By CHRIS HOBBS
It’s nearing 5 a.m. on Saturday morning as I write this – running behind but finding my second wind – but, in many ways, that’s only appropriate for the guy I wanted to tell you a bit about.
It was eight years ago Friday that the stunning news came that one of the best people in the newspaper business I had the good fortune to work with was dead because of a heart attack at age 50.
It just doesn’t seem like eight years since tragic news arrived that David Poole – with whom I worked in Gastonia as his assistant sports editor (and we also later had many years together at The Charlotte Observer) — was gone.
The Poole Monster, as I called him, had become Mr. NASCAR by 2009 (deservedly so). And I was told they found him in his work chair at home not long after he’d finished a national racing-related morning radio show he did (I believe) daily.
That image, of Poole literally doing what he loved until his last minutes, has never faded for me. I think of him often, for a variety of reasons, and one of them is when the going gets tough… when you’re tired, want to pack it in and not stretch your 10-hour day to a 12-hour day.
But if you worked around or with Poole, you/he had only one measuring stick – your day was done only when you had done everything you could think of doing to provide your readers the best report they could find.
Poole was a tough character when he wanted to be. He took joy (a lot) in being the one who would challenge you or question you to make sure you were doing or would do your best, that you would include thinking about how your story of the day might impact on someone you wrote about in their life — good or bad.
I nicknamed him The Poole Monster out of jest… he was far from a monster (though his wrath could rank right up there with a woman scorned)… much like my old photographer buddy Robert Reed still is, to me, “Turkey” Reed after he decided probably 30 years ago that I was “Hobbsey Dobbsey”.
To this day, I still haven’t seen anyone who could access a situation and figure out a reasonable solution like Poole. He had a gift of knowing how to handle things and, generally, how to ‘handle’ people.
He got that gift from his late mom and dad, whose natures were to be kind, friendly and helpful.
In my opinion, that’s why Poole rose to the level of notoriety he did as a NASCAR writer. He could do it all — reporting, managing, page design — just as equally well as he could take five minutes of his day to chew your butt out for whatever annoyed him on a given day. Some days, nothing annoyed him… he just had to get some butt-chewing in to make the day seem normal.
I’m not sure that Poole originated the term, but anytime a staffer in Charlotte would do something borderline stupid or wrong… he was ready with that one phrase he knew would pull that person back in line, so to speak.
“Grown man,” he used to say loudly so everyone near would hear the scolding. “Grown man… just did (or said) that. That ain’t right.”
Like the rest of us, Poole did a lot of things wrong. I had to spend a lot of my time trying to convince him that he needed to be more conservative politically, and one of my fondest memories, at about 2 a.m. in the morning, was waking him up with a phone call:
“Poole,” I said. “They found something on your boy Bill (Clinton)… on Monica’s dress… grown man did that. Grown man… he’s D-O-N-E.”
Sorry, can’t share the response, as this is a family website, other than: “@#$%!* you, Hobbs… go to bed you (body part).”
On most Friday nights, Poole was part of a desk team that had to take probably 60 high school calls on prep football. He got hit, as I remember, with about 15 or 20 one Friday night and was not a happy camper.
When I came to work on Monday afternoon, Poole met me at the entrance door to the newsroom. He walked me into the sports department for one of his “loud talking” declarations that I still chuckle about to this day.
“Hobbs,” he said, peering around the department to be sure he was talking loud enough to have an impact, “I spent most of my Friday night taking high school football summaries… while your a– was out at a game, story filed by 11 p.m., home in a warm bed by midnight.
“We (the desk crew) had a meeting before we went home Friday. We have decided if you were not working here, there would not be so many (nasty word) high school football summaries called in.
“So we took a vote and made a decision, Hobbs. You have to die. We have not figured out how yet, but…”
I just kept on doing what I do for many more years – Poole be dammed – and was thankful I ran into an old Hunter Huss grad (he was a UNC grad too, so I lit him up every chance I got about his beloved Tar Heels) who knew how to splice humor, fussing, hard work, good food and standing by friends into a mix that made life good.
It’s still good but probably not as good as it was eight years ago… when I could pick up the phone, figure out something completely void of making any sense, and just give Poole five or 10 minutes of crap.
Nowadays, when I am up working very late and into the wee hours of the morning, I often like to listen to Eagles videos while I am doing so.
A few years before Poole passed, he called me up for the first time in a very long time and said his wife couldn’t go to the Eagles’ Tour in Columbia, S.C., and he had a free ticket so come on down to Gastonia (where he lived at the time) and go to the concert with him.
Poole drove and we fussed about co-workers, politics, sports and whatever else came to mind on the drive up and drive back.
When I hear those old Eagles hits now, it’s music to my ears and memories. The Poole Monster was cool like that.
I hope all of you have the good fortune to meet (and work with) someone like that. He was and is unique, and I will think about him every April 28 that I make it to.
And if you happen to be listening Poolie, save me a seat in the section where there’s no one taller than 5-foot-4 – as you used to say – because we don’t want to spend eternity having to sit with only editors (LOL).