Furman Bisher: We lost a legend, I lost a friend

Not many are worthy of the word "legend" attached to their name, but Furman Bisher is one. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Furman Bisher: One of few worthy of "legend" being attached to his name. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Every few weeks, the same thoughts would roll through my head:

I just had a conversation with the man who sat on the front porch sipping ice tea with Ty Cobb.

I just exchanged emails with the man who scored the only interview with “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

The man who watched Cy Young pitch, the man who saw Joe Louis box, the man who covered the very first post-bootlegging NASCAR race — one of the few people who legitimately deserved to have the word “legend” attached to his name — just dialed my cell phone to say, “Hello, young man. I like what you wrote . . .”

I’m sad today, not just because I lost a friend and former colleague in Furman Bisher but because this is like a door to history slamming shut  for all of us.

In a few weeks, I’ll be going to Augusta for the Masters and I won’t be able to turn to my right and exchange thoughts with the man who played golf with Bobby Jones.

Bisher wrote his first column for the Atlanta Constitution in 1950. I was born nine years later. When I came to Atlanta in 1989, Bisher was 71. People told me he was going to retire soon. Soon turned out to be 20 years later.

When he finally left this newspaper in 2009, I asked Furman what he was going to do.

“I’m going to get up in the morning and think of something to write,” he said.

Then he laughed at the irony of that statement.

Sitting down to write his first column for the Atlanta Constitution in 1950.

Furman Bisher sits down to write his first column for the Atlanta Constitution in 1950.

We talked about about sports. We talked about life. We talked about the changing media and the state of the newspaper industry. Eventually, I got around to asking him again about Ty Cobb and Joe Jackson, because I could never hear him tell stories enough times.

“People look at me like I’m in a museum or something,” he said. “It’s like I’m one of those stone things, talking to you. A talking statue. They can’t quite understand it. They look at me and say, ‘You really knew him?’ It really didn’t strike me as that unusual at the time. I had known Cobb before. I’d seen him blow his stack at dinner. I had never seen Shoeless Joe before. When we spoke, he said, ‘This will be the first time I tell this story and the last.’ We got $250 apiece for that story from Sport Magazine. That was good money. It was 1949.”

Before news traveled with the speed of a Tweet, Furman Bisher painted pictures for us. He wrote with a voice. When he was revved up about a topic, and that was more often than not, the words jumped off the page. It was as if he was sitting next to you, talking into your ear.

If he liked you, you knew it.

If he didn’t like you, you knew it.

Nobody ever had to ask, “I wonder what Furman thinks?”

Stan Kasten, the former longtime Atlanta sports executive, certainly experienced both sides of Bisher. It’s not well-known, but Kasten loves having different business cards made up to describe his ventures. (True story: When he stepped down as president of the Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, Kasten said, “Hey Jeff, here’s my new card,” and he handed me a blank card.)

Bisher inspired one of Kasten’s cards.

“He wrote that I was ‘a not altogether unworthy servant,’” Kasten said with a chuckle. “I thought that was kind of his way of complimenting somebody. I took that with great pride. You can bet I had cards made up that said, ‘Not Altogether Unworthy Servant.’”

Furman sent me an email in November, a couple of days after the LSU-Alabama game, which I had covered.

“Jeff: Les Miles played his hand like a smart gambler. Waited till Saban dealt him the right hand and nailed him. Probably one of the most popular victories in college football since Rutgers beat Princeton. Er, uh, or did Princeton beat Rutgers? You do good work—FB”

We spoke a few times after that. We exchanged a few emails during the last round of baseball Hall of Fame voting. I told him I was checking the box by Dale Murphy’s name again.

“Bravo and good for you. We need all the recruits we can get. I’ve been voting for him for years, but to no avail. Not much chance ever I’m afraid, but I ain’t quitting.–FB”

I told him I was looking forward to seeing him at the Masters. I had heard he was having some back issues and asked him if would be well enough to attend the tournament . I just looked back this morning and realized he never responded to that email.

It was well-known Furman ended columns with the Hebrew word, “Selah.” It’s punctuation that appears at the end of verses in Psalms and has been interpreted different ways: Forever. Pause. Reflect.

I will forever pause and reflect on a man I was fortunate to know and could call a friend. And to Furman, if you’re reading this: If people viewed you as some talking statue in a museum, it’s a term of endearment.

Selah.

By Jeff Schultz

258 comments Add your comment

Jeremy rutledge

March 19th, 2012
11:42 am

Ole Furman Lewis and you are the best my friend he will be missed

Jeff B

March 19th, 2012
11:44 am

What an amazing lifetime.

@DanWeiner

March 19th, 2012
11:47 am

great stuff, Jeff. Thanks.

Thanks to Jeff and Mark...

March 19th, 2012
11:48 am

…for carrying on the mantle at the AJC – When we lost Lewis Grizzard we lost a treasure, and now his mentor has joined him. Lewis always said all he ever wanted to do was to “write like Furman Bisher” and now he will have him to mentor him some more.

Thanks for the reflections, Jeff and Mark…

Dave from Buford

March 19th, 2012
11:53 am

Thanks, Jeff.

Furman Bisher was one of the many the reasons I went to the J-School at UGA and I had great plans to succeed him at the AJC.

At the time the AJC had a weekly “Beat Bisher” college football pick ‘em game going where the main weekly prize was a tee shirt with Furman’s face in red and “I Beat Bisher” blazoned across it. I still have mine, stashed away in a drawer and defend it every spring when my wife wants to throw it away.

I read Furman’s column every time it appeared … he had a knack for finding the small, human things in sport which you don’t see now, and in these days of web based columns you might not see again. Oddly enough, I think I looked forward to his Thanksgiving columns the most … perhaps it was because we saw the source of the humanity that he was able to find in his work.

When I compliment someone by saying they are a “gentleman and a scholar”, what I mean is they’re like Furman.

Selah, indeed.

rlm

March 19th, 2012
11:55 am

Taught this female that reading sports columns was often the best reading in the paper during a time females could care less about sports. Please compile his columns and put them in a book.

promethius

March 19th, 2012
11:58 am

Did Furman study at J-School at UGa?

Newman

March 19th, 2012
11:59 am

Selah Mr. Bisher.

Larry

March 19th, 2012
12:00 pm

Jeff,

If Mr. Bisher has read this, he’s thinking “you do good work.”

Larry

Sonny Clusters

March 19th, 2012
12:05 pm

Not many people know that we were buddies with Mr. Bisher and we also exchanged e-mails in his later years. He loved St. Simons and it was hard to get him back to Atlanta once he got there. We remember reading his columns and, he did as Jeff says, paint a picture. We used to grab the Journal and the very first thing look for his column. We would be thoroughly entertained and informed when we got through reading . . . and we’d wish it could go on some more. We also remember his tv program on Sunday mornings and how he was the precursor to ESPN. Mr. Bisher was one of our heroes and remains so. May he rest in peace. Selah.

Cindy

March 19th, 2012
12:06 pm

Farewell, Mr Bisher. You are a true gentleman and scholar and when I passed you in the halls of the AJC I was in awe. You will be greatly missed.

GaDawg81

March 19th, 2012
12:06 pm

Nice column Jeff. Furman will be missed. I remember growing up reading his column as well as Jessie Outlar. Two giants in the business. I loved to read Furman every day. He was like a grandfather telling us a story.

Brave Hokie

March 19th, 2012
12:06 pm

Rest well, FB…

UGA '90 ABJ

March 19th, 2012
12:07 pm

Dave in Buford must have done better in the “I beat Bisher” contest than I did. I only got a bumper sticker. ;) It was a prized possession that I cherished.

I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Bisher while I was in the J-school at UGA. It was like meeting an idol. I can’t imagine what it would be like to work with him.

After graduation I worked in sports at a newspaper in South Carolina. When I wrote columns I always thought about his past work. I knew whatever I did would never approach his level of excellence.

Thanksgiving morning won’t be the same without his column.

In honor of him, “Selah.”

Dave from Buford

March 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

@promethius

No, he went to UNC.

David

March 19th, 2012
12:10 pm

I enrolled at Ga Tech in the Summer of 1953. Ed Danforth wrote the column that Mr Bisher eventually took over. At first, I thought that Mr Bisher would never be as good a writer as Mr Danforth. After a few columns by Mr Bisher, I realized that the Atlanta Journal had a sports writing genius in Mr Bisher. Even after I graduated from Ga Tech in 1959 and moved to South Carolina, I woud go to the library and try to find a copy of the Atlanta Journal Sports so that I could read Mr Bisher’s column. He will be missed. There will
never be another like him

copy of the Atlanta Journal

Banned Poster

March 19th, 2012
12:14 pm

Great tribute Jeff. It sad that Furman is no longer with us, but the memories of his work will live on forever. I wonder if Furman and Lewis are having a good laugh this morning, among other things.

pat

March 19th, 2012
12:15 pm

Thanks, Jeff. Sorry for your loss of a friend.

sainthater

March 19th, 2012
12:16 pm

Say Hello to Lewis and Catfish, you will be missed.

Bosox9

March 19th, 2012
12:20 pm

Thanks for this nice piece, Jeff. Furman was truly one of a kind and I’m glad to have known him.

Richard

March 19th, 2012
12:21 pm

Growing up in ATL I loved reading his articles and he became the standard by which all other scribes were judged. My favorite were his Thanksgiving articles about the things he was thank for that particular year. I would read them aloud in the kitchen while mom got dinner ready. Thanks Furman!
Selah

UGABugKiller

March 19th, 2012
12:25 pm

There are two people in my life that nurtured my intense love of sports: my father (as it is with almost every boy and man) and Furman Bisher, to whom I owe my greatest sports thanks.

My father, having been born in Brooklyn, tried to instill in me a love for all things New York, but it was the words, wit, and wisdom of Furman Bisher (and Lewis Grizzard, to a lesser extent) who engendered a deep and unabated love for all sports with a Southernly flair. While Mr. Bisher would have probably preferred my loyalties pledged to his late son Roger’s alma mater, I know he would be happy with my fierce love for the Braves, Falcons, and even Thrashers (my ambivalence to the Hawks notwithstanding).

Although my brother and father have experienced a sports fan’s ecstasy 9 times in the last 29 years (Yankees’ and Giants’ World Championships), I wouldn’t trade either of Mark Richt’s SEC Championship wins nor the (unfortunate) lone Braves World Series win for their Northeasten treasure, because my life as I’ve always remembered it has been here. I am of Georgia, and I have never looked, and will never look with covetous eyes towards the North, and for that Pride, I thank Furman Bisher.

From the time I could understand more than “cat” and “dog” as I was reading, I was reading Mr. Bisher’s columns to feed my insatiable need for sports. As I grew older, I began to appreciate his way of approaching his subjects from a different angle than most columnists. Read his columns after Atlanta got the Olympics or after the Braves won the World Series to understand what I’m talking about. I loved the way how he’d sometimes come at an issue or the subject of his pen a little sideways, and how it made me think. I know, especially as we’ve moved into this new digital age with the ability to comment on every online column we read, that there are many people in this town who unfortunately never understood his wit or did not possess the intelligence to comprehend his point of view, but that made me appreciate Mr. Bisher even more.

His prose was not for the ignorant. It was not for the uneducated. Like many of the Alabama fans lacking in any semblance of perspective I had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting last night on Twitter, or, during 2007, the unbalanced fans in this town who unduly worship a man I refer to as the DogKilla.

No, Mr. Bisher’s writing was elevated above the depths at which people of that low caliber existed, and I loved reading him all the more for it.

When I was in middle school and high school in Gwinnett and then Hall County, I routinely skipped my lunch period to go to the library for those 20 minutes to read the AJC Sports Section, and specifically, Mr. Bisher’s column. Instead of eating my PB&J or ham & cheese, I devoured his words. After any big sporting event, his thoughts were the first I sought out.

While I was in Okinawa, after my second knee injury and surgery, I sent Mr. Bisher an email about a column he wrote. He responded back promptly, and for about a month, we actually carried on a correspondence, me the Marine, he the old Seabee. We talked about his time in service, during WWII and he told me a few stories of how the SEC used to be, with Alabama and Georgia Tech being as fierce a rivalry as he’d ever seen, and how sad he was when Bobby Dodd took Tech out of the SEC. At the time, and still to this day, I could hardly believe I was talking to the great Furman Bisher, a man who shaped my love of sports, a columnist whom I revered above all. But that’s the kind of man he was: as great as his deeds were to those of us who were witness to them, he was generous enough with his time to speak to a broken down Corporal and help lift his spirits. It is a great sorrow that I no longer have any of those emails, as I found out yesterday, because after I began going to UGA, I stopped using that yahoo mail account, and they deleted all of my saved files.

But I’ll always have the memories. And although Mr. Bisher is no longer here with us in body, he’ll always be here with us through his writing. The sharp wit, the steady temper, it’s all there to be found. All we have to do is do a google search, and we rediscover his work.

He is truly immortal. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Respectfully.

todd grantham

March 19th, 2012
12:27 pm

Jeff,

Fine piece of writing.

Montgomery

March 19th, 2012
12:33 pm

Mr. Furman Bisher will be missed.

DIT

March 19th, 2012
12:34 pm

I would love to read that piece FB did on SHoeless Joe Jackson.

BBrown

March 19th, 2012
12:38 pm

Jeff, in the words of FB – “I like what you wrote”. Great tribute to a legend!!

blazer

March 19th, 2012
12:39 pm

Always loved your sports articles in the paper, but the best ones are the Thanksgiving ones.

I even bought the book with some of those in it. Mr. Bisher, I’m thankful for getting to

reading your writings.

True Tech

March 19th, 2012
12:40 pm

Way to be classy Bryant.

SeminoleWarrior

March 19th, 2012
12:40 pm

Great piece, Jeff.

FB would remind you to keep the chin up and get back to work. And you are right…he truly is worthy of the title, LEGEND.

blazer

March 19th, 2012
12:40 pm

I love all his sports articles but the Thanksgiving one are the best!

UGABugKiller

March 19th, 2012
12:43 pm

It didn’t take long for a Bama Updyke to come here and ruin our moment of respect with their classless and ultimately sad lack of perspective in life, did it?

You are to be pitied, you poor Bama Updyke. Pitied. Gain some perspective, live your life better.

Jason

March 19th, 2012
12:43 pm

One of your best, Jeff.

Jay S.

March 19th, 2012
12:45 pm

Here’s the piece Furman did on Shoeless Joe Jackson – http://www.blackbetsy.com/theTruth.html

reebok

March 19th, 2012
12:48 pm

The last of the great print sportswriters. He can kick back now and compare stories with Grantland Rice and Jesse Outler. What a great writer, and what a life!

And THE BAMA NATION, too...

March 19th, 2012
12:50 pm

…you guys are really a classless bunch…way to represent the BAMA NATION…

BillfromNewnan

March 19th, 2012
12:53 pm

I am 64. I remember the mid-day Sunday TV show of a roundtable discussion among AJC sportswriters on the previous day’s SEC football games, almost always featuring Furman Bisher, Jesse Outlar, Ed Danforth and Jim Minter, sometimes including Harry Mehre. Those were the days….

Marvin Mangrum

March 19th, 2012
12:55 pm

I read my first newspaper in the spring of 1961, the first story I ever read was by a guy with the odd name of Furman Bisher, Ill tell you this, it was the first of many stories, almost all very, very great. Im thinking, surely not all of them were not great, but I surely can not remember the bad ones. Mr Bisher had a gift, a true gift, and he found it and shared it with us, that truly was the greatest gift I ever recieved. Man, the Angels are singing, and all your friends are saying “Selah”.

Columbus Dawg

March 19th, 2012
12:55 pm

It does not take much to see what pieces of dung that the majority of Alabama supporters truly are. If it is not corrupt, cheated or just plain wrong, it ain’t from Alabama.

Jason

March 19th, 2012
12:56 pm

Here is Furman’s interview with Shoeless Joe. Mr. Bisher was indeed a classic, and will be missed.

http://www.blackbetsy.com/theTruth.html

BillVol

March 19th, 2012
12:56 pm

Outstanding, Jeff.

doc

March 19th, 2012
12:59 pm

amen, bill. those were the days and the only way to get info from the late night games at u of miss and lsu if you didnt get to listen on the radio the night before. those were really great shows and i had enjoyed harry mehre as well but had forgotten his essence there until you mentioned him.

dawgum

March 19th, 2012
12:59 pm

You Bama guys save your disrespect for when you are going out on a date with your cousin and allow us to honor a great man and his family with the respect he deserves!!!

[...] Schultz pays tribute to Furman Bisher, who informed generations of Atlanta sports fans. I started reading him at 6 years old. More than [...]

Buckeye

March 19th, 2012
1:01 pm

I want to pay my respects to another great Atlantan sports icon. I suspect Furman and Munson are sharing a laugh about now.

NCBravesFan

March 19th, 2012
1:03 pm

Furman was always a great read, and the last chapter in the old Journal-Consitution has now been written. RIP Mr. Bisher, and say hi to Celestine Sibley – a great reporter and columnist in her own right.

Bamajacket

March 19th, 2012
1:04 pm

A sad day for all of us who “saw” all the events Mr. Bisher covered. Nobody ever put a sentence together like he could do it. “Legend” doesn’t quite cover the worth and skill of the man. His kind are now disappearing, and we are the less for it.

Edgar Godfrey

March 19th, 2012
1:05 pm

I also enjoyed his work through the years. Jeff one of my teachers in high school was Coach Wally Butts sister. I still remember the day she was summoned to the office and returned a few minutes later with a smile on her face. They had just won a lawsuit against the publishers of Life Magazine for printing Mr. Bisher’s story about the alledged fix of the UGA/Alabama game. Mrs. Coley hated Curtiss Publishing Co. She never had anything to say about Furman Bisher. I’ll always believe he was baited. Mrs. Coley always said her brother and Bear Bryant never did what was written in that article. All I know is Mrs. Coley said her brother never got over it and sent him to an early grave. I met him once a few years ago in an elevator after a Falcons game. I complimented him for his years of great writing. He smiled and said thank you. There was an idiot on the elevator though that harrased him about that piece.I felt bad for him. All he did was write what he heard. I called the guy a guttless puke. He made no attempt to return my insult.He had too many fans on that elevator for one idiot to even think about saying a word. You were fortunate Jeff. I wish I could have heard more from him that I’m sure you listened too.

missouridawg

March 19th, 2012
1:11 pm

The baton has been passed to you and Mark, Jeff. Thanks for the great article. One of your best. Selah, indeed.

True Falcon Fan

March 19th, 2012
1:12 pm

I always saved the best writer and column for last when reading AJC sports page. I will miss Mr. Furman Bisher

Go Falcons!

LHarding Dawg

March 19th, 2012
1:12 pm

Growing up in the small town of Hazlehurst in the 60’s and 70’s, we did’nt get a lot of sports news. The only reliable source was the daily AJC and Furman Bisher. Thanks for giving me something to look forward to. RIP