Some residents might not understand how it happened that the Brownwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s Lifetime Achievement Award is named in honor of Groner Pitts. It has been 15 years since the award’s namesake died.
Groner’s legacy continues to be seen across Texas, and that legacy will continue to be felt for a long time.
An undertaker by trade, Pitts arrived in Brownwood from Cleburne to attend Howard Payne, where he became Head Yell-Leader. After graduation, he became this city’s de facto head cheerleader for life.
No number of stories about Groner’s contributions could do him justice, but people certainly tried during his funeral in February 2004.
It was in 2005 that a statue of Groner was dedicated in front of the Depot Civic and Cultural Center. Last year, a plaque detailing his multiple contributions was unveiled at the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Camp Bowie.
In 1993, the Texas National Guard Armory at Camp Bowie was named for him in appreciation of his efforts in support of armed forces. It took legislative action — along with secrecy that only the military could pull off — to make it happen. It became the first armory in Texas named for a civilian, and the first state building named for someone still alive.
I met Groner when at Howard Payne myself, while staying at a professor’s apartment over spring break. My college service fraternity was holding a district convention in Houston, and our delegation was leaving town before dawn. Groner, who was living in the apartment complex while his new home was under construction, flagged us down without knowing who we were, and asked for a ride to his funeral home.
Typical of Groner, I discovered.
Groner walked the halls of government in Washington and Austin with sacks of pecans labeled “From Brownwood, Texas” to promote his city. A very special few dignitaries received coveted “Brownwood Mafia” membership certificates, suitable for framing to help promote the community.
He brought a celebrity to Brownwood for a major Fourth of July celebration. That was the first time a young Bulletin editor barely one year into the job had a front row seat to witness how Groner operated. Days later, this column made its debut, inspired by that event.
I don’t remember who said that every city needs a cheerleader like Groner Pitts — but no more. That’s because no community could ever handle more than one.
Groner’s practical jokes were legendary.
He orchestrated chaos in a hospital where Brownwood cohort Rodger Sweeney was lying unconscious after surgery. Groner trashed the room, then alerted nurses, “Come quick, Rodger’s had a fit.” Fort Worth newspaper columnist George Dolan wrote all about it, and that phrase became the title of Dolan’s book of columns.
Such stories are endless, but my space here is limited. Fortunately, I don’t need to keep writing. I urge everyone to go to the Central Texas Veterans Memorial in Camp Bowie and read his plaque. It provides a comprehensive list of things Groner accomplished and honors he received.
Earlier this month at the Brownwood chamber banquet, Paul Waldrop Jr. received the Groner Pitts Lifetime Achievement Award. He joined previous honorees Stuart Coleman, Putter Jarvis, J. Fred Perry, Bert Massey, Leonard Underwood, Patti Jordan, Dr. Stephen Kelly, Calvin Fryar, Robert Porter, Jane Ellen Jamar, Margaret Coleman, and Dallas Huston.
All were recognized because of lifetimes of service such as that exemplified by Groner Pitts.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at email@example.com.