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A Genealogy for IABC HOUSTON

By Downs Matthews

The place is Houston, Texas. The year, 1946. A young man named Walter Beach, editor of The Humble Way, published by the Humble Oil and Refining Company of Houston, has just returned from a business meeting of the Southwestern Association of Industrial Editors (SAIE) held in Little Rock, AK. He is inspired to start a chapter of SAIE for industrial editors of Houston.

Beach telephones a young woman named Dotty James, who has just been employed as an editor of The Pecten by Shell Oil Company. She agrees with Beach’s proposal to organize a chapter of SAIE in Houston. In September, they meet with 15 other “house organ” editors at Bill Williams’ Chicken House on South Main St. They agree. Houston should join SAIE. 

A few days later, Beach, James, and another Humble employee, Jack Shannon, travel to Tulsa where SAIE is holding its annual conference. Their application for membership is accepted and a charter is issued for a Houston Chapter.

In October, 1946, 20 members of the new chapter meet for the first time at the Chicken House. They elect as president Michael Koury, an editor with Champion Paper Company. Bill House, editor of Hughes News for Hughes Tool Company, becomes vice president and Dotty James is elected Secretary. They create committees, adopt rules, talk shop, and eat all the fried chicken they can hold for $1.25 apiece.

The names of all the original founders are not now known to us. But the thrust they gave the organization now known as IABC/Houston was sufficient to carry it down to this day as a vigorous, ambitious, and valuable organization.

In 1948, the club, now renamed as the Gulf Coast Chapter so as to include members from Beaumont and Corpus Christi, hosted the annual conference of SAIE. More than 100 editors attended. Members voted to change the name to Society of Associated Industrial Editors so as to preserve the initials and permit chapters to be formed outside the Southwest. Annual dues were raised from $7.50 to $10.00. There was some grumbling, but it seemed a good cause.

By 1949, the Gulf Coast Chapter had 125 members. To pay for programs, the chapter held a zinc and copper drive salvaging photo cuts used in member publications. Guy Fausset served as chapter president. Dotty James was elected chairman of SAIE’s criticism committee, a new service that enabled a member to get a written critique of his or her publication.

Although the term “company communicator” had yet to enter the corporate lexicon, more and more companies began investing in programs for communicating with various publics. By 1953, the Gulf Coast Chapter counted 114 members. They met each month in the Ben Milam Hotel, the first building in Houston to be fully air-conditioned, and where you could get a steak dinner for $2.75.

Meanwhile, industrial editors throughout the United States were forming local associations. In 1952, they came together as the International Council of Industrial Editors, which served as an umbrella group for a score of local associations. SAIE, as the largest of these groups with 900 members in 20 midwestern states, agreed to host ICIE’s 1953 convention at the new Shamrock Hotel.

Because ICIE and SAIE offered duplicate services, members of SAIE proposed in 1953 to dissolve the regional society in favor of allowing local groups to affiliate directly with ICIE, thereby eliminating one level of cost and workload. This was not universally popular, and as president of SAIE in that year, I was in the eye of the storm. It was a difficult time, and there were hard feelings. Nevertheless, the majority of members voted for dissolution of SAIE. The Gulf Coast Chapter renamed itself the Southeast Texas Industrial Editors and joined ICIE as an independent association.

In 1970, the International Council of Industrial Editors and the similar American Association of Industrial Editors agreed to merge and adopt the name International Association of Business Communicators. The Southeast Texas Industrial Editors became the IABC/Houston chapter.

IABC’s Accreditation Program was created in 1974, and I became the first Houston member to earn accreditation. That year, the chapter counted 126 members, and the price of a steak dinner at the Marriott had risen to $6.50.

In 1975, the chapter established a “Nuts and Bolts” program to help beginners with the basics of editing a company publication. In a second program, IABC/Houston volunteers offered help and consultation to small companies seeking to improve their communications procedures. These were the first of many innovative projects that consistently placed IABC/Houston in the vanguard of communicators throughout the world. 

In 1977, Justin Thayer retired from Champion Paper and the chapter named him a Life Member. Later, Guy Fausset, Dotty Hobbs, Jim Boyles, and Downs Matthews were also honored. Following creation of the IABC Fellow Award, the association’s highest honor, four IABC/Houston members were named in successive years. The honorees were Walter Beach, Dotty (James) Hobbs, Richard Charlton, and Downs Matthews. In 1991, Elizabeth Calderon was honored with the chapter’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The year of 1978 saw membership climb to 258 and by 1979, IABC/Houston became the largest IABC chapter in the world with 338 members. Membership continued to rise and reached an all-time high of 490 members in 1982. A faltering economy hit Houston hard, and over the next ten years, membership shrank to 290. In 1992, $6.50 would buy you a small salad, and no one ever ordered steak. 

On the occasion of IABC/Houston’s 40th anniversary, founder Walter Beach wrote that “…when we started the chapter 40 years ago not one of us dreamed it would become such a large and vibrant organization… Frankly, we organized as much out of sympathy for one another as for anything else, for in those days, we were industrial editors (one step above janitors) and not business communicators. Stature, we had none. Guidance, very little. Incomes, about the same. Still, most of us wordsmiths felt the field offered more than newspapering, and we stuck together in the hope that our beliefs were not misdirected.”