When I was 22, I had a bit of a problem.
I thought I knew it all.
While that’s not uncommon for type-A folks, it sure didn’t bode well for my entry into the workforce.
At this point in my life, I was (I thought) an accomplished collegiate and semi-pro writer, professional student, waiter, bartender and known cynic.
On my first day at The Examiner newspaper, I met my match.
Dick Puhr didn’t care what I had written. Or who I knew. Or what I thought was interesting. He knew stats. He knew copy. He knew infinitely more than I did. Sadly, it took me years to realize that.
As the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, any newspaper team worth its salt will start to work better as a unit. That happened at The Examiner, certainly.
As we transitioned away from longtime sports editor Huey Counts to the new boss on the block, Karl Zinke, we had to learn styles, quarks and strengths. A sports writing team that ranged from creative features to award-winning game coverage and compelling column writing became the norm around Eastern Jackson County. We did it better than anyone. And, without always acknowledging it, we did it that good because Dick Puhr was a walking encyclopedia of high school and prep sports knowledge.
As I learned to better pick my battles and do more listening than talking, I started to hear things from Dick that I hadn’t ever processed before.
Connections between coaches and schools. Records and historical data. And just the off-the-wall stories that rattled around in his head that he would, quite randomly, throw out. I caught myself more than once asking to hear a Dick story about a coach that got booted from a high school basketball game or an athlete’s inspiring performance in the face of adversity.
As my role at The Examiner changed over the years, I heard less and less stories and that familiar pecking of the typewriter at the desk right next to me. Still, when Dick was in the office, you knew it. He was a proud Rotarian. A staunch stat keeper. A fair journalist.
When I left for Iowa, Dick flat out asked me if I was ready for this new role as a newspaper publisher. That stopped me in my tracks. And I remember we ended up just sitting at our adjacent desks and talking about it for a while.
Years later, when I returned to run the Lee’s Summit Journal, Dick called to welcome me back. And to tell me about an error that was on my sports page. In fact, that turned into a routine. And really, I didn’t mind at all. It was good to hear from him and getting that still-stern “correction” from him all these years later just made me smile.
The last few conversations this year with Dick helped solidify the respect I have for him. First, he called to congratulate me on hiring a former colleague of his, Dave McQueen, to the sports editor position at my papers. Months later, he called to wish me well after he had heard I was laid off from the newspaper industry. That meant far more than I could have even communicated to him.
Dick is an example of why we should tell people they appreciate them in their living years.
I began this column around 8:30 on Nov. 22, a few hours after getting home from visiting Dick in hospice care. I was able to tell him about my new job, my 4-year old daughter Addy, read him some of his cards and just talk to him. I woke up around 3 a.m. Nov. 23 to the news that he had passed away around 11 p.m.
So, I finish this column after his passing. Thank you for a half-century of sports coverage Dick.
Some use the “there will never be another” adage here. In all honesty, there cannot be.
What Dick did in all those years and weeks of hours of journalism is, though, thankfully recorded for all to read for the next 50 years and beyond. He was as much a historian as a writer.
That contribution is timeless.