Howard Was Already in My Hall of Fame
Figuratively speaking, Howard Ward fell into our laps here at The Pilot 14 years ago.
Professionally speaking, it was one of the biggest strokes of luck I've had in a long newspaper career.
Personally speaking, I'm proud to count "Ho Wardward," as some like to call him, among my good and respected friends.
It was this exact time of year in 1997 when my wife and daughter and I moved to Southern Pines. I didn't know much about golf, but I did know all too well that we had the U.S. Open championship coming right here to Pinehurst Resort in less than two years. We wanted to cover that landmark event like it had never been covered before, and I wasn't exactly sure in those early days how we at this small (then twice-weekly) paper were going to pull that off.
One day I was in the office of Publisher David Woronoff, who had been here scarcely more than a year himself. He was cleaning off his desk.
"Here," he said, handing me an envelope with some printouts clipped to it. "Take a look at this, will you? This fellow just retired over at Fayetteville and thinks he might like to write for us. Seems pretty good to me, but it's your call."
My desk was a mess, too, and it took me a couple of days to get around to reading those writing samples, of which I wasn't expecting much. David used to kid me for months thereafter about what I said when I came back in, eyes wide and jaw slack.
"This guy," I exclaimed, "is freakin' great!"
Never mind that I didn't really say "freakin'." The operative word here is "great." And that's what Howard Ward has been ever since in my book - a great writer and a great man.
And now the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame has officially recognized that fact by inducting him into a storied membership that includes the likes of Arnold Palmer, Peggy Kirk Bell, John Derr, Beth Daniel and Harvie Ward.
Howard was his usual modest, aw-shucks kind of guy when he recently accepted the award before a large crowd in the Grand Ballroom at Pinehurst's Carolina Hotel.
There he was, he wrote in a column this past Sunday, "wondering just what the heck I was doing here and choking big time as it grew close to acceptance speech time." As an old farm boy who grew up near Chadbourn, he imagined his parents, who didn't know what golf was, giving him a hug and saying, "Yeah, son, that's really nice, but don't you think you need to get on out there and slop the hogs?"
From those humble origins, Ho Wardward made a leap unlike any I've encountered at any other paper: He moved into sportswriting at Fayetteville after starting out working in the composing room.
That was back when newspapers had composing rooms, where the skilled printers put out the newspaper, first with metal "hot type" and then with pasted-up paper type. Those noble jobs, which traced themselves back to Ben Franklin and beyond, have pretty much vanished with the advent of pagination software like QuarkXPress, which we use here at The Pilot.
Having breached the departmental wall, Howard worked his way up to sports editor of The Fayetteville Observer. It was not long after he had ended a successful stint in that position that he showed up on our doorstep.
Now 74, he has played a vital role in developing our coverage of two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Women's Opens and any number of other golf events, never deviating an inch from his role of genial, gentlemanly genius.
It has long been one of the poorest-kept secrets in journalism that - as much as some of us hate to admit it - the best writing in American newspapers often emanates from sports departments. Howard is a classic example of that. At staff meetings I often hold his leads and columns and features up as textbook examples of how one goes about stringing words and phrases together to best effect. And he makes it all seem effortless, which it isn't.
One thing Howard has always -instinctively understood, but which takes some of us a lifetime to figure out, is that the best writing is often the simplest and sparest and most -straightforward. I think it was in the media tent at one of our Opens that an ambitious younger sportswriter asked Howard what he thought was the best way to end a column.
His reply, which became legend:
"A period always works for me."
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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