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Tribute To Furman Bisher

Sen. Saxby Chambliss

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Mr. President, next week the annual Masters Tournament will begin in Augusta, GA. It is a beautiful time of the year in our part of the world, and certainly Augusta is a little piece of Heaven, particularly this time of year.

As that tournament begins next week, there is going to be a sad note in the air because of the fact that Furman Bisher, a giant in the world of journalism, a man who has covered the Masters for the last 50 or so years, died last week at his home in Atlanta. He died at the age of 93 and passed away peacefully in his home after a storied career as one of the Nation's foremost sports writers. It was a career that lasted an astonishing 60 years.

After nearly six decades of elegant observations of the sports world for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Furman pecked out his final column before his October 2009 retirement on the thinning keys of his trusty Royal typewriter. His choice of instrument to convey his thoughts in this age of instantaneous, inane chatter says a lot about why newspaper readers after so many years continued to seek out Furman's Bisher's column in the AJC's sports pages.

It all came down to this: Furman's graceful prose, courtly voice and sharp observations were unfailingly backed up by old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. He gloried in doing his homework, making that extra call, interviewing one more player or assistant coach or trainer, in order to breathe even more life into the game or the race or the fight for his readers.

It's also why Furman became a Georgia--and an American--institution. Simply put, Furman loved sports. And he loved journalism. At age 90, he was still driving out on summer nights to cover minor-league ballgames.

In his career, Furman scored many journalistic knockouts, including a 1949 interview with Shoeless Joe Jackson--the only one Jackson ever gave--regarding his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

He got stock tips from Ty Cobb and watched Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters victory. He sat in the press box at countless Falcons games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and covered the Olympics, both winter and summer. He even had a hand in bringing professional sports teams to Atlanta.

He wrote 11 books, including co-authoring two editions of a Hank Aaron autobiography. And at The Masters Tournament in Augusta every April, Furman reigned among the azaleas and oaks as the dean of the sports press corps.

In a testament to his longevity in a tough business, until his retirement, Furman covered every Kentucky Derby since 1950, and every Super Bowl but the first one.

He even branched out into TV. Although I did not grow up in Atlanta, I have heard from many people that preachers across the city would cut sermons short so that their congregations could be home for Furman's kickoff on ``Football Review.''

Along the way, he earned the respect of his colleagues and the loyalty of his readers, garnering writing awards too numerous to mention. He served as president of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association from 1974 1976, and of the Football Writers Association of America from 1959 1960. His features appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated, to name but a few.

In 1961, Time magazine named him one of the five best columnists in the Nation. I would argue that that honor fit until the very end.

No less than the great Jack Nicklaus said of Furman's retirement: He might be turning in his last column for the newspaper, but Furman will never stop writing or giving his opinion. I guess you could say that when it comes to the last writings of Furman Bisher, I will believe it when I don't see it.

Furman would close every column with a single valediction--the word ``selah''--a Hebrew word that ends many Psalms and that exhorts the reader to reflect. It is appropriate, then, to reflect on Furman's long, fruitful life and career, one that began in Atlanta as the Korean War was starting, when Joe Louis was still boxing, when the Minneapolis Lakers were the NBA champs, before Willie Mays had joined the major leagues and before Sports Illustrated magazine even existed.

In all the ensuing years, Furman chronicled the triumphs and the travails of the sports world and its often-all-too-human heroes. As Furman would say, ``Selah.''

I am thankful for Furman Bisher. I am pleased to have been the recipient of reading many of his articles through the years and also very proud to have called him a very good friend over the years. He was a gentleman who will be missed for his professional career as well as just being a great person and a great individual.