Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Remembering Bob August's way with words

A lot of wonderful words were written about Bob August when he passed away last month.

All of them were appropriate, because he was a wordsmith par excellence, and everyone who ever met him walked away with the feeling that they had just encountered a rare and sage human being.
I read all of those tributes, and they were all well-deserved.

Former colleagues from both The News-Herald and the now non-existent Cleveland Press extolled Bob’s virtues, and I whole-heartedly second all of the comments.

Writers as skilled as Jim Ingraham, Bob Sudyk, Paul Hoynes, Dick Feagler and Bill Livingston saluted his wit and wisdom.

For Bob was much more than a talented columnist. He was also a warm human being whose presence was such that it seemed almost magical just to be around him, let alone share in his carefully chosen words of praise, criticism, chastisement or whatever mood happened to possess him at the time.

The U.S. Navy veteran started at the Press as a copy editor in 1946 and he soon became a sportswriter. His talents were quickly recognized. He was promoted to sports editor in 1958.

From 1964 until 1979, he wrote a sports column, and he was so entertaining that it is entirely possible I read every word he ever wrote — at least, those that were published in the newspaper.

Remember, those were the good old days, when the words of a columnist went directly onto a plate that was hitched to a high-speed press, which then caused them to be whirled out the door onto an awaiting truck and to the area’s news stands or into the hands of 12-year-olds who delivered them to your front door.

What I am trying to say is that those marvelous and pithy words were not filtered through the Internet by way of a computer, with everyone who reads them being invited to offer a comment.

No, those were the days when you got ink on your hands from reading the paper, not eyestrain from switching on an electrical gadget and hoping the modem is working – or whatever it is that runs a computer.

In 1967, the Press realized it had a hot commodity on its hands that should not be restricted to the sports pages, which is often the third or fourth section back in the paper.

Figuring that some readers might suffer fatigue before getting to sports, the moguls at the Press (I don’t know if the legendary Louis B. Seltzer was still living them) believed Bob needed better exposure, so they put him up front as a general columnist.

There Bob no longer had to confine his musings to the world in which grown men and women play games while wearing the garb of children.

The fact that those grown-ups often acted like children did not escape Bob’s attention.

His reputation broadened. He became nationally syndicated. He called his column “The Wiser Side of 60,” and he once published a book by that title.

When the Press folded in 1982, Bob joined The News-Herald as sports editor, but his main chore — his specialty — was writing a column.

With Bob August and TV writer Bill Barrett coming here from the Press, plus the arrival of Hal Lebowitz from the Plain Dealer, suddenly we had the best stable of writers around. I almost forgot Dorothy Fuldheim. Those folks gave us glitter, seven days a week.

And Paul Hoynes, Bob Roberts, Dick Feagler and Dan Coughlin weren’t exactly chopped liver when they were at The News-Herald around that time. We were like the 1927 Yankees – except that our Murderers’ Row killed ’em with laughter.

Bob August’s office was arm’s length from my office for many years. I often reminded him of a line he created which I thought was his all-time best.

It seems Denny McLain, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, had a running feud with a local sports columnist. So once he balanced a bucket of cold water on top of a door so that when the writer entered the locker room the water cascaded down on him and he was drenched.

Bob wrote about the incident in feigned anger and outrage. He was incensed that McLain would dare undertake such a practical joke.

“Doesn’t he know what sportswriters pay for their clothes?” Bob wrote in mock indignation.

“That writer was in danger of being trapped in a rapidly shrinking suit.”


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