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The Post's Shirley Povich

Shirley Povich Tribute

  Shirley Povich's Biography

Compiled by The Washington Post Staff
October 15, 1997

Povich With Post Publisher Don Graham
Shirley Povich hugs Washington Post publisher Donald Graham at a 1997 party celebrating his 75th year at the newspaper. (Dan Murano/The Post)
Shirley Povich once described his association with The Washington Post as "one big love affair." Over most of the past 75 years, his faithful followers clearly could say the same of their relationship with Washington's most revered sports columnist. Born in 1905, Shirley Povich came to the nation's capital in 1922, the result of a chance meeting on the Kebo Valley Club golf course in his hometown of Bar Harbor, Maine. Povich, then 17, caddied one afternoon for Ned McLean, the publisher of The Post, who divined in the kid a talent far beyond his six-handicap.

McLean talked him into moving to Washington for $20 a week to caddy and $15 more to work as a copy boy at The Post. Within two years, he worked his way onto The Post's sports staff, with his first byline appearing in August 1924.

"I was so excited," Povich recalled in an article in The Washington Post in 1995. "My first byline. I could have waited for the page proofs to see it, but I didn't. I went to the composing room downstairs, ran my hands over it on the cold type to make certain it would be there when the paper was printed."

Povich as a War Correspondent During WWII
File Photo
At age 20 he became the youngest sports editor in the United States. His column, "This Morning With Shirley Povich" ran from 1926 until 1974, interrupted only by a stint as a war correspondent during World War II (left).

His friend, the late columnist Bob Consodine, was an early Povich protege. Povich, Consodine once wrote, "had an absolute command over that most formidable of foes, the declarative sentence." There were thousands of those sentences over the years — glorious descriptions of the greatest events in sports over most of the 20th century:

* On Don Larsen's perfect game in 1956: "The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reaches-first game in a World Series."

Povich at Camden Yards
File Photo
* On the Chicago Bears' victory over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL title game: "The Redskins' 73-0 defeat by a team they had licked a month ago doesn't add up. But there it was. It reminds us of our first breathless visit to the Grand Canyon. All we could say is, 'There she is, and ain't she a beaut.' When they hung up that final score at Griffith Stadium yesterday, all we could utter was, 'There it is and wasn't it awful.'"

* On the Redskins' loss to the Cleveland Browns in 1960, Povich also comments on the lack of integration on the Redskins: "From 25 yards out, [Jim] Brown was served the football by Milt Plum on a pitchout, and he integrated the Redskins' goal line with more than deliberate speed, perhaps exceeding the famous Supreme Court decree. Brown fled 25 yards like a man in an uncommon hurry and the Redskins' goal line at least became interracial."

* On Jackie Robinson signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946: "Four hundred and fifty-five years after Columbus eagerly discovered America, major league baseball reluctantly discovered the American Negro . . ."

* On the famous Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium in 1939: "I saw strong men weep this afternoon, expressionless umpires swallow hard, and emotion pump the hearts and glaze the eyes of 61,000 baseball fans in Yankee Stadium. Yes, and hard-boiled news photographers clicked their shutters with fingers that trembled a bit."

Povich Throws Out First Pitch as Orioles Game in 1997
Shirley Povich throws out
the first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards during the 1997 season. (Post File Photo).
* On the death and funeral of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke and explaining the cultural geography inside The Squire's box: "In Washington, where you sat told where you stood." And he said, in praise of Cooke, something that was said of Thomas Jefferson, "He will have successors, but he will not be replaced."

Washington Post publisher Donald Graham honored Povich for his 75th anniversary working at the paper at a luncheon in May 1995. Said George Solomon, assistant managing editor/sports, "Shirley is a great sports writer, an even greater human being and truly the most remarkable man I've ever met — in any profession."

Povich has written more than 500 columns since officially retiring in 1973.

Povich and his wife, Ethyl, live in Washington. They have three children: son Maury Povich is a television talk show host in New York, David Povich is a lawyer with Williams & Connolly in Washington and Lynn Shepard is the East Coast managing editor for MSNBC on the Internet in New York.

Povich's work still appears in The Washington Post, and he still makes regular appearances at sporting events, usually accompanied by Ethyl, who he describes as "my favorite girl and a wonderful example to us all."

So, too, has Povich's work served as an example of clarity, style, grace and wit to his friends and followers throughout the years. This love affair goes on.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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