Nearly 40 years later, Michael Hunt likens the experience to hearing the voice of God – assuming God spoke from a bathroom stall, not a burning bush.
On that summer day in 1978, the rising senior at the University of South Carolina was wrapping up a journalism internship at the now-defunct Columbia Record. Standing in the newspaper’s second-floor men’s room, he wondered to a co-worker about what lay ahead for him.
“Suddenly I heard, ‘Hunt, is that you? You’re working for me now,’” he said this week, chuckling at the memory. That’s how he met Doug Nye.
Hunt, who would go on to write for The Greenville News and, for 25 years, as NBA beat writer and columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spent just a year in Nye’s sports department. But the experience lasted a lifetime, he said.
“Doug was the ultimate mentor; he meant everything to me,” Hunt, 59, said. “He was the first to take me under his wing, show me how the business worked. He was gracious and kind, and let me make mistakes; he put me in positions of responsibility probably before I was ready, but he knew it was time for me to be pushed in that direction.
“A towering figure in my life; a great friend,” said Hunt, who after leaving Milwaukee recently earned a master’s degree in communications at Columbia University.
Last week, as The State newspaper prepared to posthumously induct Nye – who died in June 2011 after a yearlong battle with lung cancer – into its Hall of Fame Wednesday, memories such as Hunt’s flooded in from a generation of once-young sports writers. Their lives afterward went in multiple directions – writing, editing, teaching, even medicine – but they all remembered Nye as someone who made newspaper work rewarding and fun.
“The best advice I ever got during my career,” said Lezlie Patterson, former staffer for the Record and The State, “was when Doug told me we had to have fun doing our job, because if we didn’t, the readers could tell and they wouldn’t enjoy reading us. More than 30 years later, that sticks with me.”
His philosophy was one Nye came by honestly. Wilma Nye laughs recalling how her husband would leave their Columbia home each weekday morning, often before dawn, “whistling and singing on his way to work.
“He was happy as a lark. He couldn’t have enjoyed what he did more.”
Indeed. Nye’s 35 years with the Record and The State – he retired in August 2004 – were almost evenly split between his tenure as Record sports editor and his career as The State’s TV/entertainment editor. The first 17 years, writing and covering sports (and directing others); the second 17 years, meeting and writing about TV stars and movies (especially his beloved Westerns).
That’s not a bad life.
Nye was good at what he enjoyed, too. His sports staff competed with The State’s much larger staff. “He was going up against the 900-pound gorilla, but he more than held his own,” said Harry Logan, a former editor with both newspapers and later of the Florence Morning News.
As a writer, Nye was witty and often irreverent, investing his columns with his wry, biting sense of humor. He was given credit (true or not) for creating the “myth” of the Chicken Curse, the black cloud that historically followed USC sports teams. And while mild-mannered, Nye didn’t back down from confrontation.
“He’d take me to press conferences for (acerbic football coach Jim) Carlen, and Doug’s theme was the cowboy thing: ‘This is like a showdown, let’s strap on our six-guns and deal with him,’” Hunt said.
As a TV writer, Nye traveled to Hollywood each year and not only wrote about the stars, but befriended many as well. “Tom Selleck became a very good friend to Doug,” Wilma Nye said. “Recently, he remembered that Doug died on June 5, five years ago, and he called. He’s called every year since.”
The late James Garner, Bob Hope and others – giants in entertainment – also considered Nye a friend, she said. That was heady stuff for a kid from Brookland-Cayce High School who grew up with sports figures and movie stars as heroes.
After B-C, Nye attended Furman University, where he was the school newspaper’s sports editor and where he met his future wife. Doug and Wilma Nye were married on June 7, 1963 – she tells with a laugh how he beat out a friend for her affections – and after graduation, he worked two (unsatisfying) non-newspaper jobs before landing at the Sumter Daily Item as sports editor in 1965.
“From the day I met him, I knew what he wanted to do,” Wilma Nye said. In 1969, he got his “dream job” – sports writer for the Record – and about a year later was promoted to sports editor. From then until 1987, when he moved to the TV writer’s job (the Record by then was slated for closing, which it did in April 1988), Nye guided his young staff, showing a rare talent to identify and develop talent – not all of it in journalism.
When Barry Magnus showed up for an interview, Nye discovered he had neither a journalism degree nor writing experience. “Doug knew I was from Boston, asked if I was a Red Sox fan – I was – and said, ‘I’m a Yankees fan.’ So we talked baseball,” said Magnus, now a doctor in occupational medicine and urgent care in Columbia, Md.
Nye hired Magnus, only to learn later that he also couldn’t type (which might’ve appealed to Nye, a four-finger typist his entire career). “What stands out for me is, Doug took a chance on me,” he said. “Those days were great.”
Bill Eichenberger, an editor for the sports website Bleacher Report, credits Nye with helping shape his future, too. “Doug orchestrated my move (at the Record) from writer to editor, a change that was a major turning point in my career,” he said. “He helped me see that I was better working with others’ copy than at generating my own.”
Patterson and Bertram Rantin, who left The State to teach journalism at USC among other work, said Nye’s trust gave them freedom to take on challenges, then and now. In 1988, when talent-laden high school basketball teams at Eau Claire and Lower Richland clashed in a game staged at Carolina Coliseum, the two writers wrote countless stories prior to the event.
“Lezlie and I got the idea to promote that,” said Rantin, who succeeded Nye as interim sports editor in 1987-88. The game sold out the 12,400-seat Coliseum, and afterward, walking to their cars, “Doug said, ‘This is what life’s all about,’” Rantin said. “That gave me the confidence that I could take on leadership roles.”
“Doug looked at all the fans that night and told us, ‘Y’all did this,’” Patterson said.
Compared to The State’s sports editor, Herman Helms, Nye was seen by management as someone with “a sweet, gentle personality,” said Tom McLean, former executive editor of both newspapers. But Jim McLaurin, a 30-year staffer for both papers, remembers a different Nye – a perfectionist and, occasionally, a demanding one.
“Doug had a temper, and he showed it to me” when McLaurin “flat forgot” to cover a USC baseball home opener. “Doug’s face turned the color of a Gamecock pennant,” he said. After a thorough chewing-out, Nye told McLaurin, “All I know is, there’d better be a story in the paper” that afternoon.
McLaurin pieced together a featurized account of the game, and “I cannot remember whether Doug congratulated me” on “a masterpiece of secondhand journalism,” he said.
“I do remember that explosion, though.”
Mostly, though, Nye was the perfect boss for his staff. Said Dave Moniz, who went on to write for USA Today and work for the Department of Defense, “Doug had that ironic sense of humor, self-deprecating, attuned to the foibles of the sports world. And he did it all with a straight face.
“Everyone told me: If you can’t work for Doug Nye, you can’t work for anybody.”
‘Doug liked everyone and everyone liked him’
The demise of the Record sent Nye back to his first love: full-time writing, especially about TV, movies and of course, cowboys. His laid-back style contrasted with other entertainment writers’, and Nye soon had a contacts list that belied The State’s small travel budget. He relied on, at most, one trip a year to Hollywood.
“It’s very unusual in this business, but Doug liked everyone and everyone liked him,” McLean said. “He could relate to people on such a personal level, and he had an inherent level of trust with those he wrote about.”
The job was a dream come true for Nye.
McLean and others recall perhaps his biggest thrill was interviewing movie cowboy Roy Rogers and wife Dale Evans, and seeing Rogers’ famous horse Trigger, stuffed and mounted in the star’s home.
Nye was prolific, writing an authoritative book, “Those Six-Gun Heroes,” about the heyday of the Hollywood cowboy culture. After retiring from The State, he worked with S.C. ETV to produce several nostalgic specials – including a series, “Doug Nye’s Time Machine,” which he kicked off by interviewing actor Fess Parker, who portrayed Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett – and also helped produce a 2003 History Channel documentary, “When Cowboys Were Kings,” about Westerns actors.
Bill Starr, who worked with Nye on the entertainment beat for The State, wrote in 2011 of his admiration for Nye’s vast knowledge of both sports and TV/movies.
“Doug could write about anything,” he wrote. “He had knowledge that ran a mile wide and a foot deep – except in Doug, that knowledge ran for hundreds of miles and volcano-deep.”
An occasional ETV guest was former USC coach and New York Yankees star Bobby Richardson. The two first met when Nye worked in Richardson’s hometown of Sumter.
“He covered my sons playing sports, and he’d come over to the house and (wife) Betsy would fix him a peanut butter sandwich with strawberry jam,” said Richardson, who would speak at Nye’s funeral in 2011.
As impressive as Nye’s writing and leadership resume, though, was his love of his family: Wilma, son, Chris, and daughter, Hope; later that included grandchildren Jessica, Kyle and Kristin. Family was what made everything else matter.
Perhaps no one had a closer friendship with Nye than his son, now 50 and a graphic artist and illustrator for Lockheed-Martin in Marietta, Ga. Chris Nye’s memories go back to 1969 when he was not quite 4 years old, and his father awoke him at 10 p.m. to watch Neil Armstrong make man’s first walk on the moon.
“I’m one of the few in my peer group who remembers that,” Chris Nye said. “We watched on this fuzzy, black-and-white TV. He told me, ‘You need to see this, it’s something you’ll remember all your life.’ And he was right.”
Father and son also shared a love for comic books (Chris Nye now produces industry-quality superhero drawings as a hobby), cowboys, movies, and of course, sports. “I’d often hear my friends say, ‘You’ve got the cool dad,” Chris Nye said.
He says his dad is responsible for his own jaded view of Gamecocks sports. “I was cynical about USC before my time,” he said. “At 10, I was already thinking I wouldn’t live long enough to see these guys do anything.”
In 1986, when Chris was working as an intern in USC’s sports information department, he and his father both were at the Georgia game, won late by the Bulldogs, 31-26. “I was on the Georgia sideline, Dad was in the east end zone, and we made eye contact,” he said. “We gave each other a look like, ‘Yeah, this (a USC win) isn’t going to happen.’”
Sure enough, a late USC interception assured a loss. “We looked at each other and started laughing,” Chris Nye said. “That sort of summed up our take on sports.”
But, in fact, it really didn’t. Doug Nye, for all his alleged cynicism, was at heart a fan. Wilma Nye said she was often frustrated with her husband’s insistence on remaining neutral, even though she knew it was part of his job.
Then in 2001, no longer in sports and a regular at USC games with friends Roy and Charlotte Neville, “Doug became an avid fan of the Gamecocks,” Wilma Nye said. That season, he witnessed something amazing: USC’s first-ever win over Alabama, 37-36.
“At the end, everyone was going crazy,” she said. “Doug sat down on the bench, and had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘I never thought I’d live long enough to see South Carolina beat Alabama.’”
He did, though.
Doug Nye died at 69, but he left undone very little that he wanted to accomplish. Wilma Nye retains a list her husband compiled during a long-ago seminar of things he hoped to do in his life. Go down that list, and put a check by each one.
For those who knew him, worked with and for him, read and enjoyed his work, this is no surprise. Doug Nye was a happy man – and he generously spread that happiness.