Mike Rabun, former UPI sportswriter who covered JFK assassination, dies

By Allen Cone  |  Aug. 20, 2017 at 4:36 PM
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Aug. 20 (UPI) -- Henry "Mike" Rabun, the Dallas-based United Press International writer who covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and sporting events around the world, has died.

Rabun, 76, died Tuesday in Granbury, Texas.

Rabun worked 52 years for UPI, starting in 1962 as a sportswriter.

Pressed into duty as a news reporter, he was among the few newsmen who witnessed the slaying of JFK murder suspect Lee Harvey Oswald by Dallas bar owner Jack Ruby. He also contributed to UPI's coverage of the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 missions.

"My overall thought of the day I spent in the Dallas bureau of United Press International on Nov. 22, 1963, is no different a half century later than it was when I left the office in the middle of night and returned to my apartment and my bride of two months," Rabun wrote in the open paragraph of his recollection for UPI on Nov. 22, 2013. "It was a surrealistic experience. That is what I thought then and, after the passage of time, I would not change that description."

Rabun was in the office when the bureau received a bulletin JFK had been shot.

His tasks included holding a phone line open to the New York bureau.

"I know I did not fully appreciate the achievement as I saw it unfold that day," Rabun wrote. "But now I consider it a once-in-a-lifetime experience that should be revered by those of us who have spent their lives trying to create readable sentences under the pressure of an instant deadline."

Rabun went on to became editor of UPI's southwest sports division.

He covered worldwide events, including the summer and winter Olympics, Super Bowls, NCAA basketball Final Fours, golf championships. He covered the Dallas Cowboys a few years after its inception in 1960 as well as the baseball Rangers and basketball Rangers.

"Mike Rabun aced life," Denne Freeman, a former UPI colleague who became The Associated Press' Texas sports editor, said to The Dallas Morning Newss. "We were good friends forged at my time with UPI, and that never changed, although we butted heads covering the Cowboys and countless sports events. We spent more time together in press boxes than we did with our families."

Though he mainly handled sports-writing tasks, Rabun helped cover rescue efforts from Mission Control in Houston to bring the Apollo 13 astronauts safely after an explosion in the Apollo spacecraft.

"The UPI space writers in the room huddled ... and decided almost solely on our trust of Mike Rabun to file a bulletin on the AAA wire," Paul Harral, who covered the space program for UPI, said to the Morning News. "It was not until the aftermath of Apollo 13 that we ever had absolute confirmation of the accuracy of our story, and it was precisely accurate."

Rabun was born in Houston, grew up in Fort Worth and received a bachelor's in journalism from what is now the University of North Texas. He was the sports editor of the student newspaper, Campus Chat.

Survivors include his wife of 53 years, Janet, two daughters, a sister and four grandchildren.

Memorials may be made to the American Cancer Society.

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