Robert David Mathews, who led The Daily News copy desk for most of the past 25 years and was counted among the best news designers in Texas, died Tuesday of a stroke. He was 62.
Mathews was born Aug. 28, 1958, at Fort Jackson, near Columbia, South Carolina, to 1st. Sgt. Austin Mathews and his wife, Minnie Mathews (nee Farrell).
He attended public schools in DeRidder, Louisiana. He was active in 4-H, winning numerous awards, especially for photography. He played cornet in the school band, was a member of Boy Scout Troop 173 and the drama club. He graduated DeRidder High School with the Class of 1976.
Mathews, who colleagues called Dave, began his newspaper career in the early 1980s as a reporter with the Ruston Daily Leader in Louisiana and was cited among the journalists who produced the state’s Newspaper of the Year in 1984.
His early career included stints at the Opelousas (Louisiana) Daily World; The News Star of Monroe, Louisiana; The Danville (Illinois) News, which now publishes as Commercial-News; and The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia.
His later career included time as managing editor of the Jacksonville (Texas) Progress, along with time at The Facts, which covers Brazoria County, and the Houston Chronicle.
Like many who fall into newspapering, Mathews took a long track to higher education, graduating from Louisiana Tech University in 1997 with a degree in journalism.
Mathews had joined The Daily News as its news editor, in charge of the paper’s design and copy editing, in 1996.
“Dave Mathews was an old-school journalist,” said Heber Taylor, retired editor of The Daily News, who hired Mathews.
“He loved newspapers, and he loved the craftsmanship that goes into them: telling stories, writing clear sentences, designing readable pages. It was a privilege to work with him.”
Mathews was largely responsible for bringing a sleek, clean “big-paper” design to the pages of The Daily News, a talent for which he was named the state’s Star Designer of the Year in 2004.
The judge of that contest summed up his talents well:
“There’s a consistency in Dave’s work rarely found in smaller newspapers. The power of each page flows from the way he conceptualizes each center piece. Whether it’s hard news or features, Dave knows how to pull together infographics, illustrations and photography in a way that engages the reader and provides layers of useful content.”
Over his long career at The Daily News, Mathews amassed professional awards too numerous to list from the National Newspaper Association, Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and Texas Press Association, to name a few.
He was a valued colleague who loved to recall covering the characters and controversy of Louisiana politics. He was an ardent sports fan and a veritable walking encyclopedia of facts and trivia. He was a repository of rules on style, grammar, punctuation and spelling and often the final judge of internal disagreements about those.
His collection of reading glasses, which he kept in strategic spots around the newsroom to always be in arm’s reach, was the source of much collegial ribbing; those remain in their spots today.
He was known for becoming calmer as the situation became less so.
“He could be a newspaper curmudgeon with a quick temper,” Managing Editor Laura Elder said. “But during whatever calamity or tragedy the newsroom was covering, Dave was a cool customer, focused and able to quickly design pages that best told the story of the day.
“He never forgot the mission,” she said
To Mathews, the deadline was a sacred trust. It was a rare, rare day when presses at The Daily News started late because of the newsroom.
“Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, The Daily News was able to gather a team of real newspaper pros unusual for a small-town paper,” said Dolph Tillotson, former Daily News publisher and chairman of Southern Newspapers Inc., which owns the paper.
“They make me proud to this day, and Dave certainly was high on that list. His design skills were legendary, but he had many others. Mainly, he could move lots of pages quickly and on deadline, and in our business speed is a vital talent.
“Dave also had a sharp sense of humor, which isn’t exactly a job requirement, but it sure as hell helps. I’m really going to miss him,” Tillotson said.
Mathews’ death will leave a void in the paper’s newsroom, Editor Michael A. Smith said.
“I worked for Dave as a reporter and Dave worked for me later,” he said. “We worked most of 25 years together. I’ve been exasperated by him; entertained by him; inspired by him; irritated at him; and educated by him. I have admired his talent always and wanted to kick him at times. I will miss him, and this newspaper will too.”
Mathews was preceded in death by his father and by his younger brother William A. Mathews.
He is survived by his mother, Minnie F. Mathews, of Garland; older brothers K. Michael Mathews, of Albany, New York, and James R. Mathews, of Spring; nieces Jennifer Parker, Sarah Warren, Elizabeth Laughlin and Rebecca Mathews; and nephews Jacob Mathews and Christopher Mathews.
The mortal remains of Robert David Mathews are to be cremated and taken to rest in the Gulf of Mexico, as was his wish.
A memorial service will be planned for the future.