Thursday, July 12, 2012

Obituary of Gene Sizemore

Gene Sizemore (1932–2012)

Gene Sizemore (christened Oscar Eugene but known lifelong as Gene) died on Sunday, July 8, 2012, in Fort Worth, Texas.

Gene was born May 11, 1932, in Dallas, Texas, to Lucile (Smith) and Oscar Franklin Sizemore. Gene’s dad was a gandy dancer (track maintenance worker) on the railroad, and he was a rambling man. The elder Sizemore moved the family frequently, throwing Gene into a succession of schools: Hogg, Reagan, Trinity Heights, J. F. Peeler, and other elementary schools in Dallas, plus one year of grade school in Kansas City, Missouri, Gene’s mother’s hometown. Gene attended Dallas high schools including Adamson and North Dallas High, as well as Summit High in Summit, Arkansas, and East High in Kansas City. He often spent summers in Boaz, Alabama, his father’s hometown, and he was in Boaz for his senior year of high school.

Korean War Service

At 19 Gene joined the Navy and served aboard the USS Helena (CA-75), a heavy cruiser. His Korean War service included fire control: targeting and firing the Helena’s 8-inch main guns, shelling targets on the coast of Korea, cutting enemy supply lines and supporting ground troops. While on liberty in Yokosuka, Japan, Gene was among the groups of sailors who were filmed for background scenes in the Grace Kelly–William Holden movie, The Bridges at Toko-Ri. In December 1952, after seven months in the Far East, the homeward-bound Helena gave passage to President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower. Gene often saw Eisenhower strolling the deck as they plowed the waters at top speed from Guam to Pearl Harbor. After Helena’s illustrious passenger disembarked in Hawaii on December 11, 1952, the warship returned to her homeport in Long Beach, California.

During the eight years of his military service, 1951–1959, Gene was stationed in Long Beach and San Diego and also at the U.S. Naval Station at Kodiak, Alaska, headquarters of the 17th Naval District (and a great place for salmon fishing). He also served aboard the USS Hector (AR-7), a Vulcan-class repair ship. Gene’s military test scores were consistently among the highest in the Pacific Fleet. He was offered a spot in the Naval Academy at Annapolis but preferred to return to civilian life. Upon his Honorable Discharge in December 1959, Gene was awarded the National Defense Service Medal.

Career in Commercial Printing

Over the course of 40 years, the name Gene Sizemore grew to be legendary in the business of commercial printing / lithography. He began as a printing-press operator, winning national awards for excellence of craftsmanship. Quickly he rose to pressroom foreman, then head of estimating and cost-analysis, customer service manager, and plant manager overseeing all operations of the prepress department, pressroom, bindery, and shipping. He worked in Kansas City, Missouri, at Rigby Printing; in Dallas at Jarvis Press, Taylor Publishing, The Dorsey Company, Williamson Printing, Padgett Printing, Steck-Warlick, and City Printing Division of Riverside Press; at American Printing & Litho; and in Fort Worth at Motheral Printing and at Sprint Press. In 1997 he retired from Authentic Press in Arlington, Texas.


Gene’s hobbies included travel and classic car restoration. He created a “Bionic B” by putting a small-block Buick V8 engine in an MGB sports car, doing all the work himself. He avidly read Auto Restorer and Hemmings Classic Car magazines. Among his favorite TV shows were Gearz, Top Gear, and Chop Cut Rebuild. His current project was “A Toy Named Sue”—a 1987 Toyota Supra Turbo with a blown head gasket (a malady known in the long-suffering community of Supra owners as a BHG). On May 1, 2012, ten days shy of his 80th birthday, he sent this e-mail to an online Supras group:

“Dear Friends and fellow BHG sufferers,

“I am about to undertake the repair and replacement of said BHG. Any advice, comment, recommendations and procedure would be greatly appreciated. Please reply here or at my e-mail: genesizemore@ …”

With Deborah, his wife of 31 years (32, counting the year they lived together before marrying), Gene traveled widely: from the Ozarks to the Gulf Coast to the Desert Southwest and the Rocky Mountains, and from England to Canada and Mexico. For eight years (1997–2005), Gene and Deborah spent summers on Lake Chapala in Jalisco, Mexico.


Home for the Sizemores, however, was always the country house south of Fort Worth that Gene designed and built. He did most of the work himself. Helped by the next-door neighbor who jumped in on the heaviest lifting and who generously lent a hand in many other ways, Gene only rarely needed to hire temporary non-neighborly assistance as he framed and finished a 2,500-square-foot, two-story home. From 1981 to 1985, his every evening, weekend, and vacation was spent house-building.

The Sizemores moved in before parts of the work were finished. For years afterward, Gene continued to install flooring, baseboards, and his custom, handmade-in-his-own-workshop cabinets throughout the house.

He seldom missed an episode of This Old House. Gene’s final home fix-up project was the complete removal and replacement of the original (now 30-year-old) toilet in the master bath, all the way down to the wax ring. He completed this work in a single Saturday, at age 80 plus eight days.

In 2010, on behalf of the entire neighborhood, Gene took the lead in a project to pave a county road that had choked the local community in caliche dust for 30 years.


Gene was preceded in death by his parents, O. F. and Lucile Sizemore; by his half-brothers (from O. F.'s first marriage, to Ollie Jackson), Lawrence, Marvin, Roy, and Glen Sizemore; by his half-sister Lois Sizemore Cameron; and by his only child (from an earlier marriage), his son Paul Eugene Sizemore (1957–2003). Gene is survived by a half-sister, Dorothy Wilson; by a great many nieces, nephews, and cousins; and by his devoted wife Deborah Lightfoot Sizemore, who misses him with every fiber of her being. He was the strongest, most resourceful man she has ever known or ever expects to meet.

Deborah, a writer, dedicated her first book, The LH7 Ranch (1991): “To Gene—Who knows where the center of the world is.” The dedication was inspired by the movie Little Big Man, in which the Indian grandfather, Old Lodge Skins, observes that white men “are strange and do not seem to know where the center of the world is.” Gene—who himself had American Indian ancestry—surely knew where the center of the world lay. His center always held, as strong and solid as the Earth’s iron core.

I love you, Darlin' Baby — desperately.

A Celebration of the Life of Gene Sizemore is planned. Details of time and place to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge or The Nature Conservancy

Click to view Gene's obituary notice in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, published July 29, 2012.

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