Furman Bisher ‘never wrote a bad column’

Published 9:27 am Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I am thankful for the opportunity to write each week for this newspaper, and, generally speaking, coming up with a weekly column is not too difficult. I will admit that there are those weeks when I feel that I hit the nail on the head and there are others where I am left to wonder whether anyone will read past the first sentence. That’s 52 weeks a year.

I admire writers who can endure many years and write more than one time a week. One such writer died this past week and when I read of his voluminous output through the years, I was impressed, but not surprised, for I had been reading him for the last 50 or so years.

Furman Bisher died of a massive heart attack, according to the obituary, this past Sunday. Bisher, in his heyday, had been the sports editor of the afternoon daily, The Atlanta Journal. He began the Atlanta portion of his long career in 1950 and, officially, retired in 2009. During his last years, he had ceased to be the editor and was more of a sports columnist emeritus.

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Between 1950 and 2009, he wrote 10,000 columns. At my current pace, I will write my 10,000th column in about 192 years. I will be more than 250 years old and I wonder if the accolades for me will be as generous and gracious as they have been for Mr. Bisher.

I can only imagine that if I continue for another 190 years, the conversation after my passing will be interesting, to say the least. I also wonder if what was said about Mr. Bisher would be said about me. I am almost certain it will not be the same.

Jim Minter, Bisher’s boss at The Journal for many of those years, said, “He never wrote a bad column.” I’ve never been told that I wrote a bad column, per se, but I have been told that “I really like some of them.” Which leads me to think, “Were some of them really not liked?” But today I want to remember Furman Bisher.

Actually, I want to recall the days of yesterday when one of the great joys of life was getting a Sunday combined version of the Atlanta newspapers, The Constitution and The Journal. It must have been two inches thick and the sports section, particularly in the fall of the year, was chock full of Saturday college football coverage.

Furman Bisher would have covered the Georgia Tech game and his very worthy colleague and competitor, Jesse Outlar, would have been present and accounted for at the University of Georgia game. In addition to their unique perspectives on the games, at least two or three other reporters would have been a part of the paper’s coverage of those two games.

Those two games would not have been the only games to read about. Just about every game in the Southeastern Conference would have a full report. In addition, games of national interest, like Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Southern California, Texas and many others would have articles and statistics.

The sports pages for the Sunday edition of major city newspapers were huge and very enjoyable to sports nuts like me. That kind of newspaper enjoyment is gone with the wind. Too bad.

College football was not the only sport that interested me. Furman Bisher, as the sports editor, would cover all kinds of games. He loved golf and was a mainstay and walking encyclopedia of Georgia’s great Masters golf tournament. He covered it for more than 60 years and enjoyed playing the course. He was a friend of the tournament’s founder, Bobby Jones, and probably called him by his first name.

He also knew Ty Cobb, Georgia’s greatest baseball player, and had even seen him play. His 1949 interview with infamous and banned baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson might have been his greatest scoop. He was a mover and shaker in the quest for Major League Baseball in Atlanta. In fact, he saw Atlanta move from just one of the South’s big cities to the “major league” city of the region.

He was there at the beginning of that sport known as stock car racing. He knew it when the drivers were former moonshine deliverers and the sport was known only in redneck circles. As other more “sophisticated” writers from other areas of the country looked down their noses at it and would not allow coverage in their highbrow papers, Bisher was using his God-given talent to introduce another sport to the world.

He saw Joe Louis box. Johnny Unitas pass. Hank Aaron hit homeruns. Richard Petty drive. Jack Nicklaus putt. Wilt Chamberlain dunk. He saw the Milwaukee Braves become the Atlanta Braves. His city hosted the Olympics. He never missed the Kentucky Derby. He once sent Lewis Grizzard a dozen pair of socks for those sockless feet of his.

Furman Bisher accomplished a lot in a lifetime that began in rural North Carolina. His 10,000 columns touched millions of lives and one of them was me. One more interesting thing.

He typed his first column in 1950 on a manual Royal typewriter. He kept it and when it was time for the last one, it was still in working condition. For his last column, he used the same typewriter. I wonder if he, Grizzard, Jesse Outlar, and many others are having a good old time right this very moment. I hope so.