCAA Films and became executive producer of a weekly football highlights program for ABC-TV. To air the show summarizing Saturday’s best college football games every Sunday morning called for an unprecedented overnight coordination of freelance film camera operators, editors, producers, announcers and messengers week after week in the days before videotape and satellite transmissions.
In the early 1970s, he moved into corporate communications as a vice president and member of the board of directors of Vickers Petroleum in Wichita and later, Pester Petroleum in Des Moines. Lured out of retirement in the early 1980s, he worked as communications director for the College Football Association, which oversaw rights and financing issues between major college football programs and television networks.
Returning to Topeka in 1985, he settled into “semi-retirement,” writing three columns a week for the Capital-Journal, a pace he maintained for nearly 17 years, winning top honors in reader polls well into his 80s. In 2002, he resigned from the Capital-Journal when the then-publisher ordered him to stop covering the notoriously arcane and unaccountable school board budget.
Hired immediately by the rival Topeka Metro News, he continued his column until October 2004, when he announced to readers that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In a rare tribute days before Snider’s passing, the Capital-Journal, under its new publisher, reprinted the column on its front page under the headline “The Write Stuff.”