|Tribute to Bob Scott, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh|
The world loses about a million people per week, give or take a hundred thousand or so.
This is about two of them.
Bob Scott, the guy who hired me at the Lafayette Journal & Courier almost four decades ago, lost the fight against cancer a week ago Sunday. Four days later, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, the former president at the University of Notre Dame passed away. Scott was 66. Hesburgh 97. Both made a difference in countless lives, including mine.
It was around 1979 or '80, I think. Not sure. I was an ex-tennis player who had figured out he wasn't going to make a living on the court. I was looking for a job and always had a knack for writing. So I wandered into the Lafayette J&C and asked if they had any openings. God must love fools and idiots, because the lady at the desk picked up the phone and said, "Bob, there's a kid here looking for a job."
In a few minutes this guy who I thought was old - even though I'd later learn we were only about eight or nine years apart - came down, looked me over and jerked his head. He went back out the same door he just came in. I guess he meant for me to follow.
We went up some stairs and next thing I know I'm walking through the newsroom. Newsrooms used to have a specific look, a feel, a smell. Hard to describe, but that one sure did. We went back into a corner, through an open door and into the sports department. I remember Bruce Ramey was sitting at the end of the room. Tom Kubat was on the right. Jeff Washburn had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, talking to someone on the phone.
Bob Scott pointed at a chair. He still hadn't said a word to me.
"So, waddya want to do?" he said.
The accent was different. New York, maybe? I found out later it was St. Louis.
I told him I had been the sports editor of my high school paper - he managed not to laugh out loud - and that I liked to write and liked sports and . . .
There was snickering behind me.
I learned a couple of things. First, high school experience didn't hold much water. Second, Bob didn't have the final decision. A guy named Chuck Crumbo was the sports editor. Bob was the assistant but for some unknown reason said he would put in a good word for me. I also found out that the real writers on staff covered games. The job I would be doing would be grunt stuff. Taking calls, typing up box scores, running errands and anything else the full-timers didn't want to do.
It was great. I worked there for more than a year and Bob was the guy who took the most time to show me the ropes. We had a couple of common interests. He found out I boxed a little and introduced me to some guys at a local gym. Bob had a lot of boxing connections. Softball was the other tie. And softball turned out to be the key.
See, like every other part-timer there, I wanted to cover things and write more. After a while, Bob would make sure I got tossed a bone here and there. One of those was a silly column I wrote about softball. It wasn't the first time I tried writing something. And this one would've gotten tossed in the trash like all the rest, except Bob pushed for it with the boss. It ended up getting run toward the back end of a Sunday sports section in July. But it was my first column and it was that specific column that another editor said she liked when she offered me a sports editor's job a few months later.
Eventually, I moved on to bigger and better jobs and papers. A couple of times, I got a surprise call from Bob who had heard about my latest and just wanted to say congrats. That's the kind of guy he was. He ended up leaving the sports department and started writing a lot of stories about people in the greater Lafayette area. He had a soft spot for the underdog and there're very few in our business who told their tales any better.
Fast forward more than two decades. I was working at the South Bend Tribune when Editor Tim Harmon walked into my office and asked if I wanted to meet Fr. Hesburgh? Tim knew I was a huge Notre Dame fan. Twenty minutes later, we were going up the elevator of the library (it's the building with the famous "touchdown Jesus" on the side) to the 13th floor. We wound our way back through bookshelves to a very plain office door. It was hard for me to believe that such an important person could be behind a door tucked away in such a non-descript area. We went in and Fr. Hesburgh's secretary, Melanie, greeted Tim by name and escorted us right in.
I will always be obliged to Tim Harmon - now at the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette - because for the next two hours we sat there as the man who was one of the chief architects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 told us story after story after story. He talked of Lyndon and Jack and Bobby and Martin and many other world leaders who he knew on a first-name basis. He talked about being in Europe and choosing not to go to a window to see Adolf Hitler march by in a parade. He actually pulled the original typed draft of the Civil Rights Act from a file cabinet and handed it to me. I held it. It was on the old, very off-white typing paper common from the era. It had scribbles and writing over and around the typed words.
To this day, I don't know why I didn't ask Fr. Hesburgh for a blessing before we left. I wish I had.
I also have no idea if Bob Scott and Fr. Hesburgh knew each other. I wouldn't be surprised if they did. One man made a difference on a national, even a global scale. The other made a difference to a community. Both are significant achievements. Both touched countless lives, including mine.
I am forever grateful.
Article Comment Submission Form