Former Monitor journalist dies at 45

Oscar Gonzalez Jr., a veteran journalist who covered sports in the Valley over several decades, died Wednesday in Austin, where he had lived for several years.

Oscar Gonzalez Jr., a veteran journalist who covered sports in the Valley over several decades, died Wednesday in Austin, where he had lived for several years.

He was a former managing editor of The Monitor and was employed at the time of his death as deputy editor at Gatehouse Media News and Design Center in Austin.

Gonzalez, 45, was a native of Edcouch where he played for the Edcouch-Elsa Yellowjackets in high school, a prelude to his professional career.

“Oscar loved his Yellow Jackets — La Maquina Amarilla,” recalled Monitor photographer Delcia Lopez. “He was a player, a linebacker for Coach Robert Vela, and he said Robert Vela was like his mentor. … One day Oscar didn’t have a ride home and was walking home, and Coach Vela pulled up next to him, and asked him what he was doing. Oscar said he didn’t have a ride home, and so the coach started taking him home after practice. It was Coach Vela that inspired Oscar to be a sports writer.”

Oscar began his professional writing career just out of high school, covering high school football as a freelance journalist for The Edinburg Daily Review. Meanwhile, he studied journalism at the University of Texas-Pan American and Eastern Michigan University.

Gonzalez joined The Monitor in 1997 as a sports reporter, where he was able to draw on his experiences and friendships forged on the gridiron. Establishing himself as a leader in the newsroom, he soon was promoted to deputy sports editor and then sports editor.

“Oscar brought more in-depth coverage of sports to the newspaper,” said Steve Fagan, editor of The Monitor during much of Gonzalez’s tenure. “He took our coverage from mostly just game stories to looking ahead to events and broader coverage of what was happening in sports.”

David Hinojosa, a former sports writer for The Monitor, worked with Gonzalez during two different stints — once during the 1990s and again from 2009 to 2013.

Hinojosa, who currently works for the San Antonio Express-News, affectionately recalled Gonzalez having a caustic sense of humor that was especially notable for his brand of sarcasm.

“If you didn’t know that about him you might want to punch him, but if you knew him and where he was coming from, you’d know he didn’t mean anything by it,” Hinojosa said of his longtime colleague and friend. “He was very blunt about things but had a great heart, and that’s what I think a lot of people who knew him and got to know him understood.”

After parting ways with The Monitor at different points, the two remained in contact and often ran into each other at sporting events. After all, Hinojosa said he owed much to Gonzalez.

“ I was unemployed after being laid off at the Dallas Morning News and he helped me get a job there at The Monitor, and that was something I always appreciated about him,” Hinojosa said. “He spoke up for me when nobody at The Monitor knew me, and helped me get back on my feet. In a roundabout way, he got me this job at the Express-News. I wish I had told him how much I appreciated that, how much I appreciated him.”

One of his more memorable anecdotes of Gonzalez was the time they covered the 1999 state semifinal football game together.

The two were in San Antonio for the game, played at Harlandale Memorial Stadium in the Alamo City, between Edinburg High and Houston Eisenhower.

“It was very rare for a Valley team to make it to the semifinals, so there was a television reporter who worked there (Rio Grande Valley) at the time and who was notorious for bumping his way through newspaper guys to get his interviews,” Hinojosa prefaced. “So he did the same thing after this game and Oscar noticed. The television guy took over the interview and asked Coach Robert Vela questions, and Oscar was in the background and kind of telling this guy, ‘Hey, why don’t you ask him some real questions … some tough questions.’ The television guy was pretty annoyed.”

Those who worked with Gonzalez also remember him for his creativity. He was eventually promoted to managing editor of The Monitor, with much of his focus on the design of the newspaper.

“Oscar was as good a designer as he was a sports writer,” Fagan said. “He was very creative and design certainly became his forte.”

Gonzalez set in place many of the design elements still in use in The Monitor today.

“Oscar was extremely devoted to the paper, and other than his family, it was his most important thing,” Fagan said.

Family members also cited his devotion to his career, but said he was also a supportive father.

“When I told him I was scared about becoming a mom, he told me that everything was going to be OK, because he’ll be there with me and he knows I’m going to be a good mom,” said his daughter Olivia, who is currently pregnant.

He is also survived by a second daughter, Marissa.

Like most who knew him, Olivia also recalled his sense of humor in anticipation of the arrival of his grandchild.

“He always joked around.” she said. “He always used to say, ‘She better not be born during a Dallas Cowboys game,’ because he loved the Dallas Cowboys. We always used to joke about them losing, and he would get mad at me.”

Funeral arrangements are pending and will be announced by Cardoza Funeral Home of Edcouch.

Staff writer Michael Rodriguez contributed to this report.