While others might have given ‘a hoot’, only The Independent made the claim
By SHELLY WILKISON
Back in the day, it was self proclaimed to be the only newspaper that gave “a hoot about Liberty Hill”.
The owl clip art that shared the masthead with The Liberty Hill Independent was there to reinforce the message during years of multiple newspapers serving the community.
Looking back on those days 30 years later, the daughter of founding publisher Jim “Linzy” Hudgins says her dad “had a heart for the community”, and went beyond the role of newspaper publisher to help out wherever he could.
Hudgins and his wife, Shirley, came to Liberty Hill looking for a change.
Hudgins wasn’t a novice to the news business. He spent his career working in print and broadcasting, and enjoyed covering sports more than anything.
After moving to central Texas, he wrote sports for the Bertram Liberty Hill News, then started a newsletter he called “The Linzy Report”, before venturing out to start The Independent.
“He started it with $87 out of the back of his car,” Williamson said. “That’s all he had in his pocket when he started.”
Williamson said the early editions of The Independent focused primarily on sports.
“At the time, it was nothing more than a high school newspaper. There was nothing here, except the school and commissioners court. He focused on sports. That was always his thing.”
She said the newspaper got its name because her father considered himself to be very much of an independent.
“He was determined to do things his way. That’s how he came up with the name of the paper,” she said.
Williamson said her father produced the paper by himself in the beginning. The town was small enough that he could make it to all the sporting events himself, and he took plenty of photographs. He would later build a small staff, which included Melissa Pogue, Barbara Sybert, Lisa Crane and James Wear. Williamson, who moved to Liberty Hill in 1988, was also part of the team doing whatever needed to be done.
Over the years, Hudgins ran the newspaper from three locations — the Fowler Building, the Brand Building and what previously served as the parsonage at the old First Baptist Church (now The Grove Church) on Loop 332. He and his wife, whom he always referred to as “Sweet Shirley”, lived on site.
The Hudgins and Williamson joined the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department and made fire calls in their personal vehicles. Williamson said it was just one way her father helped the community. He also helped raise money for the volunteer department, organized the Chamber of Commerce, and was active in the Liberty Hill Development Foundation, which owns Lions Foundation Park.
“Most of the time, Dad was behind the camera. He was fine setting in the back seat driving some of this stuff. He was directing from the back seat. I can’t remember the number of people that he would call on and say, ‘there’s a need for whatever’, and they’d listen,” she said. “We were so small. There was no inside and outside (the city limits) back then. It was more community oriented.”
Williamson said her parents lived in Liberty Hilll longer than anywhere else they had been. Before he found a home here, the family moved around a lot. She said her dad enjoyed starting new things and seeing new places.
“He would get a lot of things started and turn them over and go to something else,” she said. “But he made good friends here, and I think they finally found a home here.”
Hudgins, who gave himself the title of “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” for The Independent, remained active in the daily operations of the weekly newspaper for 10 years until his heart health became an issue.
By 1997 when Hudgins first began having heart problems, Diane Pogue was already on his staff as Editor.
Williamson, who had been diagnosed with cancer at the time and was undergoing treatment, said her father knew he needed to get out of the newspaper business and his daughter wasn’t able to take on the responsibility.
“We had several conversations. He knew I couldn’t do it right then, and he needed to do it right then. I think his druthers would have been that I would’ve taken it over, but I wasn’t ready,” she said.
Diane and Dan Pogue bought the newspaper from Hudgins in 1998, and Hudgins passed away from a heart attack in 1999 — two days before his 65th birthday.
Five years later, Williamson decided she wanted to get back into the newspaper business. She said she went first to Diane Pogue and offered to purchase The Independent, but was met with a quick no.
She then approached Kathy Canady, whose Liberty Hill Bullet was in its third year of publication.
“I didn’t see Diane or Kathy doing justice to the citizens. It seemed like they were just fighting with each other,” Williamson said.
Canady said she started The Bullet in 2001 in response to The Independent’s repeated attacks and false reporting about her husband, Charles Canady, who was a leader on the city council at that time.
Williamson said Canady was ready to relinquish the newspaper. The Bullet kept its name for a short time, and Williamson ran it from Canady’s Quick Service Garage for a while until the situation “became awkward,” Williamson said.
She moved the business to her house and changed the newspaper’s name to The Liberty Hill Leader. Williamson said she doesn’t recall how she chose the name.
Williamson said she didn’t believe Pogue’s Independent was as neutral as it should have been.
“I think there was a bias there. Citizens deserve not your truth or their truth, but the truth,” Williamson said.
She placed a caricature of her father inside the masthead of The Leader.
Williamson hired James Wear, who had years of newspaper experience, which included a stint at her father’s Independent and later at his own newspaper, Shin Oak Ridge Reporter. Wear was named Editor.
When Williamson ran for Mayor in 2012, she said Wear, who was covering council meetings, advised against it warning of a potential conflict as the owner of a newspaper.
In 2014, Williamson sold the paper to sports writer Chuck Licata, who co-owned K-MAC Sports — a sports website. However, within two years, Williamson had taken over production of the paper.
In January 2017, The Leader was purchased by current owners of The Independent and put out of publication.