Remembering a Sports Legend
Monday, June 8, 1998 Legendary Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich died June 4, 1998, of a heart attack. Below is a compilation of thoughts and memories from washingtonpost.com users.
I just finished reading Leonard Shapiro's heartfelt tribute to Mr. Povich. Being an avid sports fan and reader of sports columnists, I wish I could have been blessed with his gift of prose and wit in my hometown sports pages.
You that read The Post have enjoyed a treasure. Please remember it fondly...there aren't many left these days...
A Beantown Admirer
When I was in my prime, I played some football and aspired to be a sportswriter ... although my mother had named me Kerwood to honor James Oliver Curwood, a great wilderness writer, I changed it to Kaye Corbett, believing it would fit better on the back of a jersey and would be suitable for a byline. The reason? If Shirley Povich was okay then Kaye Corbett would be alright for me.
He was the greatest and I always revered him as my hero as I grew up in the newspaper business to be the sports editor of the Edmonton Sun as well as associate sports editor of the Toronto Sun.
The best reason for getting up was to read his elegant and classy views on the sporting life. Now that we're in an Internet age, it was wonderful to still receive his musings on a weekly basis.
My heartfelt condolences go out to his beloved family.
Shirley Povich was one of a kind. He and Harry Caray were my heroes. So long, champs!
I was raised on the Times-Herald as a photog and feature writer, the newspaper competitor to The Post, when I first met this extraordinary man named "Shirley." Our sports editor Howie Jacobs and baseball writer and publicist Joe Holman often spoke of Shirley as the finest sports writer in the nation. The question was, how to get him to the Herald. Many a night I sat in the press box with Mr. Povich at Uline Arena. He enjoyed covering the first professional tennis tour with Jack Krammer, Gussie Moran, and Poncho. A charitable person without notoriety, he gathered the sports writers of the Star, News, Post and Herald to help the widow of former Herald feature writer, Vincent X. Flairity who was in need after Vince's sudden death.
Murray Fitzgerald, Pat O'Brien, Jerry Doyle, Garvin Tankersley, Moe Segal, Bernie Harter were his friends. I only wish I too could have spent more time with Shirley before going into the Army (WWII). The nation has lost one of its greatest treasures. He's probably still looking around Griffith Stadium trying to find; "Hot dog, Hot dog, Here!"
"Everything you wrote was a memory to me."
By the time I was born Shirley had "retired" and was at The Post for 58 years. When my Phillies won the World Series he was covering baseball's greatest days for the 57th time. When I wrote him a fan letter he obliged with an autograph simply written "To Scott Jackson, Best Wishes and Play Ball! Warmly, Shirley Povich."
Shirley is in a better place tonight where the ball games never end and Lou Gehrig can still play while Walter Johnson pitches... and Shirley writes the headlines.
The man covered Walter Johnson to Nomar Garciaparra and he will live on forever.
God rest you, Mr. Povich.
Mr. Shapiro's article summing Mr. Povich's life as an observer of the human spirit in athletics was as fine a piece as anything Mr. Povich himself ever wrote. Nicely done.
As a tomboy growing up in D.C., my two favorite people both worked for The Post. Sports photographer Richard Darcy and sportswriter Shirley Povich. Both brought sports to life with intelligence, grace and style.
With the passing of Shirley Povich, the sports world has lost the last of its elegant statesman.
I have been an avid reader of Shirley Povich columns for many years initially, at the Perth office of the U.S. Consulate, then in the last couple of years, on the Internet. He has provided me with many hours of pleasurable reading. Shirley Povich was one of the world's great sports writers. Sadly, he will be missed.
I worked with Shirley Povich for more than 23 years as a researcher in the News Library at The Post. He was without a doubt the finest human being I came across in my tenure there. No matter how busy he was, or we were, he always had the patience to wait for the right information; yet regularly I was able to supply it for him, because he always told me what he needed in a clear and concise way, much like his prose. He also was willing to listen to your comments, and personally as well, as needed. Along with Red Smith, as Kornheiser says, he was at the top of his field, yet remained he humble and decent. The world is a smaller place today with his loss. My condolences to his wife and family. You know Shirley will always remain in our hearts. We are better to have known him, and worked along side of him.
Andrew M. Mayer
Shirley Povich: where you are deservedly going could you perhaps let us know if you get a chance what the Universal Commissioner thinks of the designated hitter rule and snap off just a little copy on that? Kornheiser or Boswell can pick up the FAX and relay to the larger congregation. God Bless Mr. Povich the joy your prose brought four generations at the breakfast table.
Jonathan W. Simons, on behalf of the other 3 generations of Simons fighting collegially for The Post sports section
I would like to express my condolences to the Povich family. Mr. Povich was truly a gift to the world and a Washington monument. From 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, I am very much saddened by his death. He made every Post reader truly enjoy sports and for that we should celebrate his wonderful life. Here's to you, sir.
When Mr. Povich started writing sports, baseball was the undisputed national pastime. Now, money seems to be more important than the games. But Mr. Povich kept his eye on the ball, the field and the people who played the game.
When Mr. Povich came to Washington it was a small southern town, provincial and segregated. It evolved into a sophisticated, complex world capital. And Mr. Povich, through his writing, helped integrate the city on its playing fields.
And when Mr. Povich came to Washington, The Post was one of five papers and was nearly broken by the Great Depression. Of the five papers, The Post is the last survivor and one of the great success stories of American journalism. And Mr. Povich was an part of that success and some would say its survival in difficult years.
The only sadness is that we will not have Mr. Povich to write about the Capitals playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. If future generations want to understand American sports and their role in Washington in the 20th century, they will have to read Shirley Povich. Sports was his assignment but he covered the century.
About six years ago, I had quite a treat when I met Shirley's younger brother. Having been an admirer of Shirley for lots of years, meeting his lawyer brother over a quick sandwich at a stand-up deli counter, I began to appreciate what a neat family the entire Povich group really is. Shirley having written an article just before he died typifies what he means to so many of us. As Tony Kornheiser's headline today puts it so aptly, the key is that Shirley represents A pro's prose. (Way to go, Tony.)
Shirley's article, followed by his death, almost parallels the gentleman who playing in a senior softball league in the metropolitan Washington area about 10 years ago, ran hard to catch a pop fly and after catching it, keeled over dead. What a tribute. RIP, Shirley, you will always live in our hearts!
I'm 35 years old. I didn't even start reading the sports page until about the time Shirley Povich "retired" in the early '70s. Some retirement! There aren't many sportswriters around who will achieve half as much in their whole careers as Shirley Povich did after he retired.
Shirley Povich's articles have always been a voice of reason, logic, common sense, and the perspective of over 75 years in the business. Given the choice, Shirley would write about the goodness in sports, but if he perceived that sports was doing wrong, Shirley spoke up forcefully and compellingly against those responsible.
My condolences go out to the Povich family. They have lost a fine man. A gentleman, in all the truest meanings of the word. But, my condolences also go out to all of us who love sports, not just for its ability to thrill us on the field, but also for sports' potential to reflect, and sometimes lead, positive social change. It's for those of us who believe that how you play the game is at least as important as how as how you sell it that Shirley Povich spoke, and we will miss his voice.
In the '30s and '40s, Shirley Povich was an important part of my early days. About a year ago I sent him a letter regarding Clark Griffith, etc., and had a most courteous reply. He will always be a decent, knowledgeable gentleman.
As a kid growing up in Washington, before all the Redskin games were televised, I lived for Shirley's morning after column every Monday in The Washington Post. He was our focus on the Redskins then. But more than that, he taught me how to connect words with events, something for which I am forever grateful. The best I have ever read thanks Mr. Povich.
I am very saddened to hear of Mr. Povich's passing. My fondest memories of him are of his columns about the second incarnation of the Washington Senators. I grew up reading The Washington Post every day before school. I would always turn to the sports page to see how the "Nats" had fared the day or night before. He gave great insight on the game to a little leaguer that was just learning to understand the intricacies of our national pastime.
Unbeknownst to him, he was my mentor when I became a sports columnist and the sports editor of my high school paper. I tried to model myself after him, which was I task I failed at miserably.
My condolences to his son Maury. I know he will be missed by many.
May this legend be forever with his loved ones and all the other great legends he wrote about all these years.
I've lived in the Washington area for the past 27 years, and always was excited when Mr. Povich would write another one of his columns. Being a true sports enthusiasts, (I've seen every Super Bowl since #1), I was thoroughly impressed when I learned that Mr. Povich actually knew Walter Johnson, the great Pitcher for the Washington Senators. To think that he witnessed the Senators' only World Series championship still amazes me. I only wish I could have met him personally to chew the fat about all the great historic sports events he witnessed and wrote about. He was a walking encyclopedia of sports history. Let's all thank God for his ability, and for his insights. And a personal thanks to Mr. Povich for standing up to the bigots of the early part of this century, who wanted to deny America the chance to have all people of all colors competing on the same field, court, or whatever arena a sporting event may take place.
He was truly ahead of his time. To his family, know that your father, uncle, grandfather touched all people in all walks of life, and for that, he truly led a blessed life.
May the blessings of the Creator be with you in your time of sorrow.
As a transplant from the Washington area I was saddened to hear of the death of Shirley Povich. I had come to feel that he was simply always there, always lending his wit and insight to the sports world. A gentleman and certainly a role model for all budding sportswriters. He epitomized the term consistency and excellence in a profession that knows too few truly good writers. I guess he will be saying hello to Red Smith, the other giant of the profession.
As an AU freshman (journalism major) in 1960, one of the first things I learned was to turn to the sports section of The Post. The second thing I learned was to read Shirley Povich's column. He was a truly remarkable sports historian. We will not see his like again.
Class and a good read are an irresistible combination. Shirley, I hope you're enjoying watching the Big Train go toe-to-toe with Lefty Grove. Someday when I join you, I'll enjoy reading the columns you write on the morning after the big game.
As a child growing up in Silver Spring (Md.), I knew Mr. Povich through my parents.
My father, Clarence H. Nixon, Jr. ("Nick" to his friends and co-workers) worked with Shirley when dad was at the (former) Washington Times-Herald and The Post.
During social visits, I played outside with his sons, David and Maury, while our parents chatted inside.
My dad died in '91 in Holton, Kan. He was an admirer of Shirley's and so was I.
My condolences to Mr. Povich's family.
Clarence H. (Nick) Nixon III
It was good to read sports stories of the past.
My condolences to the family. I'm sure you have many many good memories.
Thanks for the writings of great players. My prayers are with you.
I mourn the passing of Mr. Povich and regret that I did not have the opportunity to read more of his work. My hope is that someone was able to capture an oral history of his recollections which span nearly the entire 20th century.
As a former CBS radio sports stringer in the early '80s in New York before becoming a practicing chiropractor in the D.C. area, I had the opportunity to work with some of the best sports journalists in radio, TV and newsprint. I am sorry to say that I did not have the opportunity to meet Mr. Povich. His reputation was stellar among the New York media. I did not know of anyone who said an unkind word about him.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting at Johns Hopkins Medical School regarding the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar illness (manic depression). The guest speaker was Mrs. Katharine Graham, who spoke about her husband's bout with this dreaded disease. After her speech, the usual scientific questions were asked regarding her husband's behavioral problems that almost destroyed her personal and professional life. One specific instance Mrs. Graham discussed was that when it was determined that her husband was no longer capable of running The Post, she had to take over. She discussed the fact that because she was a woman, she felt very self-conscious when dealing with the editors of the various departments of the newspaper. I then raised my hand and asked her if she had any recollections regarding how Mr. Povich treated her. Her answer was that she was totally welcomed by him and has continued to have the highest regard for him to this day.
To me, this is the epitome of a successful person. To quote Victor Frankel's book, "Man's Search for Meaning," Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, can not be pursued, it must ensue and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by-product of one's surroundings to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: You must let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run....in the long run I say! success will follow you precisely because you have forgotten to think about it.
My sincere condolences to the Povich family.
Dr. Mark A. Shulman
To the Povich Family:
My sincerest aloha and condolences on the passing of a great human being and writer. His unique touch with the words he placed in his columns forever will remind us of his life and his work. They don't make them like him anymore. Aloha oe.
Maury will keep you alive in all of our memories.
Dear Washington Post Sports Editors:
My deepest sympathy to you and your colleagues on your loss of Mr. Povich. I was stationed on Norfolk, Va., for four years while in the Navy and I never missed a paper of yours or a column of Shirley Povich while I was there. He was simply remarkable and the type of writer that he was will never come along again. May he rest in peace and Boswell, you really have some big shoes to fill now.
Not living in the Washington area, I really had never read Shirley's work. However, I have heard a lot about him. For someone to work at a career he liked, and do a superb job with it for 75 years is absolutely incredible. From the hometown of Honus Wagner, Carnegie, Pa., I share the loss of his family and the greater Washington community.
Glenn A. Walsh
I really have no memories other than the few columns I have read. I am from Detroit, therefore I never had the daily interaction that you have when you are and avid sports fan. The columnist becomes a part of your daily routine. I don't know if they (columnists) ever realize the impact they have on people. I never grew up with a legendary sportswriter. I think we have one now in Mitch Albom. I did however, grow up with Ernie Harwell (Tigers radio voice), George Kell (Tigers television voice) and Bruce Martyn (Red Wings radio voice). Now that two of the three above mentioned are retired it's almost as if it doesn't seem the same. What really amazes me is Shirley Povich did the same thing for over 75 years. I cannot imagine how his avid readers must feel. It must be like they lost a very good friend and I'm sure most of these people never met him.
I am very sorry for your loss.
To my dismay, I never had the opportunity of reading the many articles that Mr. Povich wrote, but his legendary command of the sports arena (especially baseball) will be an example to follow for future writers and storytellers.
I am saddened at the loss of a D.C. institution. A native of Washington, I grew up reading Mr. Povich's "This Morning" column. Reading his column, I learned more than simply his opinions about the sports scene. I learned to appreciate the importance of context and fairness in commentary, a sense of history, and a sense of place. Mr. Povich was an essential part of that place in my heart I consider "home," and I will miss him greatly. My prayers go out to him, his family, and his friends.
Michael F. Crim
I first read Shirley Povich in 1965 when I was first stationed in the Washington area as a Marine. I only wish that I could have read all of his work instead of less than half. As a sports columnist he had no peer because he alone could put current events in the proper historical perspective. I shall miss Shirley Povich.
May God rest his soul.
I may be among the youngest people sending in their condolences, being 70 years and one month younger than Shirley was.
I was not your typical Shirley Povich reader. I live in Sussex County, N.J., located in the extreme northwestern part of the state. I am a senior journalism major at The College of New Jersey (formerly known as Trenton State College). I am concentrating on sports journalism. Not being from the Washington, D.C. area, unfortunately I had never heard of Shirley Povich until three years ago when an article from Sports Illustrated about his 90th birthday was included among the class readings for a sportswriting class I was taking in the fall of 1995. However, I was able to make up for lost time through the technological marvel of the World Wide Web. I was able to read every column Shirley wrote for the last year and a half of his life through the Internet, as well as all the articles included in the Shirley Povich Tribute. In fact, I linked the Shirley Povich Tribute to my own Web page. I printed all the articles on it out on paper, and put them in a big folder for inclusion in my summer reading. I had only started my way through the folder when news of his passing came.
I consider myself a student of the history of sports journalism. I've read many great sports columnists, from Ring Lardner to Mike Lupica, and without a doubt, Shirley Povich was among the best of all time. He may have been the best of all time, every bit as good as the great Red Smith. He is definitely the writer with the most longevity. His record of 75+ years of continuous service at one paper will be as hard for us sportswriters to top as Cal Ripken's consecutive games streak will be for major league baseball players to surpass. I doubt if it will ever be done.
Povich was the last of the old guard of sportswriters, a kinder, gentler, more gentlemanly breed in the mold of Grantland Rice. The unique historical perspective Shirley had in his latter years cannot be replaced. With him went sports journalism's last living link to such legendary figures as Ruth and Gehrig, Walter Johnson, and Jack Dempsey. Who else could have used first-hand experience when writing about the 100th anniversary of Ruth's birth in 1995? When all the hype was being made about the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut in the majors in April 1997, I knew there was only one place to go for a truly accurate historical perspective on the issue Shirley Povich. As always, he came through for me on that occasion along with so many other times. Shirley was a national treasure which will be sorely missed. However, the most amazing thing about him was that, while he provided all that historical perspective, he remained as contemporary as anyone right up to the very end. His viewpoint was always as fresh as that day's news.
News of a celebrity's death rarely affects me. I didn't shed a tear with the news of the death of Princess Diana or Sinatra, but with the loss of Shirley Povich, I feel that I am genuinely in a state of mourning. I feel as if I've lost my great-grandfather, a man who represented everything I dream of being. I think all his readers feel as if they have lost a personal friend. That feeling is just another testimony as to just how great a writer he was.
I am scheduled to complete my degree this December. I was hoping to get out in the field in time to be able to meet him in person, but it was not to be. I always thought Shirley would live until major league baseball returned to Washington D.C. I am sad to see that this prophesy did not come true. I just feel very fortunate that he lived long enough so that a young kid like me could read contemporary columns of his. People like me have only been able to read Red Smith columns out of books. I am glad the same was not true of Shirley Povich. I dream of being a Red Smith or Shirley Povich for the first half of the 21st century. However, I know that it's a tall order to fill. All I can say is that I will try my best. I will carry his examples with me for the rest of my life, and I will pass Shirley Povich on to future generations. He will not be forgotten because people like me will always remember him, and so will anyone else who has an inclination to absorb the very best sports writing available.
He was a great writer period. He cared about the English language and the way he used it. That is a great rarity these days. All of us younger writers have a great lesson to learn from writers like him. His love and concern for the language and its usage may be his greatest legacy.
My deepest sympathies go to his wife Ethyl and his kids. May he be remembered by the public as more than just Maury Povich's father. I think I speak for many when I say that from now on, all these mornings will be a little emptier without him.
P.S.: A word to Tom Boswell. Shirley was right about Mark McGwire and Babe Ruth. Shirley Povich was almost always right.
As a sports journalist in New Zealand it has been my privilege to be able to share your marvelous coverage of the life of Shirley Povich through the Internet. His was truly a sporting life.
I met Shirley Povich at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics. I asked him to say hello to a former college friend, Gail Bensinger, whom I knew to be on staff at The Post. He passed on the message in the newsroom. The result was when I came to Washington, I was able to receive an interview and was hired on staff as a photographer. It was the beginning of my professional career. I shall always remember his gracious response to a total stranger who interrupted his busy day at Grenoble. My sincere condolences to his family.
LeRoy Woodson Jr.
Thank you Mr. Povich, for your words and your perspectives. My condolences to your family and your Post family. God bless you.
Michael R. Ward
Read Shirley since 1946. Grew up in D.C. reading Bob Addie, Maury Fitzgerald and Shirley Povich. Loved them all but Shirley was my favorite. Lived nearby when Adas Israel synagogue, where his services will be held, was built.
A lot of years and a lot of memories.
Will miss you greatly Shirley, another part of my life is gone.
I am a classical pianist from West Virginia and never read a Povich column except for his last. I am not a sports fan and never knew the man. But I love what he stood for the art of being who you are, telling it straight, standing up (obstinately) for what is right, following your passions, and, above all generosity and good-humored, unassailable decency.
When I was a teenager in the 1950's, Shirley Povich would visit during his summer sojourns to Bar Harbor. Invariably I would ask my famous relative who were currently the best players in baseball. Without batting an eye, and with the wisdom of Solomon, cousin Shirley would invariably name the starting line-up of the Washington Senators.
Michael E. Povich
My dad, who is 78 and lives in Des Moines, Iowa, is a major sports fan, especially baseball. He's been ill this year, and I'm always looking for things to cheer him up. I called him today (Sunday) to tell him I was bringing home some wonderful articles for him to enjoy about this great sports columnist, Shirley Povich, who I figured my father had never heard of. "I sure do know him," my dad replied. "I used to read him when I was out there." Dad was "out there" stationed in Petersburg, Va., at the end of World War II.
Though I moved to New Mexico several years ago, I always read the Post columnists online. Each day, I checked to make sure that I never missed one of the rare Shirley Povich columns, because they were truly the best. His insight into baseball especially always seemed to be right on the mark, and I'll really miss that.
As a 21-year-old college student with hopes of working in sports journalism, I realize only now what a treasure Shirley Povich was to D.C. and the nation. I always knew that Povich was an sportswriter's sportswriter but until I read the wonderful columns by Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, and others, that I see the brilliant life and career this man left. Unfortunately I do not have a Povich story or remember one of his leads, but I do know he was a part of Washington and he will be missed.
I started reading Shirley Povich's words in September 1967, when I subscribed to The Post upon arrival at a college within his circulation area. I've always loved reading him, even when he wrote about subjects in which I had no interest, such as football or non-Ali boxing. And now the computer screen says "there are 0 stories left." Plenty of stories; they'll just have to be told without his straight-talking elegance.
Dharam S. Khalsa
As we all saw even in his final column, Shirley Povich cherished his memories of pitching great Walter Johnson. My own memories of Mr. Povich are inescapably intertwined with those of Johnson as well. Several years ago, as a student at Walter Johnson High School, I had the honor of videotaping an interview with Mr. Povich, which was later to be used in Hank Thomas' biography of the pitcher. Although Johnson had not pitched for more than six decades, Mr. Povich's descriptions and anecdotes made me feel as if I were at the plate facing a 100 mph sidearm fastball from the Big Train. I will cherish my memories of a man who was not only a great baseball writer, but a great baseball fan.
I am only 31 years old, which means that I missed over half a century of stories by Mr. Povich. This is something I will always view with regret. The only redeeming thing about this is that I will always have the ability to go back and read what he wrote. I would have liked to have met him at some point. I can't think of any greater treat for a sports fan than to be able to sit down for an hour or two and just listen to him tell stories. He will be missed.
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