Huggins: Roberts' passing marks end of an era for Nashville newspapers

Monday, August 2, 2010 at 11:17pm

The recent passing of Bill Roberts marked the last part of an historic and impressive staff of Nashville Banner sports writers, who chronicled events from the 1940s through the 70s.

Roberts died over the weekend at age 91.

He served as copy editor (later news editor) for 37 years at the old Banner, the afternoon paper which folded in 1998.

When I joined the Banner in October, 1969 as a cub reporter, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by such outstanding writers as Fred Russell (in my opinion, Nashville’s all-time best sports writer), along with George Leonard, Edgar Allen, Waxo Green, Bob Witt, Joe Caldwell and C.B. Fletcher – along with Roberts, the copy editor – a great staff for one to be a part of, to say the least.

With Roberts passing, all have left us.

It was Roberts who gave me my first assignment as a Nashville sports writer in October, 1969 when we set up an interview with the brass of the old Nashville Dixie Flyers minor league hockey team, my first beat.

He also informed me that Friday, my first day, I would fly up to cover the opening of Flyers training camp in Port Colborne, Ontario on Sunday.

The immediate thing people who first got to know Roberts was the heavy accent originating from his high-pitched voice, gained from home town Brooklyn, N.Y. They also quickly learned he was a huge Brooklyn (later Los Angeles) Dodger fan. It broke his heart when the team bolted for L.A. in 1958. But he forgave them.

The copy editors at Nashville’s two major newspapers were huge fans of different teams – Roberts with the Dodgers and the late Lon (Bud) Burns of The Tennessean who was on with the Cardinals. The two traded friendly barbs on occasion.

I never saw Roberts lose his temper. With deadlines, along with the pressures of the job and sometimes dealing with less than patient writers, he kept his composure.

The old left-hander’s research and knowledge of sports was far-reaching and inexhaustible. There was very little in terms of statistics and history Roberts didn’t know of in sports, particularly baseball.

Roberts was a 1940 graduate of Duke University. After serving in World War II in Italy, he went to work for American Airlines in New York. He started at the Banner as a sports writer and copy editor in 1947.

He was married to Mary Anne, who was from Nashville and passed away a few years ago. He had a son Walt and a daughter Dottie.

Roberts was an outstanding copy editor, the best I’ve ever known. He once caught a rare error in one of Russell’s column and called him at home just to make sure Russell knew before he changed his copy.

Roberts retired on a couple of occasions but returned with the Banner needed his services. He retired for good in 1984 and lived by himself in his Green Hills home.

A memorial service will be held at Calvary United Methodist Church, 3701 Hillsboro Road at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Visitation will be held one hour prior to the service.

2 Comments on this post:

By: Lab on 8/3/10 at 6:39

I have served as "Director of Transportation" (bus driver) at Bill's church, Calvary UMC, for fifteen years. He was one of my riders for the regular Wednesday evening dinner and program. Any time the program ran a little late, he would always ask me to hurry him home because the ball game had already begun on TV.

He always showed his humility, especially with respect to his military service in WWII as a crew member in a bomber squadron. Having witnessed other planes being blasted out of the sky, he would ponder, "Why them, and not me?"

Thanks for the wisdom, Bill. Job well done.

Al Hampton

By: richgoose on 8/3/10 at 2:59

Harold Huggins remembers well! The late 40's throught 50's and into the mid 60's brought forth sports writers from both the Banner and Tennessean that were truly the greatest.