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Furman Bisher kept us digging, all these years

If I hadn’t been so blindly in love with the newspaper business, Furman Bisher might have driven me out of it, back to the office supply store where I had worked while I waited for a job at the old Charlotte News.

This was way back, late 40’s, early 50’s. Bisher was my sports editor and I was a rookie flailing around trying to lay out the sports pages and doing a poor job of it, which meant, in his eyes, I rarely got it right. That wasn’t an easy thing for the skinny kid in over his head to handle.

Bisher finally gave up on me and switched me off the desk to a writing assignment. Hell to heaven. That worked out pretty well. I’ve been indebted to him ever since, for the chance and for making me understand the pursuit of perfection.

I’ve never written a column that I thought was perfect but I was shooting for that when I wrote it. Echoing silently in my mind were Bisher’s parting words to me when he left the News and went to work in Atlanta: “Keep digging.”

Furman Bisher, longtime Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist, passed away Sunday at the age of 93 and I lost a friend and an idol and the world lost one of the best sports writers who ever typed a line. He knew his stuff, always going in prepared, and he wrote it in a distinctive style that seemed almost musical. He took his time saying what he wanted to say and reading it was like enjoying a leisurely gourmet dinner. I loved reading his columns, never failed to read every word of them when I could.

His travels often brought him to his native North Carolina (he was from Denton) to write about a football game between a Georgia team and one of our Big Four. Never mind that he was one of the biggest names in sportswriting, he worked harder than anybody else in the press box. He would write a column for the early editions, maybe describing the campus, the weather, the crowd making its way into the stadium, relatively meaningless tidbits but from his keyboard, they read beautifully. Then when the game was over he would write a lengthy account of the game and then another column, twiddling with a curl that hung down on his forehead as he chose his words. It was not unusual for him to be the last writer out of the press box.

He cared that much. And perfect takes a little more time.

His favorite was baseball. He covered the old Charlotte Hornets for the News and wrote stories befitting the major leagues.

One of his other favorites was golf. He liked to tell people he taught me how to play. That’s not how I remember it but I liked the memories of our days at the old Eastwood course.

He was planning to attend the Masters this year, something he’s done for more than 60 years. It was the one assignment he kept when he retired a few years ago. The picture will not be complete without him. That seat he always occupies in the press room will be empty and some beautiful words will go unwritten.

Ron Green Sr. is a retired columnist who covered sports for the Charlotte News and Charlotte Observer. He retired in 1999.