Niagara Gazette

Columns

July 12, 2014

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Recounting the big role 'Woody' played

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Readers — The big-city paper last week carried a lengthy farewell to retired managing editor Elwood Wardlow. He made the obituary pages at the age of 90, after a distinguished career, with this exception:

He is responsible for what you’re reading here today.

It was 1967, Doug’s 19th year of professional sportswriting, despite an appalling lack of on-field skills. He had a nice gig in Erie, Pa., covering high schools, mostly, when the fellow who had hired him died and a new man stepped up. Doug thought he was his friend. He wasn’t. Power went to his head like toxic waste. Within a year, all but three of 21 in the paper’s newsroom had left, one in a memorable huff, rolling this note into the new boss’ typewriter (remember those?) on lunch break:

“Larie, you told me if I didn’t like it here, I could quit. I don’t like it here. Good-bye. John.”

John had no family. Doug did. He answered a Buffalo Evening News help-wanted ad for a copy reader in the sports department. Copy readers work indoors, correcting errors and enforcing clarity. They earn more, their reward for giving up writing, Doug always thought.

Elwood Wardlow interviewed him. “Call me Woody,” he insisted, a radical change from the style of his predecessor, who had visitors’ chairs nailed to the floor so that they could not approach him. At day’s end, Woody told Doug that clearly, Doug’s passion was writing, and they just couldn’t fit him into the sports department.

A few weeks later, Doug was bathing away sand and grit accumulated on an Erie golf course when the phone rang. Polly answered it, came in (no hand-helds in those days, not on his budget) and said, “It’s Mr. Wardlow in Buffalo offering you a job as a copy editor in the general news department. He really likes you.”

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