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Home News-Telegram News Enola Gay: At the controls

Enola Gay: At the controls

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Enola Gay Mathews started life in Odessa, but her family soon fled to East Texas to get away from the rampant spread of polio.

    “We would have left sooner if we could, because the Midland-Odessa area was one of Texas’ epidemic centers in 1952-1953.”
    Mathews’ parents met in Odessa when her father was working on the oil wells. Billie Joe Moorman and Willie Grace Brown married when he was 22 and she was 20.
    And, yes, she was named for the plane that dropped the atomic bomb, ending World War II.
    “My mother was 21 when the plane flew, and apparently in patriotic fervor, saved the name for a  future daughter,” she explained.


    For the first 30 years of her life, she was known only as Gay.
    “In later years, anytime I would introduce myself, I'd watch for a glimmer of recognition, and more often than not, there's not one,” she explained. “Younger people are more distanced from that history now.”      
    Mathews learned how to deal with people and the importance of marketing from her father. Those skills would serve her well later in life.
    “My dad joined my uncle ‘Tiny’ at the City Cafe in Longview,” Mathews noted. “It was in the heart of downtown near the banks, large churches, movie theater and high school.”
    It was in the hustle and bustle of the cafe that Mathews observed her father’s demeanor.
    “Even as a small child, I somehow knew that my dad’s friendly persona was what made his customers ‘regulars,’” she explained. “He was always in a white shirt and tie, smiling and shaking hands. He knew everyone on a first-name basis. He saw you in and saw you out the door and he was at every table at least once.”
    When her dad began to manage The Triangle Restaurant on Highway 80, “the mile of smiles” as it was called back then, he had a table up front, where the important people sat.
    “If you were family, a friend or a salesperson, you might get seated at the round table,” Mathews remembered. “When he was busy,  I would just sit in a booth with an icy Coca-Cola and watch everything. I knew enough not to be any trouble, or get in the way of a waitress, because Daddy’s attention would always be on the customers first.”
    That customers first attitude continues with the way Billie Joe’s daughter approaches her job as morning on-air personality at KSST, Hopkins County’s long-standing radio station.
    “With a job like this, there are so many opportunities to make yourself available to assist,” Mathews offered. “I like helping the people of Hopkins County and the merchants who advertise. There are extra ways I can help them.”
    Mathews’ willingness to go the extra mile has not gone unnoticed.
    Her many honors include:
    2011 Woman of the Year, Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce and Beta Sigma Phi;
    2011 Community Pride award, Hopkins County Chamber of Commerce;
    2011 Disc Jockey of the Year, Cowtown Society of Western Music;
    2011 Hall of Fame Western Swing Hero, Cowtown Society of Western Music;
    2008 Disc Jockey of the Year nominee, Texas Music Association;
    2007 Martin Luther King Jr. Media Award; and     
    2005 Co-Disc Jockey of the Year,  Academy of Western Artists.
    When she won Disc Jockey of the Year in 2011, she told the News-Telegram, “I’ve ‘shared’ DJ of the Year honors given by the Academy of Western Artists in 2005, but never had one of my own. I’ve loved the music from the earliest times I can remember. In West Texas, my mom danced with me to Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills on the radio. And I dance now in the control room some mornings! It would be a high point for anyone to be recognized for doing what you love, day-to-day. I’m humbled and exhilarated at the same time.”
    Mathews’ appreciation for most music came early.
    “I took piano lessons for a while and music classes in high school,”?she said.
    She loved watching Ed Sullivan and was fond of the women who performed on the show.
    “I remember some of the singers because they seemed like neat women,” she said.
    Her love for country music, however, came much later.
    “I wasn’t into country music. It was so uncool. Rock ‘n’ roll was the thing,” she said with a wry smile. “I missed a big portion of country until I decided it really was cool.”
    Mathews married young. Her husband, James Bounds, served a three-year stint in the Marines. Once he was released, the couple moved to Honolulu, Hawaii.
    “It was a freeing experience,” Mathews noted. “I learned to like beer there.”
    She worked as a live-in nanny for a family who had five children.
    “They owned hotels like the Outrigger and had a beautiful home on Diamond Head,” she said. “I spent a year doing that.”
    Along the way, the couple had five children themselves – James Clayton Bounds, 38, a sergeant in the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and daughters Bobbi Bounds Rowland, 37, of Elk City, Okla., Jamie Bounds, 35, of Burleson, Jessica Bounds Glover, 29, of Elk City, Okla., and Angela Bounds, 27, of Austin.
    Eventually, the couple settled  in her husband’s hometown of Carthage. They moved to Hopkins County when her husband was working at Texas Instruments and the family wanted to live outside the metroplex.
    After the couple’s divorce in 1989, Mathews began work at KDXE.
    “Mel Price hired me,” she said. “I worked in sales and production; nothing on air. I recorded commercials and learned a lot. It was fun.”
    It was a neighbor, Mickie Powers, who encouraged her to apply for an opening at KSST.
    “I didn’t really think of myself being in radio,” she noted. “I just thought of being in sales.”
    Legendary radio station owner Bill Bradford had different ideas.
    “You have the name of an airplane,” Bradford told her. “You must be on air.”
    Mathews’ timing was perfect, too.
    “The day I got up my nerve to apply, a girl who had been there for 14 years put in her notice,” Mathews said. “If I had come sooner or later, it wouldn’t have been right.”
    Plus, her name was so right.
    “I think it was my name that caused me to be hired, really,” she said with a laugh. “I think he hired me for the name and figured he could school me in radio skills afterwards.”
    As Mathews said in the 2011 article, “I entered the ‘Bill Bradford School of Broadcasting.’ Starting with my first day on the job, I was on the air. I had no formal training, just on-the-job instruction by a pioneer in broadcasting.”
    After a 1993 marriage ended in divorce, Mathews kept her ex-husband’s last name.
    Mathews believes it’s important to let her listeners know there is someone out there who is personable and who “really, truly cares how you get through your morning.”
    During ice storms, she has sometimes been the only news outlet for rural Hopkins County residents.
    “One year, the trees were down and we had an extended period of ice,” she remembered. “After the thaw, a man came to the radio station and told her, ‘We were in the house five days. You were the only voice we heard. You were very, very close to us.’”
    Hopkins County has embraced Enola Gay.
    “I’m not a native, but the people here have never made me feel anything but welcome,” she said. “They made me feel like I belong in their households.”
    In addition to hosting an annual chili cook-off and lending her talents to many civic activities, Mathews was also the driving force behind a local celebration on “The National Day of the Cowboy.”
    Now that she has the DJ thing down pat, Mathews is branching out. She has become a regular vocalist, singing at the Reilly Springs Jamboree once a month and doing gigs in the area with former professional guitarist Kurt Bittner.     
    “I sang with my girls when they were growing up, but it wasn’t until a man named Bob Armstrong, a Dallas-based jazz guitarist, came to the station and invited me to sing at his mother’s house in Sulphur Springs, that even considered peforming” Mathews said. “I don’t know why he thought I could or should be singing.”
    She also likes the freedom she has to “move around” in the standards.
    Mathews has taken time from her busy life to help revitalize the Reilly Springs Jamboree, which is now held once a month at the community center. The Jamboree celebrated its 56th anniversary last year.
    “It’s a thing that belongs to Hopkins County,” she noted. “The music is already familiar, so it’s appealing. Being there brings back memories for our audience.”
    When she turned 40, Mathews thought she wouldn’t be on the air much longer.
    “Surely I couldn’t be a DJ after that,” she recalled. “Then, when I turned 50, I felt the same way. Here I am approaching a big milestone [60] and I’m still here.”
    Her loyal fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

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    In recognition of her many years of being Hopkins County’s on-air cheerleader and her numerous civic contributions, Friends of the Sulphur Springs Public Library will host “An Evening with Enola Gay” on Thursday, Jan. 31, beginning at 7 p.m. The program will include an introduction by author Jim Ainsworth, an interview with News-Telegram Arts Editor Terry Mathews and several musical numbers. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free. Everyone is invited.

 

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