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Bob White: A good guy gets a lift through a bad time

September 28, 2017 FieldsColumn

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BY MIKE FIELDS

LOUISVILLE – Bob White, like any newspaper reporter worth his salt, loved covering events that had dramatic twists or heartwarming endings. He delighted in being surprised by what he was chronicling during his half-century career as a sportswriter for the Courier-Journal.

Bob White

In the past year, White has experienced that emotional ebb-and-flow storyline himself.

The dramatic twist came when he was victimized by identity theft and left in financial ruin. “I lost everything. I had zero in the bank,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

But family, colleagues and friends came together to write a heartwarming ending to White’s story that left him overwhelmed with appreciation.

“It’s been unbelievable how people have helped me out,” White said.

Last winter, John Osborne, White’s brother-in-law, helped set up a GoFundMe account for him on the Internet. Contributions, ranging from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars, came in from across the state and totaled nearly $12,000.

Then in May, some of White’s friends, including former C-J columnist and sports editor Billy Reed, organized a fundraiser for him at Bellarmine University that brought in more than $13,000.

Reed wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of support for White.

“You like to think that if you’ve been a good person in life, a good friend, a good and honest worker, all that will come back to you if you get in trouble,” Reed said. “I think everybody was uplifted by the opportunity to help Bob.

“I told him, ‘The positive side of this is so many people got to show you how much they love you and care about you, and that’s an amazing thing.'”

The acts of kindness have come on a personal level, too. A few examples:

  • White’s church, Hurstbourne Christian, has helped him pay rent at his new apartment. (He lost his house to foreclosure.)
  • Just before tip-off of a Sweet 16 game in Rupp Arena in March, Hopkinsville assistant coach Larry Miller sought out White and gave him a $50 handshake.
  • Anne Nicholas, the widow of White’s boyhood best friend, accompanied him downtown and paid his overdue electric and water bills that amounted to more than $2,400.
  • A few weeks after Pleasure Ridge Park won the state baseball title, Panthers Coach Bill Miller sent White $1,000.
  • A salesman at Mattress Firm, who recognized White from a story that a Louisville TV station did about him, gave him a 50% discount on a new mattress and box spring.
  • A young TV cameraman saw White at an event a couple months ago, told him he was sorry about his misfortune, slipped him $3 and apologized it wasn’t more.

“It’s amazing what people have done for me,” White said. “When it all started with the GoFundMe, I thought, ‘Who in the world is going to donate to help me?'”

The answer was obvious to everybody else.

Who wouldn’t help out a guy who has meant so much to so many in the world of Kentucky high school sports?

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After graduating from the University of Kentucky with a journalism degree in 1957, Bob White worked at the weekly Cynthiana (KY) Democrat for four months before moving on to the daily newspaper in Cleveland, TN.

In early 1959, he got a call from J.A. McCauley, one of his journalism professors at UK, about an opening at the C-J. McCauley had set up an interview for White with sports editor Earl Ruby.

White got the job, which paid a handsome $90 a week.

He worked on the sports desk five nights a week, and occasionally got out of the office to cover games or tournaments.

Bob White

In 1962, he began reporting on high school sports regularly, and did so for the next 53 years. (He retired in 2000 but freelanced for the C-J until 2015.)

“I owe my whole career to Mr. Mac,” White said, referring to McCauley.

And Kentucky high school sports owe a debt of gratitude to White.

Oscar Brohm will attest to that.

When Brohm was a star quarterback at Flaget in the 1960s, White wrote about him and his team, including the Braves’ state runner-up finish to Seneca in 1965.

Decades later, White covered the exploits of Brohm’s children. Greg, Jeff and Brian had championship football careers at Trinity, and their sister Kim was a three-sport star at Mercy.

“Back when I was playing, if you looked around and saw Bob White there, you knew it was a big  game,” Oscar said. “The same thing when my kids played. Bob White was a fixture in Louisville high school sports for more than 50 years.

“He always wrote really good stories about games and always captured the essence of what happened, and the excitement and interest they generated. Even when he presented things that a player did that weren’t good, Bob did it in a gentle way to cause the least embarrassment possible to that player.”

Reed said White did a lot more than cover ball games.

“At one time, the Courier had home delivery in all 120 Kentucky counties, and we had a network of correspondents across the state. It was up to Bob to manage all that, and make sure all the big games across the state were covered and guys met their deadlines.

“That was a huge part of Bob’s job, but he was able to do it because he was so meticulous, so disciplined, so responsible.”

White, who turned 82 earlier this month, still has sharp recall of players, coaches and games he covered.

He remembers St. Xavier beating Valley 7-6 for the Class 3A football championship in 1962. “Maurice Moorman blocked a punt into the end zone for the win.”

He remembers covering the Ashland Invitational Tournament 15 years in a row, and having a front-row seat to watch the great players and teams in the 1960s and ’70s. And he remembers the Ashland gym for having “the loudest horn I’ve ever heard.”

When he retired from the C-J in 2000, White picked some of the best players he had seen during his career.

In basketball, he gave a slight edge to Darrell Griffith of Male over Wes Unseld of Seneca. “Griffith was the best all-around player. Unseld was the best big man, and (Jim) McDaniels (of Allen County) was next.”

In football, White thought Dicky Lyons of St. X was tops “because he could do so much. He was a running back, a passer, place-kicker, punter and played defense.”

White singled out Joe Federspiel of DeSales as the best linebacker he ever saw.

In baseball, he picked Pleasure Ridge Park’s ace lefthander Scott Downs as the best. “He’d throw a curveball on a 3-2 count,” White said.

White has been honored for his dedication to his craft, including induction into the UK Journalism Hall of Fame, Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, and Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame.

“My mother once said to me, ‘All you know is sports, and you can’t make a living in sports. But I did. I couldn’t have had a better job.”

A job he did exceptionally well.

“Bob has no ego, no agenda, and people always trusted him because of that,” Reed said. “They know his heart is in the right place.”

Brohm echoed those sentiments.

“Everybody likes Bob White and everybody respects Bob White,” he said. “You couldn’t meet a nicer guy, or a guy that’s been so good at his job, reporting on sports, and doing it in a way that brought joy and happiness to everybody who read it.”

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