Saying goodbye to a part of history ⁠— remembering Marj Carpenter (1927-2020)

Jul 1, 2020

Marj Carpenter is pictured at one of her book signings at the Heritage Museum, holding up both of her Ridin’ Fence books, which are available at Heritage Museum. Marj Carpenter was an author, a well–known, respected, trusted and adored journalist and a friend to many.

Published in the Big Spring (Texas) Herald on June 20, 2020

Fearless, straight to the point, honest and feisty are just a few of the words that have been used to describe the late Marj Carpenter. Earlier this week, the world of journalism said goodbye to a well-known, respected and trusted reporter and many Big Spring, Texas, residents said goodbye to a dear friend. While Carpenter had been retired from the field of journalism for quite some time, the impact she made will not be soon forgotten.

“Marj was a story teller. She was a ‘to the point’ kind of gal that did not mince words, nor did she write in a flowery word style. Marj reported the facts. Her article, Ridin’ Fence, permanently recorded stories about people, historical facts and places to see,” Tammy Schrecengost, Heritage Museum curator, said. “I enjoyed the time I worked with Marj as we went through all of her Ridin’ Fence stories and compiled them into book form. Now there are two books published, containing just a small portion of her life’s work. Marj was a big supporter of the museum. She will be missed in body, but never in spirit.”

Carpenter worked for 28 years as a field reporter with newspapers in Pecos, Andrews and Big Spring, Texas, and she was recognized throughout West Texas as a journalist, historian and supporter of the region. She first gained national recognition as a result of her role as a key reporter for The Pecos Independent, which helped expose the activities of Billie Sol Estes in the 1960s.

“Marj was more than a pioneer in West Texas journalism. She was a trailblazer in West Texas journalism. She was a woman in a profession that didn’t always like that. She often remarked about her run-ins with her male counterparts. She always wore a smirk as she described these run-ins because she always managed to get her way,” Mark Richardson, Kbest operations manager, said. “She brought an amazing amount of spunk, attitude and feistiness every time she came into our studio. Most importantly, Marj Carpenter brought a lost art into our lives. That is simply the knowledge of what life is like in West Texas. History books will confirm the things Marj said, but they will never be able to tell you which rancher, which farmer’s wife, which dried–up creek, etc., was the true story behind the events that shaped our heritage.”

In addition to her time as a journalist, Carpenter served as a moderator of the 207th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. During her tenure as moderator and news director of the Presbyterian Church, Marj traveled to over 126 countries to eyewitness what the church was doing in mission around the world. She became known as the “Voice of the Missionaries” and served as head of the Presbyterian News Service from 1979 through 1985 in Atlanta, Georgia, and at the church headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, from 1985 through 1994. During her final year with the News Service, she served as mission interpreter and spoke to thousands of churches over a period of several years throughout the world.

Numerous awards and honors were earned by Carpenter during her lifetime, including in 1991 and 1992 as president of the National Federation of Press Women and Communicator of the Year in the United States. She also has received numerous awards, including “Woman of the Year” in Big Spring, Texas, the Bell-McKay Mission Award and over 130 journalism awards, including the Associated Press Community Service Award based on her follow-up of the Billie Sol Estes scandal in West Texas.

She has authored two mission books, “To the Ends of the Earth”, and “And a Little Bit Farther.” She also wrote a book of her life stories entitled “Get Your Foot Out of the Durn Petunias.” Her “Big Spring Herald” newspaper features were published in two volumes called “Ridin’ Fence.” Marj has been featured in several books, including P.J. Pierce’s “Texas Wise Women Speak: “Let Me Tell You What I’ve Learned” and Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s book, “American Heroines.”
Marj was a member and elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Big Spring, Texas, and has been active in many churches in America, with special focus on church youth. She actively supported both the Girl and Boy Scouts of America for over 50 years.

“I’ll definitely miss Marj sitting at the back of the church listening to me do my run throughs before worship service. Her absence is definitely felt, and she will be sorely missed by all who knew her sweet soul,” Gabe Martinez, Big Spring resident and fellow congregation member, said.

The impact that Marj Carpenter made on Big Spring, Texas, and every part of the world that she touched is beyond what many will ever achieve. While the impact and the words of Marj Carpenter are written down for all to experience, those who knew her best — family, friends, colleagues — will all attest to the fact that while Marj Carpenter might no longer be here in physical form, her memory and spunky spirit will live on in the lives of those she touched.

Amanda Duforat is the managing editor at the Big Spring Herald. To contact her, email or call (432) 263-7331.