Friendly Texan Conquers New York Media World
By Mary Denny
Don’t let the Justin boots and the cheerfully drawled “Howdy” fool you. Joe Armstrong ’65 is one savvy and sophisticated dude. And in spite of being what New York columnist Liz Smith calls a “professional Texan,” he has taken the New York publishing world by storm.
Joe’s meteoric career spans four decades and includes editing, publishing, and/or consulting stints with such successful publications as Rolling Stone, New York, New West, USA Today, Saveur, Worth, Travel & Leisure, Time, and Random House Books. For the last five years, he has applied his considerable talents to ABC News, where he advised the president and worked particularly with Diane Sawyer and Peter Jennings.
Along the way, the tall, genial Abilene native has befriended and charmed the Who’s Who of New York. A January 2003 profile titled “Nice Guys Finish First” in Avenue, an insider New York magazine, lauded Joe as “universally beloved for his loyalty, his decency, and his gargantuan enthusiasm for the people and ideals in which he believes.” And, they were quick to point out, “he’s anything but pious and dull.” When the late Jackie Onassis heard he occasionally liked to play “Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life” on a speaker outside his window, she invited him to lunch. The close friendship they established lasted until her death.
Friendship is as important to Joe as his jobs and he works hard at being a good friend. His efforts have garnered a to-die-for Rolodex and an impressive circle of famous A-list friends. Yet to those who knew him when, he is still the same gracious, big-hearted guy he’s always been and a good man to have on your side.
Despite his claim that he has “always been married to my jobs,” Joe has found time to serve on the board of the Citizens Committee of New York, which funds programs for under privileged neighborhoods. In the ’80s, with the help of close friends and fellow board members Barbara Walters, Walter Cronkite, and Gloria Steinem, he chaired two of the first mega benefits for the care of AIDS victims. His pals Robin Williams, Bette Midler, and Billy Crystal contributed their talent, and the events raised more than $4 million.
This summer, Joe embarks on a well-deserved yearlong sabbatical from ABC. In addition to some traveling, he will spend a month as a counselor at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang camp for seriously ill children and plans to attend his 40th class reunion at Trinity this fall. He’ll also begin work on a book about his incredible trajectory from busboy down at the Dixie Pig in Abilene to top of the media heap in the Big Apple. The Best Seller list can’t be far behind.