May 17th, 2017

Reed: White is one of the good guys

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor 

Reed: White is one of the good guys
Bob White (left) with Billy Reed (right) / file photo

To understand why Bob White is one of the most beloved journalists in the commonwealth’s history, it’s necessary to go back to the long-ago days before smart phones, Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour cable networks, and the other essentials of modern life.

A graduate of Lafayette High in Lexington and the University of Kentucky, White joined The Courier-Journal in 1959 and succeeded Earl Cox as the paper’s main high school beat writer in 1962. The era in question, which now seems golden, lasted from then until the mid-1980s, when computers were beginning to take over our lives.

Cox was fond to say there were four things that tied the commonwealth together: The State Fair, the Boys’ State Basketball Tournament, Kentucky Wildcat basketball, and The Courier-Journal.

He was correct, although he could have added WHAS 840 radio, the 50,000-watt radio station in Louisville that began every day with Barney Arnold’s farm report. The radio station and The Courier-Journal were part of the Bingham family media empire that also included The Louisville Times, WHAS-11 television, and Standard Gravure.

Perennially ranking by Time magazine as one of America’s top 10 newspapers, The C-J had home delivery in all 120 of the state’s counties. Its editorial pages were feared and loathed in Washington, D.C., and Frankfort, but they also had much to do with setting the political agenda and reminding readers of our moral obligations.

The C-J sports department devoted much time and space to covering high school sports. Every night we put out four separate editions designed to fit the needs of readers in the far reaches of the state, Central Kentucky, southern Indiana, and the Louisville metropolitan area.

On game nights, Bob White was usually out covering a game somewhere. His presence stamped the game as very important and everyone knew he was in the house. But if Bob noticed, he paid no attention. Modest to a fault, he was there to do a job, not have his virtually non-existent ego massaged.

In the office at Sixth and Broadway, the phones rang off their hooks on game nights due to Bob’s platoon of correspondents, who called in the results of every game in their district or region. It was a big deal for a small-town writer to be a correspondent for The C-J and maybe even get a by-line every now and then.

As much as he was a writer and reporter, Bob was a meticulous record-keeper. He kept cards on every team in the state, and his filing cabinets bulged with information about players and teams from the past and present.

Bob was, and still is, a walking encyclopedia about Kentucky high school sports. A human Google before there was an internet Google.

Want to know how many touchdowns Dicky Lyons of St. Xavier scored against Trinity? Ask Bob. Want to know who made The C-J All-State Basketball Team in 1957? Bob knew. And he was more than happy to share all his information with colleagues and even the Kentucky High School Athletics Association.

For many of us who entered the newspaper business at that time, the high school beat was more or less on-the-job training. We learned how to keep our own play-by-play notes and statistics because there were no sports information departments to do the work for us. We learned how to write on deadline, how to conduct interviews, how to do game stories, sidebars and columns.

But then, when opportunity knocked, we moved on to jobs considered more prestigious. Many of us aspired to be columnists on big-city dailies or to cover professional or college teams. Some used their training on the high-school beat to go into different sections of the paper.

But Bob was different. All Bob ever wanted to do was cover high school sports for The C-J. He loved meeting athletes at a young age and then following their development. He loves to talk about the players who were blessed with the talent necessary to become college or pro stars.

One reason for Bob’s popularity is that he never wrote opinion columns. He stuck to the games and the stats. But this made him a wonderful ambassador for The C-J. His reputation for sticking to the facts meant that players and coaches trusted him immediately. They knew he was interested in contests, not controversy.

Mike Pollio remembers calling Bob after he was named the coach at Manual High.

“Guess who got the Manual job?” Pollio said.

“Who’d want it?” responded Bob.

He was a gentleman and a professional at all times. Back in the 1960s and maybe later, he often would wear a coat and tie to games. He also sported those snap-brim fedoras that were popular among middle-aged men. He was invariably polite, and treated everyone who crossed his path with respect and friendliness.

I have so many memories of Bob, all good ones. For years, he and Bob Adair ate dinner in either The C-J cafeteria or the Blue Boar on Fourth Street. I can see him taking his meticulous notes at the press table during games. I can hear him questioning a coach or telling a story in that high-pitched voice of his.

We had quite a team at The C-J for many years, and Bob was the perfect teammate. To use a basketball phrase, he made others around him better. He was solid and reliable as Wes Unseld going for a rebound he really needed, or Jeff Brohm on fourth-and-one. He executed no matter the chaos going on around him.

Now 83, Bob recently was a victim of identity theft. I will not go into the sordid details, except to say that he lost just about everything through no fault of his own. When the news got out, the friends he has made along the way – former colleagues, retired coaches, former players, and Commissioner Julian Tackett of the KHSAA – came to his aid.

Through a GoFundMe account and a Bob White Appreciation Reception held Monday night at Bellarmine University, more than $20,000 has been raised to help Bob. That doesn’t begin to cover the extent of his losses, but it helps tremendously.

Anybody still interested in helping Bob can take their checks into any branch of BB&T bank and ask that they deposited into the Bob White fund, or they may send them to attorney Eugene “Judge” Mosley at 214 Breckenridge Lane, Louisville, 40207.


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