August 29th, 2016

Reed: Farewell to a good friend

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor


Reed: Farewell to a good friend
Roy Walter - LCSN editor

Roy Walter loved sports and newspapers, so, as he saw it, “I got to live my dream.” For 40 years, he was a sports writer and copy editor at The Courier-Journal & Louisville Times. He finally took a buyout from Gannett in 2012.

Like a lot of newspaper people displaced by the new technology, Roy still had some journalism left in his system. So in a fortuitous turn of events, he agreed to join the staff at the Catholic Sports Network to be the main editor for the company’s website and its tabloid “guides” that are published in the Catholic Record.

This is what he was doing when he was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life, at age 66, last Friday.

At the major papers, Roy had grown accustomed to working with big-name writers on major stories. But he was such a professional that he treated his job at the Louisville Catholic Sports Network with as much seriousness and passion as he did his work at the C-J & Times.

For younger readers, The Louisville Times was an afternoon paper that was every bit as good as its more famous morning counterpart. Under the ownership of the Bingham family, the papers had different missions. The Courier-Journal was the statewide paper, offering home delivery in all 120 Kentucky counties, while The Times focused more on the Greater Louisville area.

The talented writer Rick Bozich remembers meeting for White Castles early on Saturday mornings so they could talk about the afternoon edition. If White Castles at 5:30 a.m. sounds strange or disgusting to you, then you don’t understand the pungent romance of the newspaper business as it used to be.

Quiet and small of stature, Roy didn’t have an ego – at least one you could see with the naked eye. At the time he joined the C-J & T in 1972, the paper had some of the most talented sports writers in the nation typing out wonderful copy on old-fashioned Royals – Dave Kindred, Dick Fenlon, Mike Sullivan, Jim Bolus, Jim Terhune and many others.

So Roy became more of an editor than a writer, and he accepted his behind-the-scenes role without complaint. He loved the constant action of the sports world, the camaraderie of the office, and the excitement of deadline journalism. He loved it when the writers would thank him for catching a mistake or improving their copy.

Every writer needs a Roy Walter in his or her lives. He was a stickler about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence structure. He made sure names, times, and dates were correct. An error got past Roy about as often as Brooks Robinson missed an easy grounder.

Editors like Roy make writers and reporters better. They make sure deadlines are met and that headlines are appropriate. Sadly, many of today’s newspapers, not to mention any names, have cut editors in order to enhance the bottom line, a business philosophy that Roy and I cursed and deplored in many conversations.

In 1994, Roy underwent a medical crisis and came out of it as one of the very few people ever to survive a ruptured aortic aneurysm. In his obituary, his family thanked the Norton Suburban Hospital emergency room staff and the esteemed Dr. William DeVries. And, of course, they thanked God.

A 1967 graduate of Atherton High, Roy attended Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro at a time when the Panthers were winning small-college national championships with regularity. He never lost interest in his alma mater, but did develop an abiding interest in University of Louisville football and men’s basketball during his four decades at the C-J.

But perhaps his favorite sport was auto racing. Although I had known Roy for years, I didn’t know that until he joined the team at the Louisville Catholic Sports Network.

The way I found out was when I saw the way Roy lit up when Sports Media Team President Steve Fehder announced that the company had entered into a business agreement with Ben Rhodes, then a 15-year-old prodigy at Holy Cross High with dreams of making it big as a NASCAR driver.

And so began the unlikely relationship between the old-school sports writer and the cutting-edge kid. Every time Ben would race, Roy would watch it on TV and do a story for the website. Then he would do a phone interview with Ben as soon as the young driver was available. Sometimes, as Ben recalled, he would talk to Roy at 1 a.m. from a Waffle House in Darlington or some other stops on the NASCAR series.

On Sunday, July 10, I received an e-mail from Roy thanking me for letting him have my season tickets for a Louisville Bats game. On Sunday, August 29, I got a phone call from Steve Fehder telling me that Roy had died from the lung cancer that had spread to his brain.

Only a week after attending the Bats game, Roy was taken to the hospital for what initially seemed to be a stroke. But on Wednesday, July 20, Roy informed us that the doctors had diagnosed liver cancer. A week later, he went home, but was back in the hospital in a matter of days.

After a stay at Baptist East, he was transferred to the Episcopal Church Home on Westport Road, where he died last Friday.

During his last days, he was visited by former colleagues such as Bozich, Jennie Rees, Bob White, and Ron Coons. Pat Forde couldn’t visit because he was covering the Olympics in Rio.

“It brought tears to my eyes hearing how much his friends/colleagues care about him,” wrote his son Doug. “Confirms what I’ve always known about him.”

There was another visitor who brought tears to Roy’s eyes.

Although last week was incredibly busy for young Ben Rhodes, he took time out from the car-racing world to visit Roy at the Episcopal Church Home. Although Roy had grown weak and fragile, he stayed alert through a half-hour talk with Ben about the season past and the season ahead.

When it was time for Ben to leave, say people who were there, it was impossible to tell which of them got the most out of it. 

 

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