The bylines of many of the sportswriters I admired long before I was fortunate enough to make this my career surely are familiar to you. Fitzgerald and Montville, Gammons and Ryan — in New England and beyond, their surnames are nearly as recognizable as those of the athletes they covered.
Today, I want to take a moment to pay tribute to another wonderful sportswriter, one you probably do not know unless you are from a certain corner of Maine, but one who had a more profound impact on my life and career than any of those more famous men.
Dave Bourque, a sportswriter and editor at the Times Record newspaper in Maine for nearly 40 years, died last Friday at age 70. The cause was congestive heart failure, a particularly cruel irony given that, by all accounts, his heart never failed anyone else.
Every small town has someone like Dave, and if it doesn’t, well, it damn well should. In the little coastal community of Bath where I grew up, local sports were a community social event, and the games mattered. Dave was the documenter of record, the institutional memory and one-man archive of local sports knowledge. He seemed to know everyone and everyone certainly knew him, and I’d bet a good majority of them would agree he was among the genuinely funniest people they ever met, quick, sarcastic, and gruff in that endearing way. (A friend remembers him greeting a coach immediately after a less-than-aesthetically-classic game with this opening line: “I’ve been watching these Morse-Brunswick games for years, and I can say that was the worst half of basketball I have ever seen.”)
He fit the stereotypes of an old-school newspaperman, with ink on his hands, worn soles on his shoes, and a wisecrack always at the ready. I always thought he looked like an obscure character from the comic strip “Shoe.” He would have fit in with that cigar-chomping Chicago crew from “Sportswriters on TV.” Yeah, you could say he looked the part.
But my personal admiration of him comes from more than his ability to write a game story, craft a feature, or pry a decent quote from a self-important coach, for Dave was a kind and generous friend to my family, playing a supporting role in my earliest memories, and in some of my best ones.
When I was a toddler, the local Babe Ruth League ball field was just a long fly ball from my family’s front door, and a few seasons before I fell for the Red Sox, I can remember watching his teams play. He coached in the Bath Babe Ruth league for 25 years, and the legend is that he never had a losing season, though I’m not sure I buy it. After all, you’d think someone who had built a local dynasty of that proportion would have alienated someone along the way. If he did, it’s front-page news to me.
When I played for my high school’s powerhouse basketball team — and by “played,” I mean clapped for my superior teammates at all the appropriate times — he was there just about every Tuesday and Friday game night, holding his notepad and and camera at his usual spot near the baseline, covering the latest Morse High victory and taking photos for the newspaper. On occasion — or perhaps more often than that — my mom would ask him if he had snapped any pictures of her son, and his standard bone-dry reply went something like this: “I would, Pat, if I could just get one of him shooting with his eyes open.”
Dave always could make my mom laugh — they had worked together at the newspaper decades before, and even in recent years, when his health deteriorated, every now and again he’d take a moment to call her just to check in and catch up. Often, he’d tell her he’d heard from his son Matt, now an associate commissioner of America East, that I was doing well. I wish I’d taken a moment to tell him how much I appreciated that.
I had intended to write about Dave when I got the sad news a week ago, but as usual, the clock refused to cooperate. It’s been a hectic week here at the office, chasing news about contract extensions for adored MVPs and trying to get the story straight about the ancient linebacker’s unlikely comeback. They are wildly enjoyable days, though sometimes it’s frustrating when the never-ending news cycle leaves you with little opportunity for reflection. I take solace in knowing that a lifer like Dave would understand — though I suspect he’d also give me hell for missing deadline.
Amidst the sadness, the thought keeps coming to me that his must have been a remarkably rewarding and fulfulling life. The luckiest among us find their calling early, and Dave certainly fit in that category. I too have been so fortunate, having wanted to be a sportswriter from the moment it dawned on me that I probably was not going to replace Danny Ainge in the Celtics starting lineup. In high school, Dave was the only sportswriter I knew personally, and so I watched and observed how he approached his job. It was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
Dave was not a particularly flashy writer, and his copy never read like he was auditioning for “Around The Horn: Midcoast Maine Edition.” He worked with a more honest purpose — to be fair and accurate, to tell a worthwhile story.
For nearly 40 years, Dave Bourque wrote about good and unsung people who deserved recognition, but didn’t seek it.
Today, I’m proud to do the same.