PASSING OF A LEGEND: My farewell to a friend and mentor

Furman Bisher died this week at the young age of 93. I loved the man. Period. He was my mentor during my 13-plus years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and I never met someone with so much energy in his later years.

He was one of the greatest sportswriters to ever live and if he ever would have gone into fiction writing he would have been up there right beside Hemmingway, who also cut his spurs on sports.

There are so many Bisher stories I could tell you but we would be here for weeks. Actually my favorite one came off the field, or perhaps away from the typewriter.

On a trip in the late 1980’s to an Auburn-Georgia football matchup, four of us from the AJC drove to cover the game. Before we got there, we all decided it was time to eat and, as sportswriters typically do, we spared no expense; we pulled into a McDonald’s.

Now Furman, who could afford prime rib at every meal and was about 70 at the time, let us know that he had never eaten at the Golden Arches. We thought he was kidding, but Furman never was the kidding type and said this was a first. We walked in and lined up to order and Furman was behind me. I finished and he walked up to the counter, took off his glasses and looked up at the menu. Perplexed, he looked at the woman ready to take his order and said, “Ma’am, I will have one of those Happy Meals.’’

We all lost it but sure enough they gave him one, he ate it, pocketed the toy and I don’t think he ever understood what we thought was so funny.


Furman taught me a lot, everything from the right way to interview an athlete or coach to how not to end your sentence with a preposition. When the Braves were hot in the 1990’s and I was the AJC beat writer for the team, we took many a trip across the county, including two I will never forget.

In 1992, we were in Los Angeles and after the game, we looked to grab a cab back to the hotel. Dodger Stadium is only a few minutes from where we were staying downtown but a big Lincoln pulled up to us and in it was Tommy Lasorda. The Dodgers manager said, “Furman, get in and bring the kid.’’ Furman got in the front, I slid in the back and Lasorda had a big, brown bag with him on the seat that smelled awfully good.

When we went through security, he handed it to the guard on duty and said, “Enjoy your dinner. We had ribs tonight.’’ Lasorda then turned Bisher and said, “Those guys don’t make a lot. I like to take care of them.’’ We then headed to the hotel, listening to big band music with me comfortably in the back and two legends up front. I remember Bisher telling me, “What Tommy did with that security guard should tell you something about him. Everyone thinks Tommy is full of himself. Remember what you saw the next time you write about him.’’

Lesson learned with who we liked to call “The Bish.” He wrote the foreword to my 1991 best-selling book “Miracle Season’’ and we co-wrote a book on Latin baseball players that was written in Spanish. When I left the paper in 1998, we stayed close and I have sent him every single issue of Score Atlanta.

Yes, Furman was a legend and I have decided to remember him this way. In 1991 at the World Series in Minnesota, I sat in the main press box between Furman and Lewis Gizzard, another writing legend. Lewis typed on a typewriter and Furman on a beat up computer. It was Game 7 and the game was scoreless and about to go into the 10th inning. Grizzard was pulling his hair out because deadline approached while Furman sat there coolly pecking away and turned to me and said, “I.J., what do you think about this first sentence.’’

Blown away that he would ask a just-turned-29-year-old his opinion, I can’t even remember what I said.

I do know that I will never forget Furman and, friend, this Happy Meal is for you.

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