Phil Vinson spent most of his career working as a journalist. Editing stories and writing headlines was second nature. 

So much so, he couldn’t leave his own obituary unedited. 

“He edited his own obituary on Dec. 4 after I made a first draft on Dec. 3. If I had messed up his obit, he would have been posthumously mortified,” his wife told the congregation gathered at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church on June 11. 

Vinson, a respected journalist, photographer and musician died on May 16 at his home in Fort Worth. He was 81.

Vinson began working as a reporter and photographer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1963. He covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22 when he was sent to Dallas to take photos of the arrival of Lee Harvey Oswald’s mother, wife and two daughters. 

“He was just a brand new kid at the paper, but he was the only one there from Star-Telegram who had a camera with him,” his wife recalled.

He later wrote an article for the Star-Telegram about his recollections of Lee Oswald from second grade in 1947 when they attended Lily B Clayton Elementary School together.

Phil Vinson’s article about Lee Harvey Oswald was originally published in the Star-Telegram. (Courtesy photo from Rita Vinson)
A second-grade class photo from 1947 shows Lee Harvey Oswald in the bottom left corner and Phil Vinson in the second row from the bottom, both circled green. (Courtesy photo from Rita Vinson)

After the Star-Telegram, Vinson worked as a wire editor at the Galveston Daily News from 1964 to 1965. He eventually returned to the Star-Telegram to work as a night shift copy editor, where he edited stories for the following morning. 

“It [Star-Telegram] was a very stressful job,” his wife said. “And so he didn’t want to stay in a job that had that much stress on the deadlines every day.”

In 1972, Vinson decided to work as a photographer full time, establishing Phil Vinson Photography where he dedicated his time capturing Fort Worth. In 2008, Vinson publishedFort Worth: A Personal View,” a collection of over 40 years of photos. 

By 1995, Vinson began teaching photojournalism and news editing in the department of communication at the University of Texas at Arlington

“He loved teaching, which he did late in his career,” his wife said. “If you gave him a captive audience and subjects he loves to talk about, you just turn him loose.” 

Brandon Wade, one of Vinson’s photojournalism students, said his teacher really cared about his students doing it right.

“A lot of people went around campus shooting pictures of squirrels and birds and stuff like that,” Wade said. “He’d call you out and say you know, that’s a nice picture of the squirrel. But that’s not what this class is about.”

He retired from teaching in 2005. 

Vinson was born in Childress on July 6, 1940. His father, Doyle Davis Vinson, was a TV news editor for Channel 5 WBAP/KXAS. 

Vinson’s career as a journalist began in high school when he served as editor for The Parakeet newspaper at Polytechnic High School in 1958. He later served as editor of the Poly alumni newsletter, of the same name, from 2011 to 2013. 

For two years, Vinson studied journalism at Arlington State College, now University of Texas at Arlington, but transferred to North Texas State University, now University of North Texas, to complete his degree in 1963. 

Friends and family began to arrive at the church sanctuary for his memorial service about 3 p.m. As they walked in, a jazz ensemble composed of friends and his teacher, Rick Stitzel, played some of Vinson’s favorite jazz tunes. 

Stitzel had taught Vinson at the age of 40 how to read music through jazz piano lessons at Tarrant County College.

“He really dedicated himself to it,” Stitzel said. “He used to have jam sessions at his house and also played a few gigs around town.”

The sanctuary soon filled with over 60 friends and family members. The Rev. Annie Foerster stepped up to the podium and shared words and readings as everyone listened quietly. 

Shortly after, his wife took to the podium. 

“I wrote a eulogy for my mother in 2010 but asked the minister to read it,” she said. “Today I think I can present one for my husband. If I should falter, Rev. Annie will come to my rescue.” 

She didn’t hesitate.

His wife shared a brief history about the Unitarian Church and its support for the LGBTQ community, then described Vinson’s challenges with anxiety and panic attacks. 

“Even his close friends did not fully understand how hard it was for him to do some of the simplest things. He was on medication and in counseling for 63 years,” she said. 

She explained further about how Vinson’s long-term anxiety affected his life through his fear of driving across a bridge and how she underestimated the depth of the hold the conditions had on his psyche, she said. 

To ease the room, she cracked a joke. 

“Maybe you wondered how he would have felt had he known this would be in his obituary, “ she said. “Well, he did know.”

Following her eulogy, friends and family were welcomed to walk to the mic to share words about Vinson and how he impacted their lives. 

“He was quite a creative guy,” Stitzel said. “Anyone who’s into journalism, photography, music knows he was a true fan of Fort Worth.” 

“In spite of Phil’s challenges, he lived a full life,” Vinson’s wife told the congregation. “Through the years, some of you were Phil’s friends, some of you were my friends, but most of you were our friends, and I am grateful for that. You enriched our lives forever.” 

David Moreno is a summer fellow multimedia specialist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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David Moreno

David Moreno is a multimedia summer fellow for Fort Worth Report. He is a recent graduate from the University of North Texas with degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him,...