UT alumnus and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Oscar Griffin, Jr. died from pancreatic cancer earlier this month in New Waverly, Texas. Griffin was 78 years old.
Griffin won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for the investigation of a scandal involving Billie Sol Estes, a former financier who borrowed money supposedly to build fertilizer tanks but never constructed them. Griffin learned of the situation from an overheard conversation and investigated the scandal by personally searching for the tanks. He learned Estes had the tank numbers moved around in order to fool investors and keep his secret safe.
Griffin worked for the Pecos Independent Enterprise, now the Pecos Enterprise, while investigating the scandal.
“Only two people on the Pecos Independent Enterprise staff knew about the articles before they were written,” Griffin said in his Pulitzer acceptance speech. “Marj Carpenter, the news editor, was not sure what they would contain until printed, but shouldered more than her share of the load on the paper while the articles were being compiled.”
Jon Fulbright, current managing editor of the Pecos Enterprise, said Griffin’s work helped distinguish his newspaper from another Pecos publication. Fulbright said following Griffin’s receipt of the Pulitzer, the competing newspaper was purchased by the owners of the Enterprise.
“Pecos has always been a place where battles are fought in the open,” Fulbright said. “[Media] was pretty competitive back then.”
Meg Griffin, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize winner, said her father’s life was full of many other accomplishments in addition to the honor of the award. Griffin earned an MBA from Harvard, served as a White House correspondent and was personal friends with former President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Meg Griffin said her father often told stories of visiting the LBJ ranch.
“Once my dad brought his dad to meet the president,” she said. “To him, LBJ was no big deal.”
She said her grandfather, LBJ and Griffin were enjoying a few beers when the president jokingly told Griffin he was not allowed to drink another.
“My dad took one anyway,” Meg Griffin said. “My grandfather got scared because he had disobeyed the president, but my dad said, ‘Oh, that’s just Lyndon.’”
Meg Griffin said the family will miss her father’s sense of humor, in addition to his sense of social justice and internal urge to make things right. She said he was also known for his love of Longhorn football, but died too soon to see the Longhorns beat the Aggies one last time.