He has been ambling in and out of newspaper offices for almost 60 years, this big broad-shouldered bear of a man named Joe Holman, bearing copy and a kind word for everyone he met.
On Wednesday, his friends will honor him with a testimonial luncheon at the Touchdown Club, 45 years after he promoted the first club dinner there -- at $1.25 a plate in 1935. For the uninitiated, Joe Holman is regarded as the dean of Washington sports publicists. He started out as a sportswriter for the old Washington Morning Herald, once covering the Senators the same year for the morning and evening papers under two different bylines.
"Calvin Griffith used to say they couldn't get away from Joe Holman, and they never did meet Bob Thayer (his byline in the p.m. editions)," Holman says now, laughing all the way.
Holman has been thumping the publicity drum since the 1930s. His list of clients range from Joe Louis to Muhammad Ali, from Roy Rogers to Gorilla Monsoon. His promotions have touched every sport you can think of and some -- like Indian baseball -- you never even heard of. "I can't remember what that is myself," he says.
Oh yes, Big Joe is also a poet, with three volumes of verse to his credit.
But mostly, he's a publicist, one of the very best who ever plied the trade, even if his copy occasionally was stained with coffee or seared by a stray cigarette spark.
In 1956, Washington Post columnist Bill Gold wrote, "I guess it's too much to hope that some day somebody will organize a fitting testimonial to a man who has stood in the wings for so long while others took the bows."
Not any more.
BACK DURING the depression years of the early 1930s, the Washington Pilots -- a hard-hitting team of black professional baseball players -- were winning games but losing money via depleted attendance at old Griffith Stadium.
Babe Guterson, a friend who had been a pretty fair first baseman on local sandlot teams at that time, advised me that he was leaving town and leaving behind him a job of publicizing these Pilots that had been paying him $25 a game.
At Babe's suggestion, I made an appointment with Mr. Dykes, owner of both the baseball Pilots and a plush night club here, and, after making my pitch, applied for the assignment Guterson had vacated.
"Your references as a publicity man are all right," Dykes assured me, "but we have been losing money and there's no way we can pay you $25 a game. However, would you accept 5 percent of the gate receipts from each game as payment?"
Like I said, those were lean and hungry years, so what would I have to lose?
"I'll accept," I said, "If you'll consider a suggestion that I think will hype your attendance and my 5 percent."
My proposal was for the Pilots to introduce night baseball to be played under the floodlights installed at Griffith Stadium for football.
"Are you serious, Mr. Holman?" Dykes asked me, wonderingly. "How can baseball be played under football floodlights?"
"I can't give you an honest answer to that one," I replied, "but it's my opinion that an honest try might possibly bail us all out."
My recollection is that the Pilots worked out under the ghostly glare of Griffith Stadium's floodlights and found them sufficiently adequate to warrant scheduling a three-game series with the popular New York Black Yankees on an experimental basis.
The response to night baseball at Griffith Stadium was surprisingly satisfactory. No one was more surprised than myself when 8,000 spectators paid their way into the opening game of this series, and I netted a substantial profit of several hundred dollars.
It was a delightful experience that got even better when the second and third games attracted 12,000 and 14,000 respectively. My 5 percent take encouraged me to the point that had anyone asked me at that time how the depression was treating me I would have had to respond, "What depression?"
Until Mr. Dykes, knowing a bad deal when he saw it, finally decided to put me back on straight salary.