As a kid, I used to wait outside the Library door when the bus dropped me off at school. I wanted to be the first one to read the AJC Sports section, and Mr. Bisher was of course a huge part of that. His style was special, and insight often profound.
By Steve Hummer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
4:57 a.m. Monday, October 12, 2009
Fittingly, the final words Furman Bisher submitted to this newspaper did not take form on the sterile platform of his laptop screen.
When he sat down to compose a farewell after 59 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he made it an honest period piece. On the Royal typewriter that was the instrument of his first Constitution column in 1950, Bisher typed his last.
His parting thoughts were accompanied by the sturdy, dependable CLACK, CLACK, CLACK of that antique. Each key strike was an echo from a career that reaches back before he helped midwife the Milwaukee Braves’ move to Atlanta, back to when the Atlanta Crackers played around their outfield magnolia tree, back further to when Bobby Jones held court in Augusta.
In conclusion, Bisher performed an anachronistic dance with the language he had wooed more than 10,000 times in the AJC, and hundreds of times prior in newspapers around North Carolina, dating to 1938.
In that dance, Bisher always led. And he always created something that was honeyed and quaint when called for, or perfectly pointed when needed. He did things with English that everyone else in the business envied.
With Bisher’s retirement a chapter of sports journalism closes.
There is no one left whose work has spanned so many years and such cataclysmic change in sport.
When Bisher began in Atlanta, Joe Louis was still fighting and boxing was king. When Louis died, Bisher had the authority to lament in print: “Then they lowered him into the ground, and that is all that remains of the great fighting man, except a memory that shall become a national resource.”
In that one venue, look at how the landscape has evolved on the day of Bisher’s departure. Boxing has given way to ultimate fighting, men rolling around in cages.
With Bisher retired, there is no one left who has had such an impact on his craft — especially in the South — as measured by the stack of awards at his door or the reverence of those who followed him. Someone may one day match his influence, accomplishments and stature, but it won’t be easy.
There is no one who writes so doggone Bisher-ly, in a courtly voice reminiscent of a time before snarky blogs and Tweets.
The dearer the subject, the more elegant the result.
Be it the Masters: “Was it the biggest thing in American golf since Ben Hogan’s Pro Slam in 1953?” he penned after Jack Nicklaus’ epic victory in 1986. “Was it the biggest since Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam in 1930? Was it only bigger than Arnold Palmer’s first accredited charge in 1960, when he caught and passed Ken Venturi and set golf off on this rampant run to glory?
“Whatever the size of it, there hasn’t been a sports event in years that sent so many Americans home from the game or away from the television set with such an afterglow.”
Or his first son, Roger, who died in 2000: “A beautiful, handsome, loving man,” Bisher wrote, “no finer son has any parent ever had, and I grieve. Old men like me should be going first, not one who had so much to give to the world as he.”
Why put down the column now? After all, he is only a month from a 91st birthday.
His health is splendid. There is vitality flowing in the Bisher bloodstream — he has a sister going strong at 95. “I get up in the morning feeling good, go to bed feeling good and I sleep well,” he reported.
His life is in good order. He splits time between his spread in Fayette County and a retreat in St. Simons Island with his wife of 21 years, Linda, with whom he is still schoolboy smitten.
“I just decided that’s enough — I had been thinking about it a couple weeks,” he said. “I wanted to get it done, get it over with, and as far as I’m concerned it’s no big deal. I just won’t be writing a column.”
That decision to retire was rendered with no more fanfare than a phone call to an editor Thursday that his Sunday column had arrived, and that it would be his last. Among those who would disagree that his retirement is no big deal are some of Georgia’s longest-standing sports figures. The same ones Bisher draped in such fine prose.
Such was the breadth of his career that in later years some of his interview subjects would turn their meetings around and quiz him about his experiences.
“I always enjoyed sitting in the dugout with him and asking him about Ty Cobb or Shoeless Joe Jackson, people I had only heard about, but he knew,” said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who faces a retirement of his own after next season.
Bisher got stock tips from Cobb and, when working in North Carolina, snagged the only interview with that tragic Black Sox figure, Shoeless Joe.
Vince Dooley hasn’t coached a game at the University of Georgia in better than 20 years. Pffft, barely a centimeter on the Bisher time line.
“He was great to me when I was just an unknown assistant [coach] at Auburn,” Dooley said.
This is a precious writer from the golden age of sports column writing who is retiring — one of the top five in the country, Time magazine declared in 1961. A classic who ended his final column the way he did so many others, with an ancient punctuation borrowed from Psalms: Selah. As Cox said, evoking both Bisher’s manner and an event that captivated the columnist for six decades, “When I think of Furman, two things come to mind: He was the epitome of a Southern gentleman. And I think of the Masters. Yeah, when I think of the Masters, I think of Bobby Jones and Furman Bisher.”
Bisher anticipates few upheavals post-retirement.
“I’ll do what I’ve been doing,” he said. “Get up in the morning and work out, work up a good sweat, have breakfast. If I can’t find something right away to do, I’ll go up and walk up and down the road a while. Out here we have 10 acres, there are plenty of things to keep me occupied.”
He will keep on writing. With that constant comes one last way to measure the expanse of an extraordinary career.
Today you read words that were hatched on a vintage typewriter, the same one that served the middle of the last century.
And tomorrow, well, you may Google him.
His last article:http://blogs.ajc.com/furman-bisher-blog ... isher_bloghttp://www.ajc.com/news/furman-bisher-s ... 59110.html