Monday, July 13, 2009

go rest high on that mountain

You probably never heard of Bill Robinson. And that's OK. He's not one of our contemporaries. But he is, for sportswriters like me who probably should've come along in the 1960s (when you could smoke at your desk and newspapers were everything), one of the greats. And he died over the weekend.

And I figured you ought to know.

Here's the story from the O-A.

Bill Robinson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer, Opelika-Auburn News columnist and NASCAR- writing legend, died Saturday leaving a hole in his wake. A hole filled with stories from friends and fond memories of his witty writing.
Robinson, who covered all manner of sports in his long career, retired in Chambers County and was known to make appearances in the Opelika-Auburn News office.
“He was a true wordsmith. After his retirement, from the Atlanta papers, the Opelika-Auburn News was blessed to have him in our roster of columnists. We’ll miss having him hang around the newsroom and enlighten us with the countless stories and instruction to younger journalists. We’ll miss his columns. But most of all, we will miss the man,” said Jim Rainey, publisher of the Opelika-Auburn News.
A legend in the field, Robinson made a name for himself in both his work and his life.
“Bill was a rare talent and an even rarer person,” said Jim Minter, friend of Robinson and retired AJC editor. “He was a brilliant writer and, you know, he was the one that named Richard Petty ‘King Petty.’”
Minter added, “He was unforgettable. We’re friends and we called ourselves brothers. Probably the kindest person I’ve ever known.”
Lee Walburn, who worked with Robinson in the AJC sports department, also remembered Robinson fondly, saying he was an “original.”
“There’s nothing to compare him to,” he said. “Bill was probably the most gifted writer, probably the most well -read of any of us.”
Walburn said Robinson was an expert on college football, especially Alabama football, and, like Minter, he said the old newsman had a gifted memory.
“An amazing memory where he could just spout facts and little known things about football,” he said.
Walburn also spoke about Robinson’s history with NASCAR. The man is rumored to have named Dale Earnhardt Sr., “The Intimidator” and Richard Petty “King Petty.”
“The drivers adored him and if he happened not to be on the scene they would call him and give him the information,” Walburn said. “He wrote one of the great ledes of all time on a race, we still paraphrase it, we try to quote it, it’s amazing.”
Walburn is referring to a lede in which Robinson wrote that a car won by “running flat out, belly to the ground, chasing a hurrying sundown.”
Walburn said “Billy Bob” or “Robbie” or “whatever we were calling him at the time” was legendary and that he had no respect for starting times.
“It was always a question of if and when he would show up,” he joked.
Walburn said Robinson would live on in the memories of friends and family. “I wrote a column about another friend of mine who died, Skip Caray (legendary announcer for the Atlanta Braves) … When does a person really die? When they put him in the ground, or when they stop telling stories about them? We’ll be telling Bill stories for a long time. In that respect, he will live on.”
Jim Hunter, vice president of corporate communications for NASCAR, was also a close friend of Robinson’s. He remembered him as an old newspaperman with a unique personality.
“When you think about an old time journalist and you think of the person with one of those green visors and garters on the shirt sleeves and the most cynical attitude in the world and a devil-may-care-attitude, then you got Bill Robinson,” Hunter said.
Sunday, Hunter recalled a story about Robinson.
“Minter was always giving ‘Billy Bob’ a hard time for being late, for being tardy. One morning we were supposed to be in the office at 6:30 a.m. It got to 7 a.m., then 7:15 a.m. He came off the elevator rolling a tire. He’d brought the evidence with him. He said ‘I swear guys I had a flat tire. Here it is,’” Hunter recalled.
Hunter added, “People just like Bill. He was fun to go to dinner with, he was a great storyteller. A great guy to have a cold one with. He was just a character. He was a fun-loving, outgoing, unique individual,” he said.
Hunter said he remembers his friend two ways.
“I think of him as that old newspaperman … but I also think of Bill as that old Southern gentleman with a Panama hat, maybe, and white suit or a tan suit, and a white hat … to me that’s Bill Robinson,” he said.
Hunter said Robinson had a way of looking at a story and seeing it differently than everyone else. That he was a gifted writer, a good friend and a gentleman.
But most of all “when you think of Bill Robinson, he was Atlanta Journal sports.”

Back with some Monday links later.

1 comment:

Cbuzz said...

Thank you for posting this article.
I have worked with Bill at a small alabama paper for the past five years. In that time we became great friends as we covered games together. He was a brilliant writer, who could tell stories with his words like no one else. I learned so much from him. He will be deeply missed.