Eppler: Thank you, Bill Kerns
FOX34's James Eppler with an appreciation of fellow journalist William Kerns
My life changed with a cup of coffee. I was a senior in high school in 2001, and I had the assignment to interview a professional in a field that interested me. I had the idea that I might want to write about movies someday because, growing up in Lubbock, I’d been such a fan of William Kerns at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Before I discovered Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Peter Travers and others, I was a Kerns fan.
I still am.
From an early age, I’d rush outside on Friday mornings to grab the A-J and look at the Around Town section before school just to see what Kerns had seen that week. I’d read with a pen in hand and change his star ratings if I disagreed with them – even if I hadn’t seen the movie and just assumed he had to be wrong. More than that, I learned through his reviews how to watch movies and think about them critically. I loved movies more because of him.
When I went to the theater, I’d always hope that maybe I’d see him in the audience (I still think I spotted him at “Star Trek: Generations” in ‘94). He was as big a celebrity to me as anyone I might be seeing on the big screen.
So it took a considerable amount of bravery for me to send him an e-mail asking if he would meet me for a cup of coffee so I could interview him about his job for my school assignment. I didn’t expect a response. He was surely too busy for me. But I was about to learn for the first time how giving this man is. I still have his emailed response agreeing to see me. I was thrilled and terrified.
With a tape recorder on the table, I picked his brain for more than an hour. He sipped his coffee and answered my questions warmly – as if they were smart or interesting queries. My coffee got cold as I hung on his every word. I knew this was my calling. It was happening in that moment.
In another splendid show of generosity, he invited me to go to a movie with him. I was ecstatic. We went to a private late-night screening of a dreadful movie called “Valentine,” and wound up laughing our way through it. We stayed for a while after the credits rolled, talking. It was the beginning of a friendship that is now nearly 20 years old.
Bill wrote a letter of recommendation for me to be hired as the film critic for The University Daily at Texas Tech – starting my career in local media. Over the years, he has provided me mentorship, guidance, and the close friendship of a colleague. It’s all because he agreed to have coffee with a nervous kid.
Bill’s generosity with me is but a small example of how it manifested itself throughout his career. Although I first knew him as a film critic, he has done so much more – a vigilant supporter of the arts in Lubbock. It’s not just his job. It’s his passion. It’s what drives him. Lubbock’s growing and vibrant culture of arts owes him a great debt for his tireless and dedicated coverage. It has cost him in ways readers will never know.
It has made Bill Kerns a Lubbock icon. No one will equal what he has done.
It broke my heart when Bill announced this week that he had written his last column for the A-J because of lay-offs. His career at the paper fittingly started on Buddy Holly’s birthday: September 7, 1976. I’m sure Bill can at least appreciate the irony of his time at the paper ending within days of the 60th anniversary of Holly’s death - The Day the Music Died.
But like Buddy, we haven’t heard the last of Bill. I expect to see his Oscar picks somewhere next week. I demand to hear his movie and theater recommendations. I know we’ll see him at concerts, plays, and art exhibits. He should already have a seat forever reserved in the Buddy Holly Hall currently under construction.
Lubbock still needs Bill Kerns - and not fade away.