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The Most Talented Man I Ever Knew

Dad always told me I need to cut back on the language.

Not bad language, just words.

A master of making a point in as few words as possible, my Dad, John Keith, died last week, aged 78.

His kidneys and heart had been worsening, though when he was in his heyday as sports information director/hospitality room host at Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas A&M he always said it would be his liver.

He was a cartoonist. He played Dixieland-style banjo. He won awards for his sports and humor columns in semi-retirement, too. He believed if you couldn’t make your point in 500 words or less, you shouldn’t bother.

He was the most talented man I knew, but never well enough.

Five hundred words to sum up my father? With Dad, a single OU-Texas weekend generated more stories.

When I was older I got to hear a few, but Dad was reticent to provide details. I had to settle for the tease, “They would’ve been great weekends if we didn’t have to play the damn games.”

the most talented man I ever knew,john keith,the ranger,oklahoma football,sooners football,texas a&m,university of new mexico,unm,aggies,lobos,las cruces,new mexico,sports writer,obituaryIt was more than fear of self-incrimination — the statute of limitations had surely passed by the time he went to work as sports editor of the Las Cruces Bulletin.

I believe, because I’ve always heard, that he was very good at very demanding work. Stats and records, deadlines and coaches, the odd call at 3 a.m. looking for tickets.

I tried following him in sports publicity but never really found my way. He offered advice, but I knew I was missing something he’d never be able to explain to me.

The last time I saw Dad, a week before his death, I was leaving his home in Las Cruces. We got lunch and went grocery shopping.

My wife and I were looking into buying a home with an apartment in back for him. He liked that idea.

Over the next week I got busy doing my job(s): radio, covering a conference tournament, calling hockey games.

I had wanted to call Dad and tell him I had seen a friend who was in town to cover the tourney, but couldn’t remember to in the haze of things I also thought were important.

And then he was gone.

Which is when I finally figured out what made Dad so good at his job, and at so much else. Because it was never about that job, or the stats or records.

The important things were relationships. He treated journalists like pros who were away from their homes and families to work, so work wasn’t mentioned outside a press box; though news of good times and cold beer on ice in the hospitality room bathtub sure traveled fast.

I’m glad we had time to talk about a few of the important things before he died, but never time enough.

Speaking of important things, when I wrap this up it will be 497 words exactly.

I’m three words short, Dad. But you know which ones.

 

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