If one were to craft a fictional life story and put in every colorful wish someone would want to live, then you would be reading about the life of esteemed journalist, noted author and political advisor Jim Squires. The places he’s been, the people he’s known and worked with and the events he has seen transpire are ones that, quite simply, sound as if they came from a novel. If we were to tell you that Squires has been the editor of the Chicago Tribune, a political advisor to a presidential campaign, the author of many well-regarded books and a champion thoroughbred horse breeder in the fine commonwealth of Kentucky, would you believe us? Well, you should, because every word is true.
A native of Nashville, Squires earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Peabody College and worked for The Tennessean in 1962, starting as a reporter and becoming city editor before being awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University. The fellowship was followed by a role as the Tribune’s national political correspondent and then its D.C. bureau chief. He went on to take on the position of the editor of the Orlando Sentinel and then returned to the Tribune in the early ‘80s as editor. While at the helm of the Tribune as editor, Squires saw a number of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to the prestigious paper.
Squires also acted as the media advisor to presidential candidate Ross Perot in 1992 and then turned his hand to writing, first publishing his book “Read All About It!: The Corporate Takeover of America’s Newspapers” in 1993. Other books have followed, including “The Secrets of the Hopewell Box: Stolen Elections, Southern Politics, and a City’s Coming of Age” in 1996 and “Horse of a Different Color: A Tale of Breeding Geniuses, Dominant Females, and the Fastest Derby Winner Since Secretariat” published in 2002. Squires’ other works have included “Headless Horsemen: A Tale of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents, and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids” in 2009 and “Bigger ‘n Texas: Escapades of the Unshod and Rough-Hewn” in 2013.
His most recent work was the source of a mystery in Nashville, afoot for months until it was revealed that the novel “West End,” set in a fictional town with very strong parallels to Nashville, was written by none other than Squires. Written under the pen name Crockett White, “West End” was published to much acclaim and local mystique in 2016. While as a guest on NewsChannel 5’s “Inside Politics” with Pat Nolan, Squires expounded on his decision to write the novel using a pseudonym. “All of those books and all the work I’d done up until this was true journalism—as true as I could make those stories,” commented Squires. “So we debated whether, when we came to something that is pure fiction, whether Jim Squires’ name on it, is everybody’s going to think it’s true? We didn’t want people to think it’s true.”
The novel is set in fictitious Bluff City with strong overtones of Nashville that echo the rivalry between the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean and an editor with familiar details that evoke the larger-than-life figure of stalwart Tennessean editor, the late John Seigenthaler. As Squires has described, he had a long friendship with Seigenthaler and even wrote a recent tribute about his years working for him as a young reporter for The Tennessean.
His amusing and true tale was written for the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to compile memories of Seigenthaler. Squires’ escapade involved tracking down a politician and a cast of vivid characters, all of whom would eventually become powerful civic and judicial leaders. Traversing Memphis hospitals and staking out locales like a vintage PI is fodder worthy of a novel but is complete truth. Squires’ fondness, respect and admiration for Seigenthaler and other stalwart Nashville figures, including the late John Jay Hooker, Cecil Branstetter, George Barrett and Frank Woods is evident in the dedication to “West End” – to “Frank, Seig, George, Cecil and John Jay.”
With the novel described as a “novel of envy, revenge and dirty money,” “West End” is a novel worthy of an uninterrupted read. As Squires himself said on “Inside Politics,” “those are the rudimentary elements of mankind.” If readers know the history of Nashville politics and our newspaper industry, they will see familiar details in this novel, but it is a novel that will be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of your familiarity with Nashville’s history. As Squires described on “Inside Politics,” this novel “is about the rise and fall, or at the least the rise and stalling of the progressive political movement and the death of the great print institution, which was important to democracy.”
When Squires left the Tribune, he decided to turn his hand to an equally challenging role – that of thoroughbred horse breeder. As he described in the preface to his non-fiction work “Horse of a Different Color: A Tale of Breeding Geniuses, Dominant Females, and the Fastest Derby Winner Since Secretariat,” “But it is safe to say that my chances of becoming a successful racehorse breeder were no better than even with those of me ending up homeless living under the ‘el’ in a cardboard box. That I might eventually breed and raise the winner of the most famous and important horse race in the world—thus climbing to a second pinnacle of sorts—was beyond even an imagination as fertile as my own.”
Succeed Squires did, breeding the winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby. Monarchos won the coveted crown and was the first horse Squires bred to win this remarkable distinction. As he wrote about Monarchos’ success and seeing his name on the breeder’s trophy, Squires said “[T]he day my name was inscribed on it I claimed a tiny, coveted, precious spot in history for an achievement that, dubious or not, will likely define my life as much as anything else I have ever, or will ever, do—however unfair that might be to the rest of my existence.”
We think that, while Jim Squires has certainly led a colorful life full of accomplishments that most of us can only dream of, there is just as likely an accomplishment or two still out there that he has yet conquered. Traveling to the moon, for instance. Or winning a Grammy. But even if Squires, one of Nashville’s most beloved native sons, contents himself with raising horses and continuing to write compelling works of fiction and non-fiction, we will be pleased as punch.