Waco Chat

Preston Kirk

By Kevin Tankersley

Actor, Journalist, Waco Native

“I’m just pleased to be alive….”

I was the mouse in “The Night Before Christmas” in the first grade. And I’ve wanted to be the center of attention ever after. Then high school drama. I won a drama medal at La Vega. I was editor of the campus paper, the Jolly Roger, and I was editor of the campus literary magazine.

I worked two summers at Six Flags Over Texas as an entertainer and came back for my fourth year at Baylor. And I lost my nerve. I couldn’t get on the stage. Part of it was attributable to a professor who said, ‘You don’t belong here. You don’t have the talent, and you’re not going to have the staying power and you’re wasting a lot of people’s time.’

I was majoring in theater and had been for nearly four years. And so I went to take a test and it said, ‘You could be a reporter. You could be a pediatrician, or you might be a preacher.’ And I said, ‘Well, I know how to write.’ And I’d had a love of writing. So I went over to journalism and signed up. I worked on the [Baylor] Lariat. I did Friday night football at the Waco Tribune, then went to Montreal, and did a long series on Expo ’67 for Bill Foster’s Waco Citizen.

(At UPI in Houston), I covered presidential campaign swings, medical transplants. I think there might be a serial killing in there. Apollo 8 through Apollo 14. I covered Muhammad Ali’s draft evasion trial, Dr. Timothy Leary’s marijuana trial, not his LSD trial. I was in the right place. Thank you, Lord.

I helped start Houston Business Journal in July 1971. It was the first single city business weekly tabloid. Then I started my own PR firm, Kirk Public Relations. I’ve had 14 professional jobs. I’ve had the most interesting career.

I went back to acting in 2000 at Hill Country Community Theatre, in Cottonwood Shores. Now, 35 productions later, I’ve been in 35-plus movies, as a principal, bit, background, support, extra. I’ve done 24 commercials, two of them [aired during the] Super Bowl and one Final Four. And of course, I was in “1883” back in September, and that was a lot of fun.

[On moving back to Waco:] We’re not getting any younger. Spicewood, Texas, is unincorporated, the largest unincorporated community in Texas. Everything was at least 15 to 25 miles to get to any kind of emergency services. I want to be closer to my siblings. And I want to be close to Baylor. We’re benefactors.

We’re both full body donors. And I believe in that because I covered the first heart transplant, the first artificial heart, the first double lung, the first grand slam, that’s where one donor gives to five recipients. And I covered the first xenotransplantation.
You hear of the pig’s heart, the guy that died recently in Baltimore. Well, that was from a genetically engineered pig’s heart. The one I covered was the one [Dr. Denton] Cooley did [in 1969]. My story went around the world. I’m proud of the kind of stories I’ve gotten to cover. I’m just pleased to be alive, and I’ve had so many grand experiences I just I slap myself in the morning and go, ‘Thank you, God, for another day.’

The Drink: For an afternoon snack at Olive Branch, Kirk had a muffin and a mug of hot chocolate. One of the best things about moving back to Waco, he said, was finding new places to eat and drink. “We’ve discovered so many things we like about Waco,” he said, “including places like this.”

Cutline: If you watched late-night TV in the early 2000s, perhaps you remember a commercial for the “patented Johnny-Light,” a small light that could be installed on a toilet to make it easier for nighttime use. The star of the commercial, which is available for viewing on YouTube, is Albert, a beleaguered husband. That role is played by Preston Kirk, a graduate of La Vega High School and Baylor University. Kirk had a long career in journalism – he got fired from United Press International…twice – and public relations, and has an impressive acting resume as well including recently working on “1883,” the prequel to the popular television series, “Yellowstone.” He and his wife of 54 years, Woodway native Ronda Dale Kirk, recently moved back to Waco from Spicewood.

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