- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

This was at a George Washington University football game in the 1960s, and beat writers Dick Slay of the Evening Star and Byron Roberts of The Washington Post were somewhat the worse for wear after a spirited spell of pregame guzzling.

In those days, reporters and sports information directors “covered” for scribes who had partaken a bit too much.

“Neither one of them is in shape to write a story, so we’ll have to do it,” another writer told Jack Zane, then GW’s SID. “Which one do you want to file a story for?”

Replied Zane: “Well, I don’t write very well, so I guess I better do Slay.”

Grievously wounded by this slur, Slay recovered instantly. Lurching to his feet, he grabbed his typewriter and commenced pounding away like a man working on a tough Sunday morning deadline, which he was.

Slay and Roberts later reformed their errant ways and ended their careers working together on the national copy desk at The Washington Times. Roberts died of a stroke in January 1996, and Slay joined his old buddy April 30 when he perished of lung cancer at his retirement home on Daufuskie Island, S.C.

And so another member of the Star’s great sports staff is gone. Unbelievably, it has been 28 years since the newspaper closed, so it should be no surprise that so many have departed: Francis Stann, Mo Siegel, Merrell Whittlesey, Tony Atchison, Eddie Crane, Tom Yorke, Wheeler Johnson, Bucky Summers, et al. The list keeps growing, and the pain keeps coming.

Back when I was starting out in the 1950s, Dick Slay was one of my role models because his stories on high school sports easily put mine to shame.

A decade or so later, Slay became one of the nation’s premier golf writers. After the Star closed, he worked for the PGA here and in South Carolina. If you wanted to know anything about pro golf in the Middle Atlantic area, you called Dick. If he could help, he would.

“I thought very highly of him,” said Bill Peeler, the Star’s sports editor for much of Slay’s career. “He started out as a copy boy and became a very steady writer you could always depend on. He never wrote anything outrageous.”

Slay also came equipped with a dry and devastating sense of humor. Once he called the sports desk with a breaking story and said he needed to dictate immediately. (This was long before computers rendered dictationists as obsolete as parchment.)

“Well, we have three guys in the office who could take it,” Peeler said. “You can have Dick Heller, Steve Hershey or Eddie Crane. Which one do you want?”

“I dunno,” Slay said. “Heller can’t hear, Hershey can’t spell and Crane can’t write. Maybe I better take a cab to the office.”

Before his retirement from the newspaper business in 1994, Slay - and Roberts - occupied key slots on the Times copy desk. To get a story past Dick, reporters had to be accurate and write well - assets that sometimes are threatened by the time constraints of daily journalism.

I know because he occasionally handled my copy when a piece I had written was deemed appropriate for the main news section rather than sports. Slay found holes in my stories that I had overlooked completely, and together we patched them. Of course, that’s what a competent copy editor is supposed to do.

Fortunately, Slay didn’t labor as an ink-stained wretch long enough to see newspapers yield so much ground and popularity to the Internet. I can only imagine what he would think of today’s bloggers who often pass off personal opinion and wrath as the gospel truth. Probably, he would simply shake his head and deliver a devastatingly dry broadside at their hides.

Dick Slay was an old-fashioned newspaperman in the finest sense of the word. Just like Jack Webb of TV’s old “Dragnet” show, he just wanted the facts, ma’am, and then wrote them in a clear, concise manner that did credit to himself and his readers.

And nobody ever had to cover a game or write a story for him, no matter the circumstances. You see, he was a pro.

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