Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Loss of a Great Talent and Friend

The world of sports lost one of its best last week when Jim Huber, Emmy award winning essayist, suddenly succumbed to acute leukemia on January 2. Many of you have seen Huber during the past three decades. He served as host of CNN's "The Sporting Life", where Huber's goal was "to relate stories of grand inspiration, tales of people who challenge life's odds."
He also served as co-host of CNN's "Sports Tonight" and in in recent years, he covered golf and the NBA for the TBS cable station and the TNT network. He received an Emmy for "Olympic Park Bombing," his essay on the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
I had gotten to know Jim very well through our mutual association with the PGA of America. His was a big part of the PGA introducing more than 100 PGA members over the years as National award winners. For the past 13 Autumns Jim was the face of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf when he conducted a fireside chat with the four major championship winners. His flair and dignity were never more evident than when hosted the outgoing PGA President's dinner on eight occasions.
Huber was like that really cool uncle you see four or five times a year. He was wise and courteous. His features included a bald head, a mustache and a very warm smile. Meet Jim once, and he would remember your name forever. Huber was a guy that it was easy to gravitate towards. He is known in journalistic and broadcasting circles as one of the greatest story tellers of all-time.
His memoir, "A Thousand Goodbyes: A Son's Reflection on Living, Dying and the Things That Matter Most" (2001) is a great read about the facts of life. Not the sexual facts, but the things that matter most. Huber tackles life in a manner that is motivating, captivating and genuine. Read this book and you will be a better person.
His most recent book, "Four Days in July" (2011) recounted Tom Watson's failed run at winning the 2009 British Open at age 59. I was at Turnberry that year. It was my first Open Championship. I had the good fortune to experience what Huber wrote about, up close and personal. This book is a great story about Watson and his career. "Four Days in July" is an example Huber's ability to tell a story. You will feel like you were there with Watson on every step along Scotland's coast during that infamous week.
Huber was the kind of guy who could pull a player aside as he walked off of the 18th green at the PGA Championship and immediately get the player engaged in the interview, no matter how the round went. The players trusted Jim. They knew he would be respectful, but Huber was never afraid to ask the tough questions either.
When Tiger Woods missed the cut at the Atlanta Athletic Club in last year's PGA, Huber got the task of interviewing him immediately after he signed his scorecard. I happened to be in the scoring area and was chatting with Jim while Tiger was in the scoring trailer. I offered some condolences for the task that lie ahead. Huber simply grinned and said, "This will be okay. Tiger and I will both survive it."
On another day at the PGA last year, Huber did a commentary on TNT regarding a spat that Phil Mickelson was having with course architect Reese Jones. The Mickelson-Jones feud had been brewing for several months and stemmed from a previous PGA Tour venue, but the Atlanta Athletic Club was also a Jones' design and Huber's home club. I watched the piece that Huber did while having lunch at the AAC. He took on Mickelson pretty good, but with typical Huber style and grace. A few minutes later I walked past Jim in the interview area and said, "Nice piece on Mickelson."
He smiled with a wink and said, "Did you enjoy that? I did."
Despite being 67 years old, Huber was a fanatical user of the social media. He had 689 friends on Facebook. That is often how we communicated. Jim posted an aggravated response on FB shortly after Sports Illustrated initially limited its coverage to the Penn State debacle with a one page, back page article. A few weeks later, he chided Mitt Romney for his remarks on President Obama's golf.
On each occasion, I had ironically just finished columns on the same two subjects. I emailed my stories on Paterno and Romney to Huber. I am pleased to say the response was the same on both occasions. It was a simple, "Well done." I write a little bit and consider myself no more than a half-assed journalist compared to Jim. But, that is a high standard of comparison.
Huber and his wife Carol, herself suffering from health issues, celebrated 45 years of marriage on December 19. Here was Huber's FB post that day. "Elderly couple sitting across from each other at a table. She says, 'Oh my, how long has it been?' He says, '45 years my love, but it only seems like 45 hours.' She says, 'Oh, Henry… underwater."
On Christmas Day, Huber posted, "Tis early, way too for a house without chillens, but my persistant cough has demanded I rise and wish each of you the greatest of holidays."
At 10:13 a.m. on December 28, Huber posted, "Anybody's SS check late in direct deposit?"
A few hours later at 2:10 p.m. Huber's final FB post said, "Okay, now they are talking about taking me to the ER, etc. Seems like we've built up enough FF (frequent flyer) points over the last couple of years." Unbeknown to Huber, he would be diagnosed with acute leukemia and it seemed God had a need for an essayist's position right after the first of the year.
So, 2012 started out on a real downer for the friends of Jim Huber. Last week, CNN senior executive producer Michael Schulder said, "Jim Huber wrote lullabies that could open your eyes. His essays on sports and life were short. But never rushed."
After last summer's U.S. Open, Huber wrote, "There comes a moment- and you'll remember where you were forever- when the golf world shifts just a bit, and a new order steps up. It came when Tiger Woods won the '97 Masters, by a dozen shots. It came at Congressional Country Club, this Father's Day when Rory McIlroy charged through the golfing world and made U.S. Open history."
The life of Jim Huber can be summed up in his own words. Well done, my friend. You will be missed.  

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