Thursday, June 19, 2008

Life Is Short

While newspapers are taking a hit and forcing me to ponder my future in this business, I have to take a moment to reflect and remember a man who whether he knew it or not helped contribute to my desire to be a sports writer. Gene Bryson was a downstate Delawarean through and through. He would get mighty offended when someone suggested the area of the state that fell below the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was called "Slower Lower Delaware." Yet and still, his dry sense of humor along with his praise coming at just the right time while I was an intern on the Delaware State News sports desk was something I'll always remember. Imagine my surprise when I found out late last night that Gene suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 51 at his home in Dover.

Before Gene was the night news editor at the State News, he covered my alma mater Delaware State University athletics for 18 years for Delaware's best-known paper, the Wilmington News Journal. As a child, I'd read Gene's musings and game stories about the wildly successful DSU football team and I always figured "hey, that'd be a cool job to have." Needless to say I was kinda star struck when I spent eight weeks of the 2005 summer at the old offices on Webbs Lane. When I got the chance to write some things, be it American Legion baseball or a feature story on a DSU alum who had a distinguished Arena Football League career, Gene was quick to tell me what he thought of my copy, and more often than not, it was of a positive nature. "Great lede Chris, I can tell you don't need help with those," was a serious compliment coming from a man who made a career out of snapping your attention up with the first couple of lines of a story in his Journal days.

What I'll most remember is me educating Gene to the finer points of arguably the 80s' best tragic hero, Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino in the thug/gangster classic, "Scarface." When Ryan Howard was a rookie, subbing for Jim Thome and clobbering 450 foot home runs for the Phillies, I would steal ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume's dead-on impersonation of Montana and bellow "Say hello to my lil friend" at the State News TV screen. One night, after I must've plucked his nerves, Gene asked me, "Chris, what the hell is that about?" I reply matter of factly, not thinking for one second that he wasn't familiar with the flick, "it's just a line from 'Scarface.'"

"The hell is 'Scarface?'" From that point forward, Gene would ask me every time a Philly or a Baltimore Orioles slugger would go yard, "So is that saying hello to his lil friend?" His sense of humor was one of the many memories I have of my internship there and I really cherished his positive encouragement and feedback as I went back to school that fall.

Now he's gone and I never really got the thank him for his role in my long, winding journey to sports journalism. My most recent time seeing him was at the DSU spring game two years ago. He walked into the Alumni Stadium press box and said, "Chris Stevens, how's it going?" Told him how things were, that I would be out of school soon (so I thought) and he told me to stick with the business and keep up the good work. Now I hope Gene is up there needling folks with that sense of humor that will sure enough be missed among us mere mortals. Rest In Peace, Gene.

Posted by Chris at 5:45 PM | link

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