By Pat Remick
Sometimes in this life we’re fortunate to meet people with such interesting histories, personalities and idiosyncrasies that any fiction writer creating such characters would be told they were too over the top to be believable.
A. Preston McGraw was one of those people.
When I learned recently that “Mac” had died in a Texas nursing home at the age of 94, it brought back a lot of memories of a newsman who not only covered history, he became part of it.
The story goes that Mac was assigned to cover Lee Harvey Oswald’s graveside service in Dallas, which ironically took place on the same day that the man he assassinated, President John F. Kennedy, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The only people at Oswald’s burial were reporters, federal agents, police officers, and five members of the Oswald family.
The funeral director said Oswald couldn’t be buried unless some folks stepped forward to be pallbearers. Mac said he felt sorry for the family and figured that if he volunteered, he might get better access to the family – and better quotes for his story. That didn’t happen, but Mac did earn a place in history.
I first met Mac when I joined United Press International, then the world’s second-largest wire service, in the news agency’s Dallas bureau decades ago. He was in his ‘60s then, nearing retirement as he worked the radio side, writing news briefs to be read aloud by broadcasters in a nine-state region of the Southwest. I knew immediately that the man was a character.
He called just about everyone “sport” and when he answered the telephone, he spoke in such a slow southern drawl that he stretched out the initials U-P-I longer than it took to spell the words in their entirety—two or three times. His laugh, really more of a very loud cackle, was unforgettable and when it roared through the newsroom, we knew a hilarious story was coming.
Mac especially loved weird and unusual news stories and none was stranger than the tale of Leroy Laffoon. No one who heard Mac tell the story ever forgot it. If you read it in a novel, you might not find it believable. But I assure you, the story is true.
Here it is in its briefest version: Leroy Laffoon returned to his house trailer outside Fort Worth, Texas, to find it ransacked and his dog dead. Leroy suspected the culprits were two prostitutes who lived in another trailer and hated his dog. He decided to get even. He put the dog’s body in the freezer for an undetermined amount of time. Then he tracked down the whores and beat them to death with the frozen dog.
Mac loved the story. So did every reporter he ever told about this unusual, but oddly satisfying, type of justice. People rarely asked whether Leroy was convicted of the murders (he was) because they were so intrigued by the crime.
When news spread that Mac had gone to the big newsroom in the sky, versions of the Leroy Laffoon story were recounted once again in Mac’s name by his former colleagues across the country and around the world.
He would have loved that.
What larger-than-life characters have you met?