By John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal
You know how people will always say “Call me if I can do anything to help” but they don’t really mean it? This is not one of those stories.
I try to stay in touch with a lot of people I used to work with and one of those, former Journal colleague Robbie Robertson, always signed off any phone conversation with words to that effect.
One day, in early 2010, I had to take him up on his offer.
On Feb. 1 of 2010, a Monday, the Daily Journal sports department took a one-two punch to the head and the heart. Brad Locke, our Mississippi State writer, was involved in a serious car crash on the way to Starkville. Later in the day, we learned that our primary page designer, Greg McIlvain, had died at home in Mill Village.
The most difficult phone call was the one I had to make to tell Greg’s mother, who lived in Memphis, that her only child had died. Within a day or two, confronted by the manpower crisis caused by Greg’s death, I picked up the phone and called Robbie.
When I came to the Journal in 2001, Robbie had been the copy desk chief. We would chat from time to time in the years after he left, and he always offered to help us out if we needed him.
I can’t remember the specifics of my call, but Robbie said later that he could tell by the tone of my voice that I was in trouble.
It started with Robbie coming up and helping on the weekends, but at some point we mutually agreed that having him back full-time would be a good idea.
It was better than that.
Robbie brought a lot of needed stability to the night side of the sports department’s operation – and, by extension, to my life. I could take some nights off without worrying about the paper and I even had a chance to take my wife on a couple summer vacations.
On big nights when all hands are on deck – like every Friday night during football season – Robbie was a calm and cool influence as deadline approached. And, perhaps appropriate for a Mississippi State graduate, he was a real Bulldog about making our deadlines.
Robbie stayed with us for about 21⁄2 years, leaving recently to take a job teaching and coaching at Leake Academy. He goes with all of our best wishes.
Last thing the guy says on the way out the door? “Call if you need anything.”
Bet on it.
John L. Pitts (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor of the Journal.