The byline should have been the first clue.
Who knows how many other people have the given name Caulton, but there was only one Caulton Tudor.
Tudor covered it all – from the epic 1974 ACC title game between N.C. State and Maryland to Christian Laettner’s last-second shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament to the Stanley Cup and the Super Bowl – in more than 50 years in the journalism business.
Caulton Tudor died in his Raleigh home on Wednesday. He was 70.
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“He was a character,” said Inez Tudor, his wife of 30 years. “That’s for sure.”
Only to his mom was he Caulton. Tudor, or “Toot” as decades of ACC coaches and professional colleagues called him, wrote more than 6,000 stories for the Raleigh Times and then The News & Observer in his 44-year career as a sports columnist for the city newspapers. When he left the paper in 2013, he wrote regular columns for the Capitol Broadcasting Co. until his death.
Tudor was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in the spring and the national U.S. Basketball Writers’ Association Hall of Fame in 1999. He won dozens of writing awards, national and in the state of North Carolina, for his columns.
Tudor was known for his quick wit, an uncanny ability to write on deadline and greeting every stranger and friend alike with “Hey, babe!” His knowledge of ACC basketball was only matched by his love for his grandsons and Cocker Spaniels.
Perhaps Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said it best when Tudor left the N&O in 2013: “Caulton Tudor, he has been the ACC.”
Tudor, who grew up in Angier and went to East Carolina, got his start in the newspaper business writing a weekly baseball column in the Harnett County News in the 1960s.
One summer while attending ECU in 1969, Tudor worked with Barnes Plumbing and installed sewer lines. Turned out, he ran a line in front of a Garner home that belonged to Bruce Phillips, who was the sports editor of the Raleigh Times.
The two hit it off right away. Tudor was hired as a full-time sports department employee. He would cover 24 Final Fours and 40 ACC tournaments for the Times and The N&O, which he joined in 1989.
He was a giant from a bygone era in the newspaper business.
“Caulton was an excellent analyst of college sports and had deep historical knowledge of the ACC. Because of that, he had a large and loyal following. He also was a great colleague. We will miss him greatly,” said John Drescher, executive editor of The News & Observer.
A.C. Snow, former editor of The Raleigh Times and longtime News & Observer columnist, remembered Tudor as “one of the most talented sportswriters in the state, if not the country. He also was one of the best people I’ve ever known.”
To ACC commissioner John Swofford, he was “a prominent and important part of the North Carolina and ACC sports scene. His was a respected voice in this state’s storied sports history, and his love for his profession showed in the quality of his work and his demeanor. He will be missed by many.”
Tudor had stories about sharing cigarettes with Dean Smith in the bowels of Reynolds Coliseum and trading late-night quips with Jim Valvano in an Albuquerque hotel. If Damon Runyon had written about Southern sportswriters, Tudor would have been the template.
“He was real, and he never changed,” said Ed Hardin, a longtime columnist for the Greensboro News & Record.
Tudor was at his best writing about the ACC and when he was on deadline. He was impervious to pressure, which perhaps was a by-product of playing in the longest high school basketball game in North Carolina history.
Tudor’s Angier team lost to Boone Trail in 13 overtimes in the Harnett County Championship in 1964. There’s still a plaque commemorating the game in his home in the Hayes Barton section of Raleigh. Tudor’s first name is misspelled on the plaque.
Nobody was ever quite sure if it was “Carlton” or “Caulton” but his writing style was definitely unique. Many N&O readers remember Tudor’s NCAA tournament picks (“Going Sweet” and “Might Flop”) and his summer vacation column.
Some of Tudor’s best lines came from his annual vacation column about his adventures, like the one to Lake Powell, Arizona in 1998.
“We took along a small fortune in groceries, enough bottled water to grow rice in Iraq,” Tudor wrote.
Many of his best lines never made it to print. Some writers can turn a phrase but some aren’t as quick in real time. That wasn’t Tudor.
During the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs, Tudor was in the media workroom at the end of regulation of an early-round game between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils.
Tudor’s N&O colleague, Chip Alexander, headed back out to the arena to watch overtime.
“Where are you going?” Tudor asked.
“I’m going to watch the end,” Alexander responded.
“What makes you think it’s gonna end?” Tudor said, in patented Tudor fashion, without missing a beat.
The end came too soon for Tudor on Wednesday. He left behind a million laughs and great memories for readers and colleagues alike.
Caulton Tudor is survived by his wife, Inez, three grandsons, a stepson, John Houston, and his brother, Rick.
A memorial will be held on Tuesday at 2 p.m. at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio