Until the very end, Roy Hess was in the loop.
Even as a part-time reporter, the veteran Rio Grande Valley journalist remained the preeminent point man in the region for sports news, developing relationships with coaches, student-athletes, and administrators.
As an editor, he helped develop and mentor several young sportswriters who have gone on to work across the Valley and the state of Texas. His last byline appeared in print Monday, and fittingly, it was a soccer story.
He died Thursday morning at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen at the age of 66.
Hess was born on Jan. 9, 1954, in Neligh, Neb.
A 2016 inductee of the Rio Grande Valley Sports Hall of Fame, Hess covered Valley sports since 1978 — a period spanning six decades.
Los Fresnos volleyball coach Becky Woods, a friend of Hess and a fellow member of the 2016 Hall of Fame class, praised Hess for his dedication to covering smaller sports with as much interest as bigger sports year round.
“He’s been to probably hundreds of my volleyball games,” Woods said. “He was a very polite, very conscientious, very fair and honest man. He told you straight up the way it was. He was very interested in how the girls played, who they were, and if you had a good player and they were young, he followed up on them until the time they graduated. He was amazing. I never had a sportswriter like him, ever.”
Hess remains the only person to have the distinction of holding the position of sports editor of the Valley’s three main daily newspapers — The Brownsville Herald, The Valley Morning Star, and The Monitor.
He began his college career at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla. He arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in 1978 as an intern at The Star’s sports desk. He met his wife, Nellie, in 1980, and obtained his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin that same year, returning to the Valley in 1981 as a sports reporter.
Ronnie Zamora, the communications and marketing coordinator at Los Fresnos CISD, was the sports editor who hired Hess, along with Tom Drew, the sports director of all three Valley daily newspapers.
He is survived by his wife, Nellie, his three children, Merry Christine, Erik James, Erika Amanda, his brother Terry and his sisters Sharon Hess Schweer and Marsha Grafton.
Hess became the sports editor of The Herald in 1982.
Hess was the only journalist to cover each of the Valley’s five state championships in soccer. He was also committed to chronicling the rise of three Valley boxers to national prominence.
During his long and storied career, Hess made an impression on many of the young journalists who worked for him. Many of his friends and former colleagues shared their memories of him in an outpouring of goodwill and condolences on Facebook.
He had a passion for fantasy football and Mexican League Baseball — former Herald sports reporter Josh Caldwell, who worked alongside Hess for four years, recalled his colleague’s team was called “Los Killer Bozos.”
Caldwell’s mother helped to train Hess during his 11-year stint as a licensed vocational nurse. Many of his longtime friends and colleagues have commended Hess’ sacrifice to help put his children through college.
“His institutional knowledge was incomparable, but his passion for people and telling stories was even greater,” Caldwell wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “(My mother) always told me how much the patients loved him because he took time to talk and listen to them. Roy had qualities as a legendary journalist, family man, and human being we should all emulate. I’ll miss him.”
Former Monitor reporter and San Antonio Express-News sports reporter David Hinojosa got his start during Hess’s tenure in McAllen in 1992.
“He was a great editor and one of the nicest guys in the world,” Hinojosa said. “I’ll always be grateful to him. While I was still at (University of Texas-Pan American), he hired me as a part-timer in 1992 to cover high school football. After that, he gave me the girls basketball and track and field beats. I didn’t know anything about covering track, but he trusted that I’d figure it out.”
Gary Long, The Herald’s education editor, and Teclo Garcia, whom Hess hired as an assistant sports editor at The Monitor, were among those who shared Roy’s interest in baseball across the border.
Long, Garcia and Hess took a road trip together to watch Mexican League games during the early 2000s. One of their first stops was Estadio Adolfo Lopez Mateos, the former home of the Reynosa Broncos.
“I remember we drove to the stadium and sat right on the third base line,” Long said. “It was one of the most enjoyable nights of my life. … I will miss Roy a lot. He was a just a great guy. “
Garcia is the former editor in chief of The Herald and a columnist at The Monitor who also serves as the economic development director at the city of Laredo.
“I knew him as a gentle, tolerant boss, sports fanatic, an old-school journalist, great friend and mentor,” Garcia wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “I think we did four trips into the interior of Mexico to watch and cover games! Pretty sure it was Monclova, Saltillo, Monterrey and the Yucatán, where we also climbed the pyramids at Chichén-Itzá. We also ran over an Iguana and got a ride on a fire truck in Merida on that trip!! Man I’m gonna miss him. A man with a great spirit and perspective. Understated for sure. But he’s a certified RGV Sports Hall of Famer… and should be considered the father of Valley soccer.”
Many East Valley soccer coaches expressed their condolences to the Hess family and credited him for being an advocate of the sport on its biggest stages.
“All of us who are in this profession and coaching in this area will miss Roy,” Harlingen South girls soccer coach Omar Pedroza said. “He was a really nice man and loved covering high school soccer.”
Hanna boys soccer coach Reyes Prado said Hess always pushed for Valley athletes to be recognized for their achievements.
“I would like to thank God for allowing me to be one of Roy’s friend’s,” Prado said. “Roy was a great person. Always upbeat and a very positive human being. I will always miss seeing him at our games. … Roy always pushed for our soccer programs to be recognized all over Texas. Roy was a humble person always ready to help others. Futbol in BISD will not be the same without Roy.”
After a University Interscholastic League Class 5A state semifinal victory over El Paso Eastlake in 2016, Porter boys soccer coach Jose Espita said Hess told him the rest of the visiting media speculated that the Cowboys wouldn’t fare well against Frisco Wakeland.
Porter went on to win its second state title in 10 years, 3-2 in 10 rounds of penalty kicks.
“He mentioned he had been hearing other reporters (from around the state) talking about how we needed so much improvement if we wanted to have a shot at beating Frisco Wakeland,” Espitia said. “(Hess) then said, ‘I just sat and heard their comments and thought to myself, these guys have no idea of what Valley Soccer is all about.’ This comment made me feel confident about our chances and secured my faith. This was Mr. Roy Hess. He genuinely loved the Valley and firmly believed in our student-athletes. He will be dearly missed. I can guarantee you high school soccer will never be the same without him.”