Chuck McGill: Dick Hudson joins centenarian club
E very Christmas morning for 30 years, Dick Hudson penned a column in the Charleston Daily Mail sports section that was more about life and family than games and athletes.
Hudson directed the open letters to his son - "Dear Terry," they'd almost always begin - each Dec. 25. The first column appeared in 1940, the year Terry was born in Charleston. The final one came in 1969, the winter before Hudson departed the Daily Mail.
His bylines appeared in the sports section in five different decades.
Today, Dick and Terry will be together in Atlanta, where the former joined the latter after leaving the Mountain State for good two decades ago.
Dick Hudson, who was named the state's top sportswriter in 1959, '61 and '67, started the West Virginia Sportswriters Association Sports Hall of Fame and the Victory Awards Dinner, and captivated a readership with his sports stories and "Warming Up" columns, joins an exclusive club today.
Forget 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.
Hudson, today, is a centenarian. That is a fancy word for 100 years old.
His birthday cake might be a fire hazard.
"Where are you going to get 100 candles?" Hudson said to me late last month. "I wish they wouldn't do anything for my birthday. It reminds me of how old I am."
So, let's begin by reminding Dick of his age.
He was born in Charleston on July 17, 1913. That is three days after the birth of Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States. Hudson came into this world the same year Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as the 28th President, which means Hudson has witnessed 17 presidencies.
Last week, San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum tossed the 281st no-hitter in Major League Baseball history. Hudson has been alive for 212 of them. Babe Ruth made his professional debut a year after Hudson was born.
Hudson has had a Ruthian presence in the life of many, and his milestone will be celebrated today with his son, three granddaughters, two great-grandchildren and a handful of close friends. They'll indulge in cake and ice cream at Hudson's Atlanta condo, where he lives alone.
"He is very independent," Terry Hudson said of his father.
Dick Hudson might've reached triple digits on life's radar gun because of a combination of factors. His father lived 82 years and his mother 92, and Hudson never drank alcohol or smoked.
Although his eyesight faded about 18 months ago, his mind remains sharp.
He started at the Daily Mail on Jan. 5, 1935, became sports editor roughly a year later and held that position until he handed the reigns to Bill Smith in 1970.
Hudson had a two-person staff at the outset and never more than a crew of four. The makeup of the sports department evolved over the years. During World War II, he said, the newsroom staff was depleted and it pushed women into vacant positions.
"It was almost a rule that there weren't any women reporters," said Hudson, who graduated from Charleston High and attended W.Va. Wesleyan.
In between his annual columns written for his son, high school sports and local professional baseball were the priorities.
West Virginia University coverage was more of a luxury, but as interest grew, so did the volume of stories. Travel went from forbidden to encouraged, sometimes to Hudson's chagrin. He appreciated the experience but relished time with his wife and son. This profession isn't always accommodating for families.
"He worked very long hours," Terry Hudson said. "He'd work all week and then go in Saturday morning at 5:30 a.m. and he wouldn't get off until Sunday morning."
But it was a labor of love and the longtime scribe embraced the sports fervor in the Daily Mail's backyard.
"High school sports was the big thing," Dick Hudson said. "You didn't have all this other stuff. When Charleston and Huntington played football, oh hell, it was like the world stopped.
"They used to have special trains that would go from Charleston to Huntington, Huntington to Charleston, so thousands of people could just see a football game.
"I remember when Parkersburg would come down and stay in a hotel all night before the game. In those days, 80 miles was a pretty good trip."
Back then, Hudson received 13 cents per mile for work-related travel. He said that barely covered expenses. Luckily, his passion was at the nearby ballpark. He had a strong bond with Watt Powell.
"He had games going on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays and they did pretty well," Hudson said. "It was a big deal in those days.
"When they were Triple-A, they were just one step away. We spent a lot of time at the ballpark."
The baseball yard named for Watt Powell is gone. So are department stores like The Diamond and Frankenbergers. Hudson reminisced about those places during an hour-long phone call.
"So many things just disappear," he said. "For an old guy like me, that's sad."
What cannot be demolished, hauled away in dump trucks and replaced is what Hudson left behind here in Charleston and at the Daily Mail.
On Christmas day in 1985, Hudson's successor as sports editor and columnist, Bill Smith, mentioned Hudson's tradition of dedicating one column per year to his son.
"In his own small way he was trying to leave a tiny legacy," wrote Smith, who passed away in 2010. "That's all. Nothing big. Just a small imprint in black and white."
Dick Hudson did that and then some.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.