Beloved columnist Batson was avid reader, self-critical writer


Long-time Northeast resident and journalist Larry Batson died Jan. 30 at age 75.

According to Star Tribune reporter Robert Franklin, Batson “enthralled Twin Cities newspaper readers with tales of his beloved Ozarks, the sports heritage of northeast Minneapolis and the coming of spring.” Batson published a compilation of his columns in 1978, in a book titled “The Hills Are Theirs.”

One of his Northeast neighbors on Buchanan Street, Verna Anderson, remembers Batson, who was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1986, as an avid reader who loved books. “He was a quiet, private person, who was always reading, reading, reading,” Anderson said.

Batson was a journalist all his life, starting with the Minneapolis Tribune in 1967. When it became the Star Tribune he became one of three general columnists, writing a column that appeared in the Neighbors and Metro News sections of the paper.

Franklin said Batson will be best remembered for his 1970s and ’80s columns about his growing up years, “populated by towns such as Dripping Springs and relatives such as Uncle Lurvy…” In his book “The Hills Are Theirs,” Batson said he spent much of his childhood traveling around the country with his parents; he rode in the back seat of their 1933 Dodge, reading Burma Shave signs. The family lived in the Ozarks; West Plaines, Missouri; and Nebraska.

Batson’s Pulitzer nomination was in the “Explanatory Journalism” category, for a seven-part series on the water crisis in America and his analysis of proposed remedies.

He retired from the Star Tribune in 1990.

Batson’s son, Bill Batson, said that it was exciting to grow up with a famous dad. “You’d answer the phone and it would be Bud Grant, Vern Gagne, or Hubert Humphrey calling for him. That was a blast.”

He said many people didn’t know that his father had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “He got beat out by the New York Times, and they had a whole team of writers. The ones in third place were the L.A. Times. I remember it was about a six month project for him, that water series. He even had us kids running to the library on the bus, checking facts for him when he was in a hurry.”

Bill Batson said his father worked hard and was an excellent writer. “He really sweated the writing. He had heated phone calls with his editors, when they wanted to change something he wrote in his column. He’d talk to them for hours about it. He fought for his writing.

“Sometimes he’d write five columns a week,” Bill Batson added. “When he’d get stumped for a topic, he wrote about growing up. Those were always my favorites, and a lot of people told me how much they liked them, too. He wrote about life in the Ozarks, and in Colorado. His book that came out is worth looking for, in used book stores or libraries.”

He added that although he was never afraid of his father, he knew that “a lot of people ducked into their offices when he walked down the halls at the Star Tribune. After Larry Batson retired and was in the hospital, he made the comment to his family, ‘I don’t want to be mean to anybody here. It’s not like when I was at work.’”

Northeaster reporter Bill Wagner interviewed Batson in 1983; at the time, Batson said he had “about 400” column ideas sitting on his desk. Although he served twice as the Tribune’s sports editor, Batson told Wagner he preferred writing columns to writing about sports.

“Sports is really just young men playing games,” he said. “If you’re a writer, you find out that they’re sweaty guys and bright, but they have no wisdom that we don’t have. The camaraderie of the locker rooms is no greater than that of the newspaper city staff. If you want to see a great team effort, go see an intensive care unit.”

Wagner described Batson as a perfectionist; Batson told him that although he’d written more than 1,400 articles in the seven years from 1976 through 1983, he’d never been satisfied with one of them. Batson described himself as a “self-critic” but added, “The pride comes in coming close, and in your overall average.”

Batson found a wide range of topics to write about, including walking in the country and dining out. He told Wagner he attended city council meetings, ball games and anywhere else he could think of to go where a lot of people congregated. To him, finding people meant finding ideas. “I don’t go around with a notepad; I might take a few notes, but basically I just move along,” he said.

In Batson’s view, not everybody is cut out to be a journalist. “Some people think writing is a glamorous or an easy job. The process of the profession itself weeds out most people who are not energetic enough.”

Another Northeast neighbor, Clara Newberg, described Batson as a “wonderful man, neighbor and dear friend.” She too remembers that he loved books and reading. Although a stroke 15 years ago “hit him very hard,” she said that she never saw him act discouraged. Batson’s wife Laurel was an excellent nurse to him, she added. “She took such good care of him, joyfully and out of a heart of love. Nothing seemed to get them down; when you visited them, you always came away feeling uplifted.”

Batson is survived by his wife Laurel Batson and sons, Ernest and Bill Batson.