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Jean "Gene" Arnold, 84, of Stafford, Virginia passed away on May 31st after a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
Gene was a native son of Texas. He was born on November 16, 1935 in Houston, to Frank and Beulah Arnold. While his earliest years were spent in the middle of the Great Depression (and the Arnold’s were certainly financially depressed!) young Gene had the happiest childhood imaginable. He was surrounded by extended family who loved him, particularly his cherished grandmother, PaPa. When he was ten his baby sister Judy was born and Gene loved her deeply and protected her fiercely as he would their entire lives. Gene devoured (and collected) comic books, movies, radio programs and his mother’s meringue pies. He particularly loved sports and followed St. Louis Cardinals baseball (the Houston Buffs were one of their farm teams) and Southwest Conference Football radio broadcasts religiously. Something in the cadence and phrasing of the announcers caught his ear and young Gene dreamt of one day being in a press box himself, painting vivid word pictures for radio listeners. He could often be seen walking down the streets of their neighborhood with a toy microphone in hand, describing anything he saw. People parking their cars. Birds landing in trees. It would lead to bigger things.
He attended Lanier Junior High and Lamar High school where he became the cartoonist of the school newspaper and the yearbook. He considered pursuing cartoon art as a profession but his passion was broadcasting and he went on to study Radio-TV at the University of Houston.
His early career in radio included stints in Raymondville, Baytown and Waco, Texas in the latter part of the 1950s. Then after a tour in the Army National Guard with his cousin, Bo, he started receiving bigger broadcasting opportunities in his hometown of Houston. Gene honed his skills and a beautiful baritone voice and became a known radio and television personality throughout the city, reporting on everything from local and national news to sports. Throughout the 1960s he gained tremendous experience by calling Friday night high school football games on the radio.
In 1963, by chance, Gene met and immediately was smitten by a beautiful, dark-haired young woman named Laurel Anne Ricke. They were married in the Catholic Church and would spend the next 56 years together, joyfully raising three loving children. The Arnold family had wonderful and memorable adventures such as traveling by train from Houston to Los Angeles in a sleeping car and spending many happy days at their farm in Shiner, Texas. Gene had an actual train caboose shipped by rail to Shiner and fitted out as a guest house!
Divine providence stepped in again for Gene one day in 1967 while he was working at KODA. One of his broadcasting heroes, Kern Tips, came in to record a commercial and Gene had to meet the legendary Southwest Conference play-by-play man. He mentioned that he had always wanted to work for the Exxon Football Network and Tips asked Gene for an audition tape. Many weeks went by when Gene received a letter in the mail inviting him to join the Exxon Football broadcasting roster. He began traveling the country doing color commentary and occasionally play by play for the likes of University of Texas, Arkansas, Baylor, SMU, Texas A&M and his alma mater, University of Houston. These years were some of the happiest of his career. Gene was prodigious throughout the 60s and 70s, calling U of H basketball, Astros baseball, Oilers football and even professional hockey. Gene was the PA announcer in the Astrodome for one Astros season in the 1970s. He had his own newspaper column, appeared in TV commercials, filled in on nightly sports reports on Channel 13, and had his own sports program on Channel 26.
Gene eventually left radio in the late 70s to open a retail establishment in the Montrose neighborhood called “Great Things”. The store offered unique items for the home that leaned toward the nostalgic. Old pinball machines, gumball machines, juke boxes, architectural “gingerbread”, high quality ceiling fans and vintage movie posters. Within a few years the store was a big success. When Gene’s father, Frank, passed away in 1978 he left his own store, “The Emporium”, to Gene and the two stores merged. Gene eventually sold “The Emporium” in 1984 and focused solely on dealing in vintage movie memorabilia. Gene became widely known in the burgeoning hobby and industry that he helped pioneer for his decency, kindness and honesty.
In 2013 Gene and Laurel left Houston to move to Virginia to be near their children and grandchildren. Nothing meant more to Gene than family, especially his grandchildren. While Gene liked living in the Old Dominion he (and Laurel) never quite got over having to leave their beloved homeland of Texas.
The most important milestone in Gene’s life took place on June 8, 1984 when Gene was baptized into the Catholic Church. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he spent the final three decades of his life being an example of Christian virtue and living out the beautiful teachings of Christ. He received the last rites of the Church and a papal apostolic blessing mere minutes before his passing.
In a beautiful demonstration of Our Lord's love for him, Gene will be buried on June 8, 2020, 36 years to the day since he became a child of God.
Gene leaves behind his loving wife, Laurel, sons Mark, Dan (and wife Meg) and daughter Sarah Arnold Gasper (and husband Rob). His grandchildren are Michael, Katherine, Mary, William, Joseph, Christopher and Elizabeth Arnold and Peter, Andrew, Jane, Anne, Thomas, Paul, Isaac and May Gasper. He is also survived by his dear sister, Judy Seré of Houston, his two grandchildren-in-law are Benjamin Scrivener and Maggie Arnold. Gene is also survived by two beautiful great-grandchildren, Caroline Darby Scrivener and Matthew Gene Arnold.
Gene’s viewing will take place on Sunday, June 7th at Covenant House Funeral Home in Stafford, Virginia. His funeral will be held at St. William of York Catholic Church in Stafford, Virginia at on Monday June 8th after which he will be laid to rest at Oak Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances all services will be private and reserved for Gene's family only.
In lieu of flowers please consider sending a donation in Gene’s name to Texas Right to Life (https://www.texasrighttolife.com/donate/) or St. William of York Catholic Church, Stafford, Virginia (https://www.swoycc.org/).