Former Daily Texan editorial manager Robert Edwin Hilburn dies at age 90

Amanda Voeller

Robert Edwin Hilburn, who worked as an editorial manager at The Daily Texan from 1966 through 1985, died on May 17.

Bob was born in Wichita Falls on Nov. 10, 1923, and received a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Missouri in 1943. After graduating, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was the youngest Marine correspondent in World War II. He worked as a White House correspondent for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the mid-1960s and then moved to Austin with his family to escape the hectic lifestyle of Washington, D.C.

Mary Jeanette Hilburn, Bob’s wife, said her husband’s background in the Marine Corps helped shape his life.

“To his dying day, he was very, very proud of being a Marine,” Mary Jeanette said. “The discipline and everything that he learned through that — it really guided him. … He was a real perfectionist in everything that he did, but he was a gentle soul.”

Sidney Hilburn, Bob’s daughter, remembers the many quirks her father had. Hilburn drove a British sports car, which had been restored to perfection except for the broken gas gauge.

“He would always, before driving it, take his bamboo stick out and stick it down into the gas tank to see how much gas was in there,” Sidney said. “He was a character.”

Bob began working at the Texan in September 1966.

“He could wake up in the morning, go swim at Barton Springs, do some yard work during the day, and then at five report to work [at the Texan],” Sidney said. “It was much more relaxed and calm [than Washington], and I think he really needed that at that point in his career.”

When Hilburn began working at the Texan, Frank Erwin had just become chairman of the Board of Regents. After the Texan reported that the University had broken Texas’ public information law, Erwin and other regents were angry with the students who ran the publication. The regents tried to censor the Texan and decrease funding.

Mary Jeanette said this controversy made Bob’s job difficult because, although he often agreed with the students, he had to balance their views with the administrators’ opposing views.

“The professors and different people [were] saying, ‘You know, we have to control The Daily Texan and not let this go and that go,’” Mary Jeanette said. “He kind of had to walk a middle line there with the situation. It was hard, but he handled it, I thought, beautifully.”

John Economidy, a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio who was editor-in-chief of the Texan when Hilburn became editorial manager, said he learned more about journalism from Bob than he did from his four years of journalism school.

“Just a total consummate professional,” Economidy said. “A gentleman to the core."

A memorial service will be held on June 14 at 10 a.m. at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin.