Gary Dillard is a native of Cochise County who has escaped a couple of times, but has always returned. His parents, Jack and Hilda Dillard, were displaced southerners who left Louisiana in the early ’50s to benefit from the post-war boom in the West. His dad was an auto mechanic; his mom, a housewife.
Gary is the only one of their four children born in Arizona. He grew up in Bisbee when it was an active mining town. In fact, it was while he was absent, attending the University of Arizona in Tucson, that the local mining company made the decision to cease mining. He started out studying nuclear engineering, but soon returned to journalism for his studies. He had served as sports editor of the Bisbee Daily Review while in high school.
As a senior at UA, he got his first real taste of Arizona history when the owner of the Tombstone Epitaph, Harold O. Love, donated the local edition of that historic newspaper to the UA to use as a student laboratory. Gary was part of the first team that went to Tombstone to give that community its own local newspaper. He would serve as news editor and editor of the paper and won the John Clum Award for his contributions. [It was Clum who famously said: “Every Tombstone needs its Epitaph.”]
From there he went to the Sierra Vista Herald-Dispatch, then edited his hometown paper, the Bisbee Review. It was while he was there that the papers merged, giving both communities a daily paper.
Starts career at PAY DIRT
Soon Gary joined William C. Epler over in Bisbee at PAY DIRT mining magazine, a venerable trade magazine that had been published since 1938 and had been in Bisbee since 1968. Bill was wanting to take the magazine beyond Arizona mining, but needed more staff to do so. Thus in 1980, the New Mexico Edition was born.
As well as expanding the geographic coverage, Bill wanted to be able to create special issues. The year 1981 represented the hundredth year of Phelps Dodge in the copper industry, so Bill and Gary put together a 200-page Centennial issue. That was truly Gary’s introduction to the wealth and depth of history that surrounded his hometown and then surrounding region.
From there, he continued to study local, regional and mining history, as well as the history of the borderlands.
Shortly after that, in the mid-1980s, the copper industry took one of its periodic dips and Gary left Bisbee to exercise his limited wanderlust, heading off to Phoenix to help found Southwest Contractormagazine. One thing he discovered contributed to his appreciation of history: While most mines had extensive histories that made them interesting on several levels, most construction projects did not.
In about two years, “urban phobia” kicked in and he was out of the city. He spent a couple of years in Douglas as editor of The Daily Dispatch then was off to Safford as editor of the Eastern Arizona Courier. After a couple of years there, the politics bug bit him again. (He had been elected to the Bisbee City Council in 1980, serving one term.)
Back into politics? No, just back to Bisbee
Gary thought he might run for the state Legislature and went so far as taking out petitions and gathering signatures, testing the waters locally and in Phoenix and getting t-shirts printed. But these years came in the wake of the catastrophe of Gov. Evan Mecham’s dispute with the establishment, and Gary quickly saw that he wasn’t up to the kind of politicking that would be necessary to bring home any perks for his district and thus abandoned the race.
Soon thereafter, he received a call from Epler asking him to return to Bisbee to edit a local newspaper he had started — in competition with two that already existed in the small city — the Bisbee Gazette. That would founder in a few years due to the economy and Gary would go back to editing PAY DIRT.
Gary’s next foray into the realm of history was the publication of a 16-page booklet called “A Brief History of Bisbee” in 1995. It sold for $1 and sold several thousand copies. Unfortunately, the profit margin was just pennies each, but it became a contribution to Bisbee’s ongoing efforts to market its heritage.
Gary had married Margaret in 1993 and one of their early business ventures was printing a tabletop publication for restaurants called The Daily Diner. It included a column on history, which proved exceptionally popular. With theDiner, moreover, came a “printing press,” a Gestetner copyprinter that could be used to turn out booklets, including thick covers, as well.
Thus came a book-printing phase of life during which he was able to convert his research into a marketable product, with titles about George Warren, the hapless prospector who is credited with Bisbee’s earliest development; the Warren Ballpark, the oldest major-league-scale park in the nation; tales from early Tombstone; and a host of others.
History of the Bisbee Daily Review
By the mid-’90s, Epler died and Gary didn’t particularly get along well with the heirs, so he left again, this time to get one of his most interesting jobs. He spent a year writing a centennial history of the Bisbee Daily Review in 1998, turning out two pages of copy and photos each week for 52 weeks that traced some of the important events in Bisbee’s history as they were covered by the local newspapers.
This provided a paid gig doing what he gladly would have done for free — delving for hours on end into the microfilm of the old newspapers in the library at the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. (During that same time, he joined the board of the museum’s parent organization, serving half a decade as its chairman and was instrumental in initiating the world-class exhibit that evolved from the affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution.)
The time spend in the old newspapers gave Gary an intensive look at the early history of the community and the region, solidifying — if that needed to be done — his appreciation of the local story.
Also during the late-’90s, Gary and Margaret would attempt to publish Cochise County History Magazine, but the project survived only a few issues. Like a Phoenix, as well be recounted shortly, it would gain a new life more than a decade later.
During this time Gary also had to opportunity to spread the world about Cochise County and regional history through presentations when he began to lecture for Elderhostel, a national life-long learning program, originally designed for retirees, through Geronimo Educational Travel.
This led to much exciting work, which continues today, though on a reduced scale. Gary’s favorite was “On the Trail of Pancho Villa,” a 10-day trip through northern Mexico that led to some out-of-the-way places that few visitors will ever see. It gave him a much deeper understanding of Mexico’s culture and history over the past 140 years.
This paved the way to Gary’s additional “career” as a speaker on a wide variety of topics of history related to the region and to mining throughout Arizona.
Also at this time, Gary and Margaret began their first ventures into the use of the world wide web, publishing first a site that related to Cochise County history.
Soon thereafter, Gary would return to editing PAY DIRT, part of a more-or-less continuous relationship that has lasted 30 years — more than half his life.
Radio, then television
For about a decade, Margaret had managed Channel 2, the local origination channel that ran on the local cable network. For the most part during that time, it had been dedicated purely to advertising. (For the historians out there, the Bisbee cable system is the second-oldest in the nation, dating to the late-’40s, needed by the community because the Mule Mountains completely block the signal between Tucson and local antennas.)
But at the turn of the new century, Margaret decided that since the channel ran picture-only ads, with a digital music channel as audio, it would be possible to run a local-origin audio stream on top of that. So they went to a local restaurant, ran a phone cable from microphones sitting at a table, and each Saturday morning did a three-hour interview show, with Gary as the host, on local topics.
The show was an instant hit. It wasn’t long until she also discovered that it was simply to hook in an inexpensive video camera and do it as a TV show instead of “radio.” To accommodate video, the show moved back to the studio on Bisbee Road and “Focus on Bisbee” took off, again hosted by Gary (who says he has a “face made for radio.”) The show was broadcast live on Fridays and replayed throughout Friday and Saturday. Thomas (b. 1993), who was being home-schooled, was able to serve as cameraman while Margaret ran the editing equipment.
The subsequent acquisition of higher-end video equipment, and learning how to edit video via Adobe Premier, let Gary look for more complex video jobs and was able to produce a variety of projects, including videos for the Mining Museum and the Queen Mine Tour.
Then in late 2009, Margaret decided to follow up on something that they had been discussing for several years — creation of a county-wide television show. New technologies and the availability of access, at a price, to much of the county through local cable providers, made this possible. Cochise County TV thus saw the light of day in January 2010. Gary served as a host and as a “consultant” for that show.
Meanwhile, a project Gary had been working on for the better part of a decade, Western Audio History, came to fruition. By year-end 2009, he finally had created his first “spoken word” CD, “A Brief History of Bisbee,” which was published in January 2010. He currently is working on a book that will accompany that CD and the second audio history, “The Bisbee Deportation.”
He also continues to serve on the board of directors of the Copper Queen Community Hospital, one of the most forward-looking small hospitals in the nation, having served in several offices of the board, including president.
Back to the web
Most recently, while he continues to edit PAY DIRT, Gary has been serving as a “consultant” to Margaret’s business, Prism Communications, which has moved into website development and social media marketing. He works on blog development, electronic newsletters and training presentations on the use of social media by businesses, government organizations and nonprofits.
As the purpose of this site indicates, Gary also is moving to take the historical research and writing he has done in the past couple of decades and make it available to the world again. While there is a continuing interest in Bisbee, regional and borderlands history, much of his work lies fallow, having been out of publication for a decade or more.
With so much opportunity presented by the internet, that situation is unnecessary and is in the process of being remedied. The effort is likely to take several years (this is written in mid-2011), but will put numerous exciting stories into the hands of casual visitors and history afficionados in the months and years to come.