GAINESVILLE — Jack Elrod Jr., a Gainesville native who spent 64 years working on the nationally syndicated outdoor comic “Mark Trail,” died Wednesday. He was 91.
Elrod began his time with the comic strip alongside its creator, fellow Gainesville native Ed Dodd, in 1950 and took over the strip in 1978 before retiring in 2014.
He also won numerous conservation awards from agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Forest Service. Dodd began the comic in 1946.
Elrod helped promoted NOAA’s Weather Radio with his comics, while also aiding the Department of the Interior in its conservation efforts through the comics.
“He was probably an environmentalist long before it was the in thing to do,” his son Jack Elrod III said.
Elrod is one of three men from Gainesville to have been at the helm of “Mark Trail,” following Dodd and preceding the current writer and artist, James Allen.
Elrod served as a weatherman for the U.S. Navy in World War II.
George Wilcox, who worked for NOAA Weather Radio, said he appreciated the way Elrod tackled subjects such as rip currents and other weather safety topics in “Mark Trail.”
Wilcox started an award program through the National Weather Service to honor corporations who had helped the weather service, and Elrod was regularly honored by the group. Once Wilcox connected with Elrod in 1995 about promoting Weather Radio in the comic, a friendship was born. Wilcox said Elrod “was everybody’s favorite uncle and best friend.”
“He was so giving that you wanted to do something to give back,” Wilcox said.
The family will hold a private service.
Allen met Elrod for the first time in 2004 and said he was grateful for the way Elrod took an interest in him and met with him through the years as part of a “tutoring” process. He helped Elrod in 2007 and began working behind the scenes on “Mark Trail” in 2013 before taking the reins in March 2014 when Elrod retired.
Allen recalled going to have lunch with Elrod every couple of weeks in 2013, and sometimes Elrod would make lunch for him. He said that underscored the humble nature of the nationally syndicated cartoonist.
“My life changed overnight,” Allen said. “It’s because of him.”
The cartoonist also remained open to feedback. A 6-year-old fan wrote to Elrod in the 1980s asking why the title character Mark smoked a pipe.
“It is bad for his health, pollutes the air, and it is dangerous to the birds,” the child wrote.
Elrod took the letter to heart.
“That kind of hit my dad,” Jack Elrod III said. “And he agreed with the young fan and immediately had Mark Trail stop smoking his pipe.”
Elrod’s son even remembers seeing a “no pipe” note hanging in his father’s drawing room to give himself a constant reminder of the change.
The cartoonist also created “The Ryatts” comic strip.
Jack Elrod III recalled going to Washington, D.C., when his father received awards. Elrod would open the door for the doorman at the Army and Navy Club.
“That exemplified the type of guy he was, a true Southern gentleman,” Jack Elrod III said.