Furman Bisher may have made his name writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but he was North Carolina to his core.
The late sportswriter, who would have turned 101 on Nov. 4, was born and raised on a farm in Denton and named Furman after a well-known Baptist minister. He went on to graduate in 1938 from UNC-Chapel Hill where he was the manager of the Tar Heel football team.
He had a fondness for barbecue and the exclamation “Judas Priest,” a phrase he learned from Branch Rickey, the baseball executive known for signing Jackie Robinson and laying the groundwork for the minor league farm system. Bisher gave stock car racing credibility, too, covering the very first NASCAR “Strictly Stock” race (currently the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series) in Charlotte in 1949.
That was the same year Bisher attracted national attention when he interviewed Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was one of eight Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball after being accused of fixing the 1919 World Series. The interview, which appeared in SPORT magazine, was the only one Jackson ever gave about the scandal.
A World War II Navy veteran who served predominately in the Pacific theater, Bisher worked at newspapers in Lumberton, High Point and Charlotte before heading to Atlanta in 1950. He spent the next 59 years writing for the city’s morning, afternoon and combined edition that came to be known as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
When he retired in 2009, Bisher had covered more than 50 Kentucky Derbys and World Series and all but the first Super Bowl. He was a fixture at the Masters Tournament in nearby Augusta, Georgia, and a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America, as well as the Football Writers Association of America and the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
“There have been certain staples and traditions that have always reminded me that I am at the Masters,” Jack Nicklaus said. “One of those is Furman Bisher.”
Bisher once estimated that he had written 15,000 daily sports columns and 1,200 articles for magazines like Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and the Saturday Evening Post. He also wrote 15 books and was named as one of the nation’s five best sports columnists by Time magazine in 1961.
Bisher was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and is this year’s November Member of the Month. He won the Red Smith Award given by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association, the William D. Richardson Award from the GWAA and the PGA of America’s Lifetime Achievement on Journalism Award.
“Before news traveled with the speed of a tweet, Furman Bisher painted pictures for us,” said Jeff Shultz, who worked with Bisher at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He wrote with a voice. When he was revved up about a topic, and that was more often than not, the words jumped off the page. It was as if he was sitting next to you, talking into your ear.”
Bisher died in March 2012 after suffering a heart attack.
“He put more quality words on newsprint than any other writer in the last half of the 20th century,” Carl Minter, the former senior editor of the AJC said at the time of his long-time friend’s death. “He never wrote a bad column.”