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March 2, 2007

Eddie Folliard and Shirley Povich

Roy Meachum

Once upon a time their bylines made kings of the nation's playing fields and U.S. presidents treat them with awe and respect. Shirley Povich lyricised sports and all its stars. Eddie Folliard was the first White House correspondent in The Washington Post's history.

One month exactly after turning in my Army uniform, worn for nearly seven years, I was a Post copyboy; the politically correct "editorial assistant" had not been invented yet.

Lucking out further, my initial day on the job I was privileged to carry chief photographer Arthur Ellis' equipment around for President Dwight David Eisenhower's first inauguration. Those Speed Graphic cameras seen in old movies were not light.

Shirley Povich and Edward "Eddie" Folliard were their Washington era's journalistic superstars. By the way I never heard anyone try to call Mr. Folliard by his given name. As for Mr. Povich, nobody would have dared suggest he had a woman's name.

Mr. Folliard, moreover, held the paper's first Pulitzer Prize: he had descended into the depths of post-World War II Georgia where he pinpointed and exposed the Columbians. The scruffy band of neo-KKK racists came together because they didn't want blacks and whites to consider the many African-American wartime contributions as signaling the end to segregation.

As was his due, the Pulitzer winner sat in the newsroom's last row; he had a window. His removal from the middle kept him away from the frictions, tensions and rhubarbs that always accompany sorting out the day's stories.

The celebrated Shirley Povich appeared irregularly in the closet-sized sports department, which happened to be closest to the elevator. That explained his sudden entries and rapid exits. He was no longer the editor for a department known for booze tucked away in desk drawers.

But I'm talking about 1515 L Street NW; small potatoes by comparison with the current operation around the corner, on New Hampshire Avenue. We were relatively a corporal's squad compared to the battalions that settled into the new building.

After my then-boss, John S. Hayes, journeyed to Chicago with a check for Tribune owner, Bertie McCormick, things got a whole lot bigger. The Post executive committee decided to buy the Times-Herald from ex-Colonel McCormick and that's what former committee chair Hayes was doing along Michigan Avenue that Saint Patty's Day, 1954. I was still anchoring the morning show on WTOP-TV: Channel 9.

Upon my return to the newspaper nearly two years later, I found the newsroom had become something like the slaughter yards in Mr. McCormick's favorite city - crawling with bodies.

Rows of metal desks had been jammed into any spaces available to accommodate Times-Herald "hires." Copy boys (and girls) perfected the technique of flipping a note from some four feet away. Reporters were jammed together: again I was lucky to share with Milton Viorst who has written several books on the Middle East.

Mr. Povich and Mr. Folliard did not allow the resulting clutter and confusion to interrupt the kindness they flowed toward younger staff members.

Immaculately attired in vested suits, complete with fedora frequently on the back of his head, the gentleman at the back of the room always managed a pleasantry, even when his eyes signaled he had no notion what the subject was, he maintained a meticulous politeness.

The celebrated sports columnist seldom gave the impression he didn't know exactly what was going on; he was not above giving advice to willing reporters. My story on Branch Rickey offers an example.

For reasons long forgotten, I met the late Mr. Rickey in the National Gallery of Arts' cafeteria. When the former Brooklyn Dodger's owner heard I worked for the Post, his manner brightened. He then proceeded to pour on the charm that helped him inveigle Jackie Robinson by other owners.

In 1947, the splendid athlete and consummate gentleman integrated big-time baseball. He became the first African American on a Major League roster. At least in modern times. Nine years later Branch Rickey was still encouraging applause.

Without going into detail, Shirley Povich let me know Branch Rickey was getting more credit than his real contributions merited. I still wrote the story; that was my job. But my initial exuberance was tempered, as the old pro suggested.

A Mayflower Hotel interview with Eleanor Roosevelt Eddie Folliard brushed off, much to my disappointment. He recognized her tried and workable formula that snagged young reporters. I took the former First Lady's line and hook. Why not?

For the better part of an hour I was in the presence of great history. But Eddie was right, of course. Not a single paragraph from my Eleanor Roosevelt story ever appeared in Post print.

Both remarkable and highly honored journalists avoided praise in dealing with newsroom youngsters; but neither dodged giving a critical opinion when it was important to a story.

When his time came Shirley Povich drew comfort from having his children around; his last days were spent in an ambiance of great respect and caring. His youngest, Maury, became a television star, as you almost certainly know.

At the age of 92, my old mentor had found himself in a D.C. ambulance under the care of Paramedic Michael Meachum. My youngest son called his father to pass the word along to Maury whom I first met in his teens; we had worked together at Channel 5.

Michael wanted Maury to know his dad was really not in bad shape; my son's way of showing care and affection. Nevertheless, Shirley Povich passed several weeks later, in 1998. He was born in the same year as my father, 1906.

Eddie Folliard may have worn a three-piece suit in his casket; the fedora should have rested on his chest. I don't know exactly when or where he died, and the Internet furnishes no clues, which I find astonishing. I missed saying "Goodbye."

This will have to do, for the two of the both of them, as the South Philly saying goes.

As long as my life stumbles along, neither gentleman will be forgotten but warmly recalled with deep affection. They were genuine role models of the type that rarely exists in any generation.

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