Close, dear friends are hard to find

Life has always given us ups-and-downs, good days and bad days, likes and dislikes, half-full glasses and half-empty glasses.

And as we grow older, life finds us new friends. Some of those become very close and dear friends.

But as older becomes older, we find out that there will be those times that what life had given us is now sadly taken away. Not by our choice and not because we or anyone else did anything wrong. It just happens.

I started writing sports for the Times Leader back in 1969 and since then I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and develop some wonderful friendships.

My first thoughts go back to the long hours that I spent late at night working well after midnight with the late Cal Pokas. Back then, Cal was not only the Times Leader’s sports editor and my boss, but my first real close friend in this business.

It wasn’t uncommon to be in the office well after midnight working alongside Cal, putting together stories on everything from Little League games to stories about the pros. Back then it wasn’t unusual to be taking a call with a game report on one phone while three or four others were on hold and notes from six or eight earlier calls were still sitting on the desk unwritten, but to be finished before the night was done.

There are times when you spend so much time with someone who is your mentor that eventually that person becomes a very close friend. That was Cal Pokas.

When Rich Gibson first came to the Times Leader, I remember that I thought it was a bit strange that people were calling him Hoot. There had been other Hoot Gibsons, but as time would go on I’d come to realize that this Hoot Gibson was the one that everyone would remember.

Quite possibly, I may have called him Rich once or twice, but the name you give to a person isn’t always how you refer to that same person. I may have called him Hoot, but I most certainly referred to him as friend.

You know, when I look back on the past years and reflect on the relationship I had with Hoot, it wasn’t the games he covered or the trips he took or the columns he wrote. What I see are the long conversations we had on the phone at times talking about everything but sports.

What I see are the late nights after all the work was done and everyone had gone home and Hoot and I standing out in front of The Times Leader building talking for another hour or so.

Looking back, I see the night that he told me about a place in Wheeling that had coffee and donuts all night long and that gave us just another place to sit and talk for hours.

Conversations with close friends will quite often repeat themselves, but they always seem fresh and new because of the company you keep. I probably repeated stories to Hoot many times, but I really don’t think that it bothered him. He liked to talk, but I truly believe that he liked to listen a lot more.

Hoot really enjoyed what he did in life. Sure, there were times when he got a bit tired or things were happening in his life that would have sidetracked a lot of us. But when push came to shove, he did his job and he did it well and he still had time to talk and listen.

Hoot was a great friend that life gave to me. It may have been quite a few years ago that he became my friend, but now that he is gone I know that it was still far too short a time.

No question, the longer you hang around in this life, the more you will receive and the more that you will have taken away. Rich Gibson may have been taken away in body, but the memories of those long late night conversations we had together, I’m just not giving back.

If there’s a newsroom in Heaven, it just added a gem of sports writer.

See you, Hoot and when you get the chance, tell Cal I said Hi!