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He passes ... Don Newbury, a speaker at Monday’s Men’s Power Lunch at the First Baptist Church activities building, throws a bag of his trademark popcorn to an audience member. Newbury, a columnist and former president of Howard Payne University, shared many jokes and humorous anecdotes, sandwiched between brief Christian messages.

A humorist knew months in advance his Gainesville appearance would take place on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rather than dispense with the jokes and the site gags on the solemn occasion, he weaved into his presentation a pejorative but profound look at post-9/11 America.

“Let’s not take ourselves too seriously,” Don Newbury, columnist, humor writer and former president of Howard Payne University from 1986-2000 said in closing a speech at the Men’s Power Lunch at the First Baptist Church activities building Monday.

Newbury, a Burleson resident and published author whose columns appear in 125 newspapers in Texas, was introduced by Raymond Root of Gainesville, who served on the HPU board of regents during Newbury’s administration.

Newbury, rather than giving a long narrative or sermon typical of most Men’s Power Lunch speakers, spoke in humorous anecdotes, barbs and tid-bits of wisdom — taking time to jot down which jokes he felt were not “worth mentioning again.”

He received much laughter and applause from the room. He tossed out large bags of popcorn to men who answered several trivia questions correctly.

He noted his “trademark” bags of popcorn can no longer be carried on airline flights, he said, as the Federal Aviation Administration banned “white, powdery substances” in wake of a recent terrorist plot in the U.K. in August.

Even his wife’s knitting needles were confiscated, he said.

“They thought she was making an Afghan,” he remarked.

In brief spurts of seriousness, Newbury commented on how 9/11 changed the world and how the message of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ has changed lives.

He noted that in the New York Times following Sept. 11, 2001, obituaries were replaced by “accounts of lives” for those murdered in the terrorist attacks. He said 2,600 brief stories were run on those lost in the World Trade Towers by Easter Sunday 2002.

Newbury’s message was one of making the most out of individual lives, whether it’s one’s own life or the lives of other people.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of people over the years, and most were worth dealing with,” he said, paraphrasing a personal friend.

As one of many anecdotes he shared of others’ experiences, he said he was in Oklahoma for a speech, and the hotel at which he was staying was hosting a Willie Nelson look-alike competition. He said the real Nelson was nearby and decided to pay a visit. In a nonchalant manner the Red-Headed Stranger snuck in the back door and competed in the impersonation contest.

“He came in fourth,” Newbury said.

On another entertainment-related note, Newbury commented how Gainesville appreciates football games of many varieties — professional, high school and collegiate.

He said HPU was never too celebratory regarding tossing the pigskin.

“We don’t get too excited about HPU — we’re excited if we win the coin toss,” he said.

In an interview following his speech, Newbury said “being around people” is the inspiration behind his comedy material, which has been taken with him to more than 5,000 speaking engagements in 45 states.

In addition to serving as HPU president and president of Western Texas Junior College in Snyder, Newbury was editor of a weekly newspaper in Bangs and a correspondent for other papers, which he said placed him in the lives of many people. Newbury merged his passion for communication and athletics as a sports director with syndicated sports show on many Texas radio stations, serving as a high school basketball official and later as a publicist for the Lone Star Athletic Conference.

Prior to Newbury’s speech, Donna Martin of Gainesville, herself a regular attendee of Gainesville Leopards athletic events with her husband Mike Martin, sung a contemporary Christian song while guests dined on roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Newbury said a woman had to be brought in for the mens’ event because men can’t “carry a tune as well as the ladies.”

Mike Martin took a few flash photos of Newbury with a disposable camera, and was retaliated against by the brighter flash of an antique Kodak Brownie camera’s flash bulb held by Newbury.

“Good job, Mike. Just as we rehearsed,” he said.

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The next Power Lunch, though it is monthly event, is not a month away. On Oct. 2, New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson is scheduled to speak.

Other planned speakers include: Steve Baird, a speaker who compared creationism to the theory of evolution, Nov. 13; Dr. Jim Denison, pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church who will discuss stem cell research Dec. 4; Team Impact, a group of strongmen with a Christian message, Jan. 8, 2007; Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church, Feb. 12, 2007; Dr. Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University, March 5, 2007; and Don Piper, author of “90 Minutes in Heaven,” an account of a near-death experience, April 2, 2007.

On May 7, 2007, a forum of local education is scheduled, featuring several local school and college administrators.

For more information on the Men’s Power Lunch contact First Baptist Church at 665-4347.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net