After Dan McCoubrey died on Tuesday, close friends gathered at his favorite watering hole, Gallagher's Pub on Connecticut Avenue NW, to compile a list of people to call.
Before they knew it, they had three legal-pad pages full and were up to about 400 names.
McCoubrey, 47, who had worked since 1968 as a sports copy editor at The Washington Post, was a charming man of prodigious appetites and unfailing good spirit, but 400 friends for a bachelor who worked nights, had no immediate family and whose principal recreation was reading?
It didn't surprise the Gallagher's crowd, which ticked off the multiple McCoubrey interests, all of which generated alliances: cofounder of Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), a regional home beer-brewing club; organizer of the Dan McCoubrey Invitational Golf Tournament; traveler to Egypt, the Caribbean, Ireland and the rest of Europe; avid hockey fan, music-lover, chef for hundreds, party-giver, beer-drinker, poker player, wearer of mismatched clothing and inveterate bookworm.
He was an Oscar Madison with a literary twist.
"Dan always had his nose in a book," said a Post editor. "And this wasn't light reading. These were tomes -- books about Irish medieval history, pottery-making in Egypt, Russian drama."
McCoubrey read these weighty books by the bushel basket. "We were getting eight to 10 books delivered a week," said Gwen Gregory, who had rented a room in McCoubrey's house in Wheaton for the past four years, sharing space with the 5,000-volume library and 1,500 records.
He took his reading everywhere. "He was the only guy I ever knew that brought a book to the hockey game," said Carl Green, an accountant and former roommate of McCoubrey's. "Everyone else waited for a fight. He used to watch the game, then when a fight broke out he'd read until it stopped. He hated the fights."
He took his books to the pub. "He was a creature of habit," said Gallagher's bartender Bill Koerner. "He came in the back door, sat at his spot at the end of the bar, opened up his book and when he caught my eye he'd always ask the same question: 'Got any beer left?' "
He took a book to work, where he was regarded as the fastest hand on the sports desk, able to edit, code and write a headline for a story more quickly than seemed plausible. "He'd be reading Dostoyevsky between editing box scores," said a coworker. "He had to be the best-read man in the newsroom."
McCoubrey was famous also for his parties, notably the annual St. Patrick's Day all-night bash that drew hundreds to his house. "He'd keep inviting people and I'd say, 'Where are we going to put them?' " said Gregory.
It was for St. Patrick's Day that McCoubrey perfected his recipe for Irish stew for 100, which he later published in the newspaper's food section. It called for 12 bottles of stout, 40 pounds of beef, 30 cups of flour and 100 boiled potatoes, among other things. In the summer he cooked six bushels of crabs and invited hordes to his annual crab feast. Sometimes in the fall he'd have Oktoberfest, and sometimes in winter a New Year's Eve party.
His love for beer, particularly his own home brew, produced one of the more impressive bellies in Washington. It was an attribute McCoubrey bore with distinction. He favored garish tee shirts, stretched to near breaking across his great girth.
His clothes in general were a kaleidoscope of contrasting colors and patterns. Mary Prokop, a former tenant at the Wheaton house, said she once labeled garments by color in hopes he'd get better matches, but it didn't do any good.
He occasionally wore costumes. At Gallagher's, they still talk about the day McCoubrey swept in the back door in a burnoose, fresh from his Egyptian voyage, and the time he arrived in checkered plus-four knickers, bearing his trophy after winning his own golf tournament.
McCoubrey had shown no sign of illness. Friends speculate that excess weight and lack of exercise may have led to the heart attack on the beach at Antigua on Tuesday morning, which killed him instantly.
In the Post newsroom, there was shock. Only a week before, McCoubrey had flashed his great, florid grin and answered polite inquiries about his health the same way he had for nearly two decades:
"Any better and I couldn't stand it."
McCoubrey had come to Washington from Miami. He started his newspaper career in Troy and Albany, N.Y., after graduating from Siena College. His home was Green Island, N.Y., a mill town between Albany and Troy where he will be buried Monday.
He was from a working-class family and developed his penchant for reading and for writing about sports during a childhood plagued by illness.
His taste in music was as broad as it was in literature, but he was particularly fond of Irish traditional tunes. Late in the evenings, his musician friends often gathered in the back room at Gallagher's and McCoubrey would listen. His favorite song was, "The Parting Glass."
"Of all the money that e'er I spent,
I spent it in good company,
And all the harm that e'er I done,
Alas it was to none but me."
Said Mary Prokop, "Every time he heard that, he'd whisper to me, 'Make sure they play that at my funeral.' " A memorial service will be held at St. Thomas Apostle Catholic Church, 2665 Woodley Rd. NW, today at 1 p.m.