Joe Courrege Deftly Handled Media on Terrible Day

The following Dallas Morning News article by Jacquielynn Floyd was Published in June of 2002

Garland – If they gave out grades for that kind of thing, I’d have to give a pretty high rating to the church elder who got stuck with the luckless job of media handler at Metro Church on Monday. It cannot have been an easy task to wrangle a herd of 40 or so news people who camped out at the church after news broke of the bus crash that killed four camp-bound students and injured dozens more.

On top of that, the church was jammed with frantic parents, kids distraught about their friends, parishioners trading rumors and well-meaning people who wanted to help but were probably just getting in the way.

Joe Courrege brought order to the chaos with surprising grace. For one thing, he knew that the best way to cope with the media is to appeal to their better natures.

He asked us not to badger the church members waiting for news in the sanctuary, and, by and large, we didn’t. He gave regular statements in a makeshift meeting room off the church foyer. He behaved as if we were reasonable people trying to do our jobs instead of shameless hucksters eager to turn private grief into a lurid carnival slideshow.

Listen, if we were really as good at getting our way and manipulating the news as some folks seem to think, members of my profession would have a better public image. As it is, our reputation sometimes precedes us like a bad smell, which causes people to treat us like a scavenging pack of wild hyenas.

Mr. Courrege did a pretty good job of keeping us informed while protecting those people who wanted to be left alone. He came across as a friendly, smart guy who knew how to handle a crisis.

He was so good, in fact, that I thought he must have experience in meeting the press. Which, as it turns out, he does.

“Well, I’ve been a sports agent,” he told me as offhandedly as somebody might say they ¬†once gace a speech at the Elks Lodge. “I’ve handled some NFL players.”

That was something of an understatement. If you followed sports in Dallas, in, say, the mid-to late 1980s, you knew his name.

Joe Courrege, in fact, was a Dallas big shot, a name, a player. His clients included Steve Pelluer, Gary Hogeboom, Ray Childress, Lawrence Taylor. He made million-dollor deals as casually as I’d order a pizza. He had complicated investments and real estate holdings. He owned race horses.

He lived what most of us would consider to be the large life, which can also make your business more public than you’d like. His personal bankruptcy made the newspaper in 1990.

That was all several years back, and if he ever harbored a grudge against the media, he seems past it. I thought he had a good, intuitive understanding of how to cope with reporters in a trying situation.

But, maybe more to the point, he also understands the random nature of tragedy. he knows firsthand how disaster can strike you on an ordinary Monday morning just a couple of hours after you’ve packed your child safely aboard a bus bound for church camp.

“Two years ago, my son died in a head-on collision,” Mr. Courrege said. “We were shaken to the core with that loss.”

The death of his 27-year-old son led Mr. Courrege to focus a lot less on sports and a lot more on faith. Religion got him through the darkest episode of his life, he said as he believes that religion will support the families who lost their children so unexpectedly Monday.

“This kind of thing happens every day. We’re just not all touched by it,” he said. “Good men are lost in battle. Nobody lives in this life forever.”

I asked him, for the record, what grade he would give the media clustered at the church on Monday. At that moment, many of them were sitting dejectedly on a curb eating french fries out of paper cartons, waiting for the next update and wishing it weren’t so hot. None of us really looked like the scourge of modern civilization.

“Oh, I’d give the press an ‘A’,” he said kindly. “It’s doing a good job, from my perspective. I just want to help.”

He did help, a lot, on what was probably the hardest day the 8-year-old church has had to face.

Metro Church suffered a terrible loss Monday. But it was lucky to have Joe Courrege on hand when it happened.

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