Legendary sportswriter Jim Taylor died on Monday. He was one of the reasons I married journalism in general and newspapers in particular. He was a newspaper god from a time we will never again see. In his memory, a column I wrote in 2008 after interviewing the journalism giant.
When I was about 10, I wanted desperately to be a sportswriter when I grew up, so I wrote to Jim Taylor, at the time the best sports columnist in the land as he pounded out copious copy for the Vancouver Sun.
I asked him a simple question: What do I need to do to become a sportswriter?
He responded with a typewritten letter, one that included corrections he made in pencil on the page.
“Read, read and read some more,” he wrote, and “write, write and write some more.”
Taylor mentioned journalism school and said I should be prepared to spend some time in remote locales, making lousy money and working even lousier hours.
A stirring motivational missive it wasn’t. But it was honest.
I kept his letter for years.
Then, when I was about 18, I accidentally locked our cat, Scratch, in my bedroom for an entire day. Scratch was the greatest cat of all time and knew how not to make a mess.
So, after hours of imprisonment, Scratch just had to go.
He had an entire expanse of carpet on which to deposit his gift, but Scratch, being a considerate cat, defecated on the lone piece of paper on that volume of carpet.
And that’s how my beloved letter from Taylor wound up like so much of yesterday’s newspaper — in the garbage.
In 2005, I related this tale to Taylor when I interviewed the legend by phone while reviewing The Best of Jim Coleman, a book of columns by Coleman that Taylor had helped unearth and edit.
When I told Taylor what Scratch had done to his letter to me, written back in the 1970s, Taylor’s wit was instant: “Everybody’s a critic.”
And that is why Taylor is among the best of all time.
Which is why Taylor’s 12th book — Hello, Sweetheart? Gimmie Rewrite!, a memoir of his time at the Victoria Times-Colonist, the late and not-really-lamented Vancouver Times, the Vancouver Sun and the Province — is a must for anybody who is a fan of great writing and humorous anecdotes and wants to peer into the world of newspapers when they were inhabited by talented ink-stained wretches.
Hello, Sweetheart? Gimmie Rewrite! is, as the subhead states, Taylor’s “life in the wonderful world of sports.”
And it is a rollicking good read, covering Taylor’s beginnings in Victoria (where he wanted to be a humour writer and had to be talked into writing sports) and his move to Vancouver, where he produced a column five days a week.
Think about that — he wrote a column five days a week.
Fellow legend Denny Boyd did likewise with his news column in the Sun. Such production is unheard of today.
Taylor quotes Red Smith (whom he calls “the greatest sports columnist who ever lived”) on the subject of column-writing: “Writing a daily column is the simplest thing in the world. You just sit down in front of a typewriter and stay there until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.”
Taylor’s memoir includes his experiences covering sporting events around the world — the 1972 Olympic Winter Games in Sapporo, hockey’s 1972 Summit Series in Moscow and swimming championships in Yugoslavia and Colombia.
He also includes nine of his favourite columns to end the 248-page book.
Perhaps the finest chapter is one titled simply Teresa.
In it, Taylor writes about his teenage daughter’s accident on the ski hill at Manning Park in 1976 that left her with permanent brain damage.
“I almost didn’t include this chapter, fearful of the scabs that would be ripped away, as indeed they were,” Taylor writes.
“But memory is a wonderful thing. When the glasses teared over, I could reach back in my mind and haul up those old pictures of the big-eyed girl in the filthy overalls.”
They don’t make them like Taylor any more, but the memories are eternal.