Robert Hankins died listening to the Beatles. He would have something clever or funny to say about that. After all, he was a man of words, a writer.

Hankins, 48, wrote for years for newspapers in Orange County and even edited some. It was a way for him to make a living and a way for him to do the occasional witty column or creative feature story.

For more than two years, Hankins had been editor of The Record Newspapers. He worked Friday at The Record office in Orange and even did a phone interview for a story on Saturday from his house in Lake Charles.

Saturday night, he died of a massive heart attack, his wife, Martha said. He had been sitting listening to Beatles music. He was pronounced dead at a Lake Charles hospital.

Hankins had a vast knowledge about all kinds of literature and pop culture. He could make words flow like music. But most people remember him for simply being nice. He had a quiet, low-key demeanor and never met a stranger.

Orange County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said Hankins “was one of those guys you felt comfortable to be around.” Being interviewed for stories,  “felt like you were sitting on the front porch drinking a cup of coffee” with a friend.

Thibodeaux knew Hankins for a number of years as Hankins wrote for the Orange Leader, Opportunity Valley News, Orange County News and The Record. “He was a very truthful and honest reporter,” he said.

Roy Dunn, publisher of The Record Newspapers, said “We’re going to miss him not only because of his work, but because of his friendship.”

Hankins was friendly to everyone, Dunn said. “He was very non-political. He was also color-blind, he had no prejudices.”

Hankins was an only child. His father, who survives him, was a professor at McNeese University and his mother was a teacher. Perhaps growing up in that environment he was meant to become cerebral. But he also developed a sharp sense of humor.

When he got married for the first time at age 44, he and his wife, Martha, didn’t have a traditional wedding. They went to Las Vegas for an all-Elvis event. An Elvis impersonator drove them to the wedding chapel and an Elvis impersonator conducted the ceremony.

That type of wink at life made him good at his eclectic columns and musings.

Glenda Dyer is a former editor of The Orange Leader and The Opportunity Valley News, plus a former writer for The Orange County Record. She hired Hankins to write for the Opportunity Valley News weekly about 12 years ago. When there was an opening at The Leader, she hired him as a reporter.

“Robert quickly learned to cover city councils, school boards and other hard news at the Leader, but I don’t think he ever really liked doing so,” Dyer said from her Tennessee home. “His forte was writing feature stories and, in particular, writing columns, at which he excelled.”

Local editors and readers weren’t the only ones to notice Hankins’ talent for feature stories.
When he was at the Leader, the Associated Press picked up some of his feature stories and distributed them to newspapers across the state. Hankins was printed in papers like the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman.

Through the years, he also won numerous regional and state awards for writing and reporting.

After quitting the Leader, Hankins went to the magazine Lagniappe in Lake Charles to cover the arts and entertainment. Then, he came back to Orange as editor of the Beaumont Enterprise’s Orange County News weekly. Craig Stark was the general manager of the weekly and also knew Hankins when they were both at the Leader.

“News of Robert Hankins’ death came as a great surprise as we had just corresponded last Tuesday on a news release. I send my condolences to his wife and family,” Stark said.

“Robert was a good man, talented writer and conscientious of getting the facts right,” he said.
The funeral for Hankins was held Tuesday afternoon in Lake Charles. His friends have shed tears and been shocked by his sudden death. But he’s not gone. His words will live on in his stories.