First Hispanic editor-in-chief honored at memorial

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HOUSTON ­— Friends and family gathered in Houston Saturday night to share memories of Lorena “Lori” Rodriguez, the first Hispanic editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan and former minority affairs reporter for the Houston Chronicle. Rodriguez died in her home in early June at age 62. The cause of her death is currently not known.

At Rodriguez’s memorial service, friends and family described Rodriguez as a talented writer, a passionate woman and someone who could be both quiet and incredibly outgoing.

“The stories I know about Lori Rodriguez are not sad,” said Steve Wisch, a former managing editor of The Daily Texan. “They are about a woman who has courage that burns like a fire and can write passionately.”

Rodriguez was editor-in-chief from 1971-72, an era when the newspaper was under pressure from the UT Board of Regents vying for more influence over the Texan. As the paper’s previous contract with Texas Student Publications was expiring, the Board of Regents reduced funding and pushed for a new contract that would give them more control of the editorial board in an effort to silence the Texan.

“She wrote persuasive, compelling, hard hitting editorials,” Wisch said. “She made it plain and clear in her own unique style that the only way The Daily Texan was going to go away was if they used bulldozers and forklifts and physically forced us out of the building.”

After graduating from UT, Rodriguez worked under U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in Washington before joining the Houston Chronicle in 1976.

At the Chronicle, Rodriguez became well known for her coverage of the Hispanic community. She was adept in her reporting and columns and wished to expand her coverage when she caught a rise in Houston’s Hispanic population during her tenure. In response, the Houston Chronicle created a minority affairs beat for Rodriguez.

“She never considered her minority affairs column writing position as a 9 to 5 job,” said Jack Loftis, former Houston Chronicle editor. “It was her life. It was her passion. And she never hesitated to tell her readers her position, and she never hesitated to tell her editors her position. And looking back, we were better for it.”

But friends stressed Rodriguez would not have wanted to be called an advocate for the Hispanic population. As a journalist, friends said Rodriguez strived for her objectivity. While she was working, former Chronicle assistant managing editor Fernando Dovalina said Rodriguez was bubbly and could command the attention of everyone she worked with.

“When she held court in the newsroom, everyone could hear her,” Dovalina said. “She was loud.”

But family said Rodriguez was quieter in her personal life. Martin Rodriguez, her older brother, said Lori’s death came as a surprise, and the family has been struggling to move on since.

“When she was working, she was loud and outgoing,” Martin Rodriguez said. “But she was so quiet and reserved outside of her job.”

Martin Rodriguez said the memorial had helped his family move forward.

“My sister was a loving person,” Martin said. “And she loved her city ­­­— she loved her city so much.”