Gentry: This is a conversation with Mary Garber who has covered sports for her Winston-Salem, North Carolina, newspaper for nearly fifty years. She's well-known nationally for her work and is often called the dean of women sportswriters.
Mary, most journalists move around to a lot of different places and different jobs every few years. You've lived in the same family home in Winston-Salem since you were eight years old, sixty-six years, and you've worked on the same newspaper for fifty years. That's continuity. What advantages has that continuity given you in your career?
Garber: Well, I've had continuity in that I've worked on the same newspaper for fifty years but I've done such a wide variety of jobs and worked with such a wide variety of collection of city editors and editors and publishers, I've worked as a society editor—that was how I began—I've worked in general news, I'd work on a morning and an evening paper, and on both those papers I covered every beat that is available on our newspaper. And then I've worked in sports for about forty-six years, I think it is. So I've had a wide variety of jobs even though I've lived in the same community. Obviously, it's been a bit of an advantage to live in the same community because I can call up people and say, "Remember when we were in Wiley School in third grade together and played tag at recess," and he may well at this time be the mayor of Winston-Salem. So it helps to have lived in one community.
Gentry: Well, you were born in New York City in 1916. How did your family decide to move to Winston-Salem?
Garber: My father was a contractor and civil engineer and we came to Winston-Salem to build a railroad station which is now no longer in use, it's some kind of an automobile repair shop now. But that was what we came to build and then we stayed and our construction company built a variety of buildings and residences in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: You stem from a real prominent family of trailblazers; they all seem to be trailblazers in their field. Tell me about your two grandfathers.
Garber: I don't know that you'd call them trailblazers or not, I think that I come from a family of high individualists in which all of us did whatever we were most interested in. My grandfather on my mother's side was a doctor and he got very much interested in the New York fire department. And as a boy he had an organization of his friends. In order to join it, you hadd to be able to name every firebox in the city of New York. Obviously back in the 1890s that was not near as big a task as it is now. And later, he outfitted his own ambulance and answered every big fire in New York City for many, many years. He was an authority on burns. He used to crawl in under the buildings when they were burning and give shots to firemen and give them first aid. And after he retired as an actual physician with the fire department, he was a deputy commissioner and he had a fireman to drive him. And my mother used to love to go to the theater with him because the firemen would park right in front of the theater even if there was a fire hydrant there and you could do anything you wanted to with a fireman driving you.
My grandfather on my father's side was a contractor. He established his own construction company, built it from nothing to a very large construction company with offices in New York, Baltimore and Winston-Salem. He was very concerned about the lack of regulation in the construction industry because just anybody could say, "I'm a contractor," and go out and build a building that might fall down two days after he built it. So he and several other people established the Association of General Contractors which set certain standards that you had to have in order to be certified by the AGC. It is responsible for much of the very excellent construction companies we have today.
Gentry: What about your father and mother? What were they like in personality?
Garber: Well, my father went to Virginia Military Institute. One of my favorite stories about him was when he was a second classman or a junior there, he invited my mother down to one of the dances. He had to get his roommate to take her because he was confined to quarters for blowing up the guardhouse. I'm sure you don't know much about Virginia Military Institute but it's built on a quadrangle with a guardhouse right at the gate. The cadets love to go out and blow up the guardhouse—obviously not when the man is in it. The thing that bothered him that particular time was—he said although he had blown the guardhouse, helped blow up the guardhouse many times before, this particular time he didn't do it. But of course, being a cadet he couldn't tell who did it so he took the punishment for it.
He very foolishly, as he said afterwards, gave up his first class or senior year at the Virginia Military Institute to transfer to Columbia University because he wanted to be nearer to my mother. He used to always get on us about "finish something that you do" and then we would remind him of that. He said, "Well, that was one of the dumbest things I ever did."
My mother was a lady. She was very active in volunteer work. She was Girl Scout commissioner here and she was on a number of volunteer boards. She ran a very nice house. I think one of the things she taught me was to be fair and treat all people decently and kindly. She always did.
Gentry: Was yours the kind of family that got involved in lively discussions and debates and arguments together?
Garber: We were a family of individualists and when you get a bunch of individualists together, why, you're never going to have anyone agree on any one thing. We used to discuss and we used to argue. My parents always encouraged all of us to have our own opinions and it was perfectly all right if we didn't agree with what they said or what they thought. They encouraged us to think for ourselves. They never compared me to either my sisters or my sisters to me. Each of us had individual talents and my parents let us know that it didn't make any difference if I couldn't do something as well as one of my other sisters did or they didn't do something as well as I did. Each of us was important and each of us had talents. I think that helped a great deal.
Gentry: Now, you have two sisters, one older and one younger.
Gentry: What are their interests?
Garber: My older sister graduated in music, in piano from Hollins College, the same college I attended. She's married and when she married, she moved to California and lived there for many, many years. And she has three boys and a girl; they're all grown and married and have children of their own now. And she and her husband live in Denver, Colorado. He's retired.
My younger sister stayed at home, she went to Salem Academy which is a girl's prep school here. She was an excellent rider until her bad knees made her stop riding. She did a great deal of volunteer work, she worked with a child guidance clinic and Red Cross and a number of organizations. But the biggest thing she
did for me was that she kept house and looked after my parents when they got older. And I would never have been able to do the things I did if she hadn't done those things because she was home to see that all the things got done at home and that my parents were looked after and if I didn't get home in time for supper, why, she was there to see that they got fed and everything was taken care of. And I just couldn't have done it without her.
Gentry: It was a tremendous help. What are some of the things you enjoyed doing as a family?
Garber: Well, we used to go to football—I don't remember that we went to basketball games. I know we went to football games and baseball games. And one of the things we used to do on Sunday nights, we would get some kind of a theme for the evening and then everybody would have to dress up like that theme. I remember one time the theme was books and my sister stuck a pillow in her front and came as "The Shape of Things to Come." Another time we were political figures and she dressed up as Clyde Hoey, who was "the lusty wind for Carolina." It was really sort of a fun thing and we took turns choosing what the theme was going be.
Then another thing we did, on New Year's Eve we used to sit down in the dining room and each one of us would sit in a chair. The other members of the family would tell us what you'd done well during the year and what you needed to work on. And that included our parents, our mother and father got up there in the chair and we told them what they had done well and what best we thought they needed to work on. It's not very often that a ten-year-old tells her mother or father what she should do.
Gentry: No, I can see there's a lot of discussion between your family and also a lot of creativity there.
Garber: Very much so.
Gentry: What are some of the foundations you have learned in childhood that have carried over into your work as a journalist?
Garber: I think the big thing is—of course, I think that one thing was my mother's teaching that all people should be treated equally and all people should be treated with courtesy and kindness. I think that was important. But l think the best thing that my parents gave me was the appreciation that no matter who you are or what you are, be the best that you can be. My mother used to tell me, don't compare yourself to somebody else but compare yourself to what you are and what you think you can accomplish. I think that's very important for everybody.
Gentry: When did you decide you wanted to be a newspaper reporter? And do you remember why?
Garber: I have no idea why. In fact, I think when I began and had the first ambition to be a newspaper reporter, I didn't even know what a newspaper reporter was. I think it all started when we moved down to Winston-Salem from Ridgewood. And as most children, I was required to write letters back to my grandparents. And my older sister and my younger sister used to sit down and write, "Dear Grandma and Grandpa." I thought that was very dull and very boring. So I set up a newspaper which I called the Garber News and I just did it on a plain sheet of notebook paper and put the family news in it, that the dog had chased the cat up the tree and that Neely had stepped on a tack or stubbed her toe and anything that you would write ordinarily to a relative, only I did it as a newspaper.
Gentry: Didn't you actually break in the stories and put headlines and lay it out like a newspaper?
Garber: Oh, yes. I laid it out just exactly like a newspaper and there were headlines and I put in the school was going to close and I was going to be free of school all the rest of the year.
Gentry: So there must have been newspapers around your house all the time—
Garber: Oh, yes. We always had newspapers. I read newspapers from the time—I can't remember when—well, as soon as I learned to read, I read newspapers.
Gentry: Do you remember when your interest in sports really developed?
Garber: The first time I remember being interested in sports—and I really wasn't interested then, to tell you the truth—I was visiting my grandparents, my Garber grandparents in Ridgewood, New Jersey. And at the time, my very favorite newspaper of all was the New York Daily News, not because I thought it was a great newspaper but it had the best funnies in the city of New York. I never liked the New York Times because they didn't have funnies. And my parents didn't like me to read the New York Daily News because of course they had all the love triangles and all that kind of stuff in it that a tabloid had. But my grandfather, being very indulgent, bought me a copy of the New York Daily News. I read the funnies. Then for some reason, I don't know why, I looked at the sports section and there was an interview in there with Jack Dempsey, about how he lost the first fight to Gene Tunney. I read the story and didn't think anything particular about it.
But several nights later we went out to dinner. In those days children were seen and not heard, you sat at the dinner table, you ate your dinner and you did not open your little yapper for any reason. But the men started talking about the Dempsey-Tunney fight. I opened my mouth and told them what I had read in the newspaper about what Jack Dempsey had said and why he lost to Tunney. All of a sudden I found myself the center of attention. All the men were asking me questions. Well, what did he say about this, and how did this happen? I had never had so many people listening to what I had to say. Of course needless to say I made the most of that moment. After that, I figured, "Well, hey, there must be something into sports." So I started reading the sports pages avidly. I was interested in boxing and then I got into baseball. And then I fell in love with the Notre Dame football team and from then on I was an avid reader of all sports.
Gentry: Wasn't Knute Rockne your hero as a child?
Garber: Yes, he was. And this is a story I tell to sports groups, to athletes when I talk to them. They don't have any conception of the influence they have. Now, I never met Knute Rockne in my whole life. I never saw him in person. I never heard him speak, I never saw one of his teams play. And yet as a little girl growing up, I idolized him and I would read everything in the newspaper that I could about him, I would listen to the Notre Dame games on the radio. And anything that he said I believed was absolutely gospel; I would believe anything that he said was important—I felt was important. And he had a tremendous influence on my life. And yet he never knew I existed.
Gentry: But you did write to the players, didn't you?
Garber: I wrote to the Notre Dame football team but I never dared write to him. And I would write letters to the Notre Dame football players and they would write back to me. But a lot of that goes on, I don't think any people appreciate how many letters college athletes get from kids. But these Notre Dame football players were great in answering our letters.
Gentry: As a student in high school and in college, how did you prepare to be a journalist?
Garber: I don't know that I really prepared. I worked on my high school newspaper and I worked on my college newspaper and I only took one journalism course. I read a lot. And I at first wanted to go to journalism school but my parents suggested that I go first to undergraduate school and get my A.B. and then if I wanted to go to graduate school in journalism, that was fine. And I'm glad I did it that way.
Gentry: Where did you chose to go to college?
Garber: I went to Hollins in Roanoke, Virginia, and it wasn't exactly my choice. I wanted to go to Duke. And the reason I wanted to go to Duke was not because of the great education, although it's a fine academic
institution, I wanted to go there because they had a good football team. And that was not a very good reason, of course. But I was only—I think I was seventeen, maybe sixteen, and my father thought I was too young to go to a big university. So he told me if I would go to Hollins for two years that at the end of my sophomore year, if I wanted to go to Duke, he would make no objection to me transferring. And of course I got up to Hollins and just absolutely fell in love with the place and was crazy about it. And he couldn't have dragged me away from Hollins at the end of my sophomore year if he'd come up there and tried to haul me away. I wouldn't have gone to Duke for anything in this world.
Gentry: What did Hollins give you that a big place like Duke might not have?
Garber: Hollins gave me very much the same things I got in my home. It gave me the feeling that I could accomplish things, it gave me the feeling that I had abilities. There was a very close faculty-student relationship. I had some very, very dear friends on the faculty and I felt that I could go to them and talk my problems with them and just gab about anything that was interesting me. And it gave me the opportunity to serve in a variety of activities. I was president of the athletic association, I competed in sports, I was on the legislative council, I was in both of the honorary societies, was editor of the newspaper, and I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do all those things in a big school. I was a big fish in a very small pond. But it did a great deal for me.
Gentry: You graduated in 1938, I think, and the country was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression at that point. What was the situation in newspaper employment there? How long did it take you to get a job at a newspaper?
Garber: There weren't any jobs at all. I got out in the spring of 1938 and I tried everywhere to get a job. And there just wasn't one available, nothing. And so I spent the first year after I got out of college working with the recreation program at Summit School which was a private school here. And that consisted of playing basketball and soccer and kickball and even teaching dancing and riding to the kids after school. And I did that for a year and then I decided there was certainly no future in doing anything like that. So I didn't do anything until about February of 1940 which was about a year and a half after I got out of school.
I'd been going down to the newspaper every few weeks saying, "Don't you have something I can do? "Isn't there something I can do?" And the management of the Sentinel called me and asked me if I would like to do a survey of the women's news. And he said he would give me a list of subscribers and I could go around the northwest area and ask them how they liked the women's news of the Journal and Sentinel.
Now, there was one very small catch to that and that was I didn't have a car. And there was another very small catch, I didn't know how to drive. So I wasn't going to miss a chance to have a job and I talked with my dad. And he took a laborer off one of his construction jobs and loaned me his Plymouth and the man drove me around. And he was making more money than I was doing it. And then about a month after that, Art King called me and asked me if I would like to be society editor for the Sentinel. And I got $60 a month for doing it. Some of the kids now say "Why in the world would you work for $60 a month?" And the reason I worked for $60 a month was that was $60 a month more than I was ever going to get, was getting at the time.
Gentry: How did you like being society editor?
Garber: At the time I was so happy only to work for a newspaper, I would have done anything. If they could have given me a broom and let me sweep around there, I would have done it. But I wasn't really the typical society editor because society editors usually spend all their time talking to the four hundred or, you know, the real high society people. But I didn't do just that—of course, I did cover Society with a capital "s" but I also wrote club meetings. I even wrote an article on how to watch football which was rather unusual.
And I remember one horrible experience I had, I had to cover a dance at one of our downtown clubs. In the past, the society editor had gone there to describe what Mrs. Jones had and Mrs. Smith had on and all.
And I didn't know. But I did have a friend who worked at a fashionable ladies' clothing store and she said she would go with me. And she went with me and described for me what all the different ladies had on. And I sounded real good.
Gentry: How far had newspaper technology come in those days? For instance, when you wrote a story and had to submit it, how were they laid out?
Garber: Oh, we were in what they call "hot type" then. And we wrote our stories on typewriters, on long sheets of copy paper that stretched out like that. And you made carbons of everything. And one of the horrible experiences I had the first day I was there was I lost my carbon paper. And I thought, "Oh, goodness, I've been here two days and I'm going to get fired for being stupid." And I went to a friend of mine who was on the staff and told her what I'd done and asked her if there was anything I could do. And she took me back to a cabinet and showed me a whole roll of carbon paper and said there was plenty there.
But you'd write your story on the copy paper. Then you'd roll it up and put it in a little tube and send it up to the second floor. And then a linotype operator would take that. And a linotype was very much like a typewriter only it set the words in lead type. And he would set the words in lead type and they came out in long galleys like this. And then they made copies of those and went to what we called a copyreader who went over them for grammatical errors and the fact that you misspelled somebody's name or you had somebody living who'd been dead about twenty years—catching all the errors that most reporters make.
Then the hot type was taken and put in a big metal container, big round—about like that—the size of the page. And it was laid out just like the page was going to be, with the headlines in it. One of the rules was the composing room people were unionized and we were not and we were not supposed to touch the type. And I kept reaching over and putting my hands on the type. One day they let me do it and it was hot and I burned my hand and I never did it again. But it was a much more complicated situation than it is now.
Gentry: Were there very many women working on your newspaper before World War II?
Garber: We had one woman on the staff when I came in. She had graduated from high school and came to the newspaper and applied for a job and said that she wanted to cover the schools because, as she said, the taxpayers pay a great amount of money to support the schools and they needed to know what was going on there. She did a good job with that and so she was given a chance to do a great deal of straight news. And she was a member of the news staff, she was the only woman on the news staff.
But then in 1940, the draft was coming in and the situation was very serious in Europe and the war had begun in Europe and all of us realized that with the international situation as it was, men were going to be going into the service. And so more women came in on the news staff about that time.
Gentry: And then you yourself switched from society to news?
Garber: I switched from society to news and covered a wide variety of beats.
Gentry: Did the people you covered at that point, did they treat you differently because you were a woman?
Garber: I don't think so, no. A lot of the things I was covering at first, when I first broke into the news side, were things like we called the do-gooders which is the welfare agencies and things like that where I dealt with a great many women, anyhow, so it was not a problem.
Gentry: Well, you had a fire chief protect you during a fire, didn't you?
Garber: Oh, yes. That was later on, during the actual war when the men were all gone and we had six girls doing the Sentinel news. And I had the fire department as my beat. And I loved it. And I remember the first time I went down to the fire station and I was sitting down there talking to the fire chief and the alarm rang. And he came over and picked it up and said, "Excuse me, Miss Mary, but I've got to go to a fire." And then later on, they had a fire out in one of the poorer sections of town and I used to go—almost every time the fire engines rolled, I went, too, because I enjoyed going there and covering the fires.
This was at night and the fire chief saw me out there and he said, "Miss Mary, you ought not to be out here." So he took me by the hand, took me over to his car and put me in the car. And I sat in there with the heater going, it was nice and warm, and in about fifteen minutes he came over and told me everything that had gone on, how much the fire cost and who owned the house and how the fire started and everything about it.
Then another time there was a fire in town in the one of the stores and he asked me if I'd like to see where the fire started. It was down in the basement. And he took me by the hand and there were about three or four inches of water on the floor. And he showed me where the fire started but I ruined a good pair of shoes and got my clothes all smelly and fiery and it was just a mess.
Gentry: Give me a feeling of what it was like during World War II and how the newspaper situation changed for women.
Garber: It wasn't just the newspaper situation. When the war was on, every able-bodied man was in service. They used to have a song, "You're Either Too Young or Too Old." And that was pretty much true. The only men who were home were men who were in the service and were stationed around here. Or young boys or old men or people who had some sort of physical handicap. So women did everything. And as I say, we had six girls on the Sentinel staff and we covered every beat. We covered court, as I say, I covered the fire depart-ment, we covered just every beat there was. And it wasn't a question of anybody discriminating against women because women were doing everything then and there weren't any men there. And I think that was the beginning that showed people that women could do things.
Gentry: And that was also your first big break into sports.
Garber: It was the only way I would have ever gotten into sports. We had a high school boy who came in and put up the Sentinel sports page before he went to school in the morning. And then he graduated from high school and went into the Navy. And Nady Cates, who was our managing editor, asked me if I would like to do sports. And I guess I'm the only person who began as a sports editor and then wound up down at the bottom of the staff. But I was sports editor for a year and covered every sport that we had and got along just fine. And then the war ended and the men came home and I was back on the news side.
Gentry: Well, what kind of sports stories could you cover during the war? It wouldn't be professional, would it, because all the young men would be gone?
Garber: Well, one of the first stories I ever covered was—I took the job in November. And Winston-Salem State, which is a black school in town here, played a Thanksgiving morning football game. So Nady called me over and he said, "Now, I want you to go over and cover the Winston-Salem State football game and come back and write a story for the afternoon paper." And I had never done anything like that. So he showed me how to take a long piece of copy paper and put Winston-Salem State on it—and I can't even remember who they were playing but it was Winston-Salem State on one side and whoever they were playing on the other side. And then write down the play-by-play as each play was made.
So that looked like it was pretty easy and I thought I could do that. And I went over to the stadium and went into the press box and it was full of men. And they didn't have any programs and of course I didn't know who any of the players were. And I was just desperate; I didn't know what I was going to do. And there was a man sitting there and I think he saw my helpless expression. And he asked me what the problem
was and I told him. And he said, "Well, I know the players on both teams. I'll help you." So he sat down beside me and he told me who the different players were, who'd made the tackle and who'd run with the ball and everything about it. And I think Nady was a little surprised when I came back with everything but I couldn't have done it if it hadn't been for him, bless his heart. I don't know who he was but he really saved my skin that time.
Gentry: What kind of sports stories did you cover during the war, beyond the Winston-Salem State game?
Garber: We had football, I covered college football. Most of what I did was high school sports. I did a great deal of high school sports, of all kinds, football, basketball and baseball, all the sports there. Of course, during the war coaches were hard to come by and some of the high schools had student coaches, A kid would play on the team and coach the team. I remember at one, a boy by the name of Gray Cartwright was coach of the basketball team. And he would go out and play in the first half and then they'd go into the dressing room at the half and he would deliver the—telling them what they should have done. And one time when they came out, I asked one of the players what Gray said. And one of the kids said, "He never got a chance to talk because we were all talking at the same time, so he never got a chance to talk."
We had a professional baseball team here. As you would imagine during the war, they were all young. The short-stop was fifteen and one of the outfielders was sixteen. There was one player on the team who was 4-F and he was twenty-four. We just considered him a real old man. The manager was—I always thought he was a real old man. But he died a couple of years ago and when I read his obituary, he was two years older than I am. So he really wasn't all that old.
But the kids were very young and because they were young, it made it a whole lot easier on me. The first night that I went down in the dugout to talk to the manager—whose name was Pappy Smith, by the way—Pappy took one look at me and he said, "You know, they told me in spring training that there was a woman sportswriter up here but I didn't believe them." But he was real nice. He never gave me any great flak.
Then about half way through the season—Pappy had a real hard time. It was a pretty bad team, as you can imagine. After they would lose a game fifteen to nothing or something like that, Pappy would go out and drown his sorrows and the next morning he didn't get up too well. I would call him and the young man who lived with him would say, "Well, Pappy can't come to the phone right now, he don't feel too good." I always knew what had happened.
But about halfway through the season, Pappy decided he couldn't put up with it any more and he left and George Ferrell came in. George had been a scout with the Cardinals and he became a very, very close friend of mine and we had a friendship that went for many, many years.
Gentry: Well, in those early years the men were always willing to help you, both your editors and players?
Garber: Yes, they were. You know, you would think that they would resent a woman coming but really, I found over the years that most of the coaches and most of the players were just as nice as they could be, I had very few problems with them.
Gentry: Wasn't it during those World War II years—or that year that you worked, that you really fell in love with sports reporting?
Garber: Well, I was enjoying it so much during that year and then when, as I say, the war ended and the men came home and Carlton took back the editorship and I went back on news, all of a sudden I just realized that of all the things I'd done over the years in working for the newspaper, sports was the most fun. So what I would do is as soon as I finished what I was assigned to do on the news side, I would go over to Carlton and say, "Isn't there something I can do, wouldn't you like me to cover a game, wouldn't you like me to go out and talk
to some coach or do something?" Carlton was working by himself, so he was real ready to get any help he could get.
After about a year, Nady called me in and he said, "Look, you're spending all your time over there helping Carlton, why don't you just go over there and stay? Then you'll be happy and I won't have you moaning around here with all the things that you don't want to do so you can get over and do sports which is what you like." I stayed in there ever since. That was in 1946 and I've been in it ever since.
Gentry: In the forties and fifties and even the sixties, weren't you and Carlton Byrd the sole staff of the Sentinel?
Garber: We were it. We were it.
Gentry: How did you manage to cover everything?
Garber: Well, of course, you've got to remember for one thing there weren't as many sports and the sports didn't overlap as much as they do now. But we worked it out. Carlton did most of the college work and I sort of did just about everything else. I was young and enthusiastic and willing to spend a lot of time in it. We got it all done.
Gentry: So you did a lot of high school work—well, it wasn't fancy, you didn't have press boxes and things like that so how would you, for instance, cover a high school football game back then?
Garber: Well, you'd cover the high school football game by—I used to have to carry a little clipboard and I'd run up and down the sidelines according to where the play was and when they'd snap the ball, I'd start running with the halfback or whoever was running with the ball. And run down to where the play was made, the tackle was made. Then it was easy to find out who was running with the ball because you could see who it was and you knew who made the tackle because you saw him get up. But just to help out, I would always get a couple of players who weren't playing, maybe they were reserves, maybe they were hurt, and they'd help me spot.
I remember one time I was covering a high school football game, the two teams got in a big fight. The two boys who were spotting for me ran out and got into the fight with the other players. Then they came back and one got on one side of me and one got on the other side of me. They went about two more plays and they got into another fight on the field and both boys left again and went out and got into the fight. I kept thinking, what am I going to do if they ever go after each other because they were both about three times as big as I was. But they never bothered me at all.
I remember one fall it rained every Friday night. And of course, you've got to realize in those days women did not wear pants. So I had a blue skirt that I wore and a pair of saddle shoes and socks. And I wore a sweat shirt. I would go out every Friday night with that on. When I got home on Friday night, they would be soaked and I would be wet and I'd just take them off and leave them on the back porch. At the end of the season, I just picked the whole bunch up and threw it in the trash because the shoes were ruined, the skirt was ruined, and the sweatshirt was ruined.
Gentry: Well, your high school beat in those days—everyone I've talked to has said you just handled it superbly. And I've seen stacks of letters from middle-aged men today, in the last few years, that remember your coverage of high school games of them and remember you very well. You must have really influenced their lives or made an impact on them. Can you tell me how that was?
Garber: I don't think it was anything particular that I did. You've got to remember that high school is a wonderful time in most people's lives. And for these kids, when they played on the football team or the basketball team or the baseball team or whatever team it was, they became "celebrities." I was able to write about them and it got into the newspaper and they had their pictures in the newspaper. And in a lot of ways,
it gave them their first chance of self-worth—some of them came from very poor backgrounds and no one had listened to them before, no one had paid any attention to them before. And all of a sudden, they became somebody important. And they connected me with that. And now as they look back on it as adults, this is a very, very happy time of their lives. And they like to remember it and they like to recall those days.
I think a lot of us don't realize how sensitive teenagers are, that students are very easily hurt. And that was why I tried whenever I write about kids to be as positive as I could possibly be because they're so easily hurt. After all, they're just kids, they're not professionals, they're not getting paid for what they do. Sometimes if you can give a kid a pat on the back or if you can tell him he's done well or you can make him believe in himself, you can make a difference in his life because you can make him realize that he can do something. It's not that you change anything that he's done, you just let him realize what he can do.
Gentry: I remember you saying that often you would interview young players who had no experience in an interview and they didn't speak well. They said "yes," "no," or "yah." How did you get them to open up and say something worth quoting?
Garber: Well, a lot of times you had to get them to relax and you had to keep fishing around and asking them questions until you got something that really interested them and opened them up. I remember one time—and this was not in high school, this was a college kid. And he did not want to be interviewed. And the sports information director asked him to talk and he said he didn't want to. And I had a terrible time with that boy because he did not want to do it and he would not say anything beyond yes or no.
And then I asked him, "What did you do this summer?" And he said, "I was a guide on a white-water rafting trip." And I said, "That must have been terribly dangerous." Well, he opened right up and started into white-water rafting. He went into details of how you protect the people who are on the trip and what you do and how you do it. And it was fascinating. And he just talked and talked and talked and talked. And so it's just a question of getting a kid to relax. And sometimes you might have to ask ten or fifteen questions in order to get him to open up to something that really interests him and lets him forget himself.
Gentry: Didn't you once have a football player that grew roses and you found out?
Garber: Yes. He was a college basketball player—he was a basketball player at Duke. And he was another one that was a really, really bad interview. And you'd ask him something and he'd say "yes" and you'd ask him something else and he'd say, "huh-uh," and then you'd ask him something else and he'd say, "I dunno." But I was assigned to do a story on him.
And Vera Autrey who was the basketball secretary at the time at Duke University told me that Willie—his name was Willie Hodge—that he was an authority on flowers and that he had taken botany as an elective and made an "A." And she said she found out that when he asked her if she would take care of some of his flowers for him while he went home for Christmas vacation. And she expected him to bring in about three or four old African violets that were about to die. Instead of that, he brought in two boxes full of flowers. All of them were tagged with their botanical names, all of them had minute instructions how they should be watered and what should be done with them.
So after we had bogged down on basketball, I asked Willie how he got interested in flowers. And he said that his father had been a landscape architect. When he was a little boy, he had gone around with his dad while he was doing the planting and cultivating and he got interested in flowers. And then his eyes just lit up and he said, "One of the companies has offered a thousand dollars for somebody who can grow a black rose." And I—very foolishly—said, "Willie, how would you do that?" Well, he began the cross-pollinization of how to grow a black rose and he lost me completely. I did not know what that kid was talking about. And Bill Foster, who was the coach, stuck his head in the door and said, "Willie, you've been talking for fifteen minutes. Will you shut up and let somebody else talk?" But it's just a question of finding something that really interests them.
Gentry: I know often you went beyond the story, after the story, and stayed to give kids advice. Isn't that kind of unusual?
Garber: No, because this all came—there wasn't so much advice that I gave them but most of these conversations came after I had interviewed a boy. The only one that was different was a young man who was a high school student. And he used to keep the basketball scorebook. And usually at the half of the basketball game, everybody goes down and leaves the little place where we sit to cover the game, goes down and gets a coke and some popcorn to refresh themselves for the second half. But Jimmy stayed this time. So I knew that he wanted something. And finally he said, "Miss Garber, would you answer a question for me?" And I said, "I certainly will if I can." And he said, "How do you ask a girl for a date?"
Well, now, I can tell you how to sit at home and wait for some boy to call you but I'm not very good about asking a girl for a date because I'd never done anything like that. But I told Jimmy that it was very simple. I said, "You pick out the girl that you'd like to ask and just ask this girl if she'd like to go to the movie with you on Friday night or whatever you want to do." And he said, "But suppose she says no." And I said, "Well, I can't imagine her being so stupid as to do that but if she does, then you just go find another girl and ask her." So that seemed to satisfy him and he went downstairs and got his popcorn and coke.
And I lost track of him after he graduated from high school and I didn't see him until—oh, quite a few years ago. And I was shopping right before Christmas at the five-and-ten and Jimmy was there. And he was buying doll clothes. So I think Jimmy certainly asked somebody for a date and knew how to do it and had proper results.
And then there was a college student during the Vietnam war. I asked him what he was going to do after he got out of school and he said he was going to go into the Army and he knew he was going to be sent to Vietnam. And he said, "I'm concerned because I think I'm going to be a coward." And I knew he needed help and I knew he wanted me to tell him something that would be of aid to him but I didn't know what to say.
And so finally I said, "Well, heck, of course I've never been in combat and I don't know anything about it. But I would guess that it's very much like playing in a game." I said, "Aren't you always nervous before you go in a game?" And he said yes, he was. And I said, "Once you get into it, you forget everything about being nervous and you just do the job you're assigned to do." And I said, "I think that's the way combat's going to be." And he said, "Yeah, I guess so." I have never found out how he got along but I'm sure he did.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: Didn't you even have to sew up the pants of a basketball player one time?
Garber: Yes, I did, and that was a horrible experience. I went to the gym and John Frederick who was the coach of the Hanes High School basketball team was sitting there. And he had a pair of basketball pants that were just ripped. And I mean, they were torn from here to there. And he said, "Mary, would you sew these for me?" Well, I figured I was safe on that because surely nobody could find a needle and thread at a basketball gym. So I promised to do it. And he said, "Well, I've sent some of the boys out to get a needle and thread." So in about five minutes, these kids came back. They'd told a lady they were on a scavenger hunt. And she had given them a needle and thread.
So I sat down in the very dim light of a basketball gym and finally got the needle threaded and started sewing. And I assure you, I sewed to make them stick, I wasn't looking for pretty sewing. And I just got them started when an errant pass from the girls' basketball game hit me and knocked the pants one way and the needle and thread another way and they both went under the grandstand then. And the kids crawled under the grandstand in all that popcorn and chewing gum and everything else and found them both. And then Johnny sat on one side, the boys sat on the other, and knocked all the balls away that came over that way, until I got the
pants sewed up. And the boy was beside himself with gratitude, he just thanked me over and over again. And I nearly died during that game because every time that kid went up for a rebound, I thought, "Oh, gosh, those pants are going to rip and his pants are going to fall down and I'm going to be really embarrassed." But I'm proud to say that they held—I'm sure his mother did a better job on them.
Gentry: You worked for decades on the paper during the segregation era in the South. During that time, up to the sixties or seventies, how did the paper handle stories on black people who made news?
Garber: In those earlier days, about the only time black people got their names in the paper was when they committed a crime. And then they would have "John Jones, Negro." It was never black, it was always Negro. And we had a column called "Activities of Colored People," which was written by a black man who had an office down in the black section of town. And he would come in every morning and bring his news of the black community. And then on Sunday, we had a full page of black news which was called the Negro Page. But as far as running Negro news or black news in the regular section of the paper, it just wasn't done. We did in sports put the results of the black schools' games in the paper but it was done by young students who were in the school, they would call in the results of the game and we would run a short story that Atkins beat Carver or Carver beat Atkins or whatever the case might be.
Gentry: But you changed that. You really went to those black games and you were the first one who did that.
Garber: Yes, I did. When I started working in sports full time, it seemed to me that black parents were as interested in what their kids were doing as white parents were. So I started covering the black high school games, particularly Atkins which was the city high school. Atkins played their football games in the afternoon on a field behind the school. So I started going over there. And the principal saw me coming and he didn't think it was right for me to be sitting down in the stands with the students. So he took me up to the music room. We had three big high stools that we put in front of a window and the principal, Mr. Carter, and the superintendent of schools who was Mr. John Watson Moore and I would sit up there on those three stools and watch the game. And of course, Mr. Carter was there to let us know who anybody was if I wanted to know who anybody was. He knew all the students.
I remember one time Atkins was playing for the state championship. And at the half, the visiting team band took so long that the officials wouldn't let the Atkins band play. I knew the kids had a special program made up and I knew they were disappointed. But the officials said the game had to start or Atkins would be penalized. So the disappointed Atkins band went back and sat down.
Mr. Moore was just wonderful. He sent word down to the Atkins band master that he was very disappointed that he hadn't seen the band, the Atkins show, and that he would consider it a personal favor if the young men and women from the band would stay after the game was over and do their show so we could all see it. And he said he felt sure if they announced that that other people would stay. And the grateful look on those kids' faces when they heard that and saw they were going to get a chance to do their show. It was especially kind of him to do it because Mr. Moore was a diabetic and to wait those extra thirty minutes that he had to wait to have the program after the game was over was a little hard on him. But I thought it was a very, very good thing to do.
Gentry: Your presence meant a lot to the black community on those games. I remember an interview I saw with Happy Hairston who became a very successful player. And they asked him about what he remembered in his high school days and he remembered you and said that right immediately. So you must have made a real impression on the black community, being there.
Garber: At the time I didn't realize, I just went ahead and did it and these were good kids, they were nice kids, I enjoyed being around them, and they were courteous, polite and well-spoken, and it was a very, very enjoyable experience for me. And it's only since I have gotten a little older and these who were students then have become adults and so many of them have told me how they would sit on the bench and keep watching the
gate to see if I was coming in. I didn't realize it. If I had realized at the time how important it was to them, I think it would have been frightening, I really do, to have it mean that much. But I've been paid a thousand-fold back from the citizens of the black community for whatever I did then.
Gentry: And you felt perfectly comfortable in a crowd of 2500 black people, didn't you?
Garber: I don't think I ever thought about being the only white person there. I have always felt that people are people. And there are nice black people and black people that aren't nice. And there are nice white people and white people that aren't nice. And I have never been able to understand this feeling that you take people and say all people on this side of the street are bad and all the people on this side of the street are good. I just don't understand that. And I think people who condemn groups, whether they're because of race or whether they're because of ethnic background or religion or anything, they're the losers because they miss knowing a lot of perfectly wonderful people and they close their minds to them and they're the ones that are hurt.
Gentry: I know a very close friend of yours and—it's Bighouse Gaines, the coach at Winston-Salem State. Tell me how that friendship developed and what you learned from him.
Garber: Bighouse, of course—I don't know how many of you people that are listening to this know about Bighouse Gaines. He's coached at Winston-Salem State since the forties. He's won more basketball games, he's a college basketball coach, he's won more basketball games than anyone who has ever lived at any level in college basketball, with the exception of Adolph Rupp. Just last year he went over eight hundred games won. He has 806 now as he starts into the 1990-91 season. And he is a true legend in himself.
We were talking the other day, trying to remember the first time we met. And we couldn't because I was unimportant to him, he was another college coach I met, I was another writer coming over there—we just didn't. But we have become very, very close friends over the years. So close, our families are friends and we introduce each other as brother and sister. I never had a brother but he's as close to a brother as any I've ever had.
Gentry: But of course he's black.
Garber: Yes, he is black. And we get some kind of strange looks sometimes. And I remember one time when integration just began, one of the black schools, it was Atkins, and North Forsyth which was the integrated school got in a big fight at one of the games. And so a committee was set up to work out the problems of integration. And I was over at Winston-Salem State one time right after that happened. And a couple of the black men were over there talking with Bighouse and they started to say something and then they turned around and looked at me. And Bighouse said, "Go ahead and say anything you want to. She's one of us."
And he's been a great friend of mine. Of course, he lived through segregation, he had to give up a lot of things because he was born black. I have sometimes wondered where he would have gone and what he would have done if he had been born twenty years later and had the same opportunities that men like John Thompson have had. But I found that he was a person that I could always go to to get good advice.
I remember one time I was having—one of the few times I had trouble with a coach. And he was a young black man. And I just couldn't get through to him. So I went to Bighouse and I said, "What am I doing wrong? What can I do to get along with this man?" And he said, "Just keep on doing what you're doing. He will come around." About a week later, I went over to see this man about something. And we were talking in his classroom. And after we'd finished with basketball, we just started talking. And I didn't realize how long we'd been there. And all of a sudden, I looked at my watch, it was six o'clock. Everybody in the whole school building had gone home and he and I were still sitting there talking. And he said, "I think we'd better get out of here." So we left. And ever after that—he went on to be a college coach—and ever since then he's been one of my very close friends and we've never had any more trouble after that. So Bighouse was right.
Gentry: Well, you were very well accepted covering high school games and covering all kinds of black sports but it came time to cover the big college games such as Duke in 1946, you ran into a road block. You really got thrown out of press boxes, didn't you?
Garber: Yes. I went down there—of course, this was in 1946, and I had credentials. And they would not let me into the main press box because they said women were not allowed. And while I was talking to the sports information director, trying to convince him otherwise, there was a little boy about ten years old hopping up and down the aisles. And he could sit in there but I couldn't. So they put me in the wives' box. And it was kind of hard to work in there because the wives were in there talking about what they were going to do after the game and their husbands were so gripy and the kids were pounding on the table and running up and down.
So I went back to the office and I was very upset about it. And I talked to our managing editor, Leon Dure. And he said, "Let me take care of this." And he wrote to the athletic directors at—we had four major schools, athletic schools, in North Carolina: Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina and North Carolina State. And he wrote to the athletic directors at those schools. And he told them that if they turned me away, they were turning away a member of the Journal/Sentinel staff and not an individual. And I didn't have any trouble after that.
Gentry: But for decades you had to wear a badge saying "No Women, Children and Pets" allows, didn't you?
Garber: That's very true. I wore that tag for a long time. It's only been about the last—I'd say maybe ten years that the women and children thing was stopped. In fact, Wake Forest used to issue their tags "No Women and Children Allowed" and they had a ladies' room in their press box. I never could quite figure that one out.
Gentry: In those early years, how were you treated by the male journalists in those press boxes?
Garber: Most of the time we sort of left each other alone. And they didn't bother me. Very rarely did anybody make any nasty remarks or do anything that would embarrass me or anything like that. And I think the problem was that neither of us knew quite how to accept the other. All of us had been brought up in a male-female segregated society and all of a sudden this woman comes into a previously male-dominated area. And the men just didn't know what to do. And I think I probably could have helped the situation a whole lot if I'd been a little friendlier and had maybe spoken to them and said who I was and told something about myself. But it was just—they were never ugly to me.
The only incident I had was one time at North Carolina State there was a male reporter from Washington. And he was sitting behind me. And he made all kinds of—he never said anything to me but he made all kinds of remarks about women shouldn't be in the press box and all that. And then the North Carolina State team came out on the field to warm up. And he flew into an absolute rage with the Maryland SID because he said the numbers were all wrong. And he was so stupid he couldn't even tell the difference between the Maryland and the State teams and so I figured maybe somebody shouldn't be in the press box but it wasn't me.
Gentry: In those early years, weren't you also careful not to make waves because your paper was really sticking its neck out having you as a woman sportswriter and you didn't really want to embarrass them in any way?
Garber: That's true and I think that's probably one of the reasons why I got this reputation for always saying good things about people and never being too critical. You've got to remember for most of the time I worked in the sports department there was no such thing as a civil rights law. So there was absolutely nothing that required the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel to have me as a woman sportswriter. And I just felt that if I made a lot of trouble or if I made a lot of waves or anything like that, that they might decide it just wasn't worth it—because I know they got enough flak as it was.
I remember Nady told me after he retired that his colleagues would say to him, "Why do you want to have that woman on your staff? She ought not to be there." And he said, "I want her there, that's why." And I know Carlton had to take it. I'm sure he had to put up with a lot. But they were all very good to me and gave me the opportunity to do it. And so I tried to at least do my part by working hard at it and by not making any big deals out of things.
Gentry: You were denied admission to the major sportswriting organizations for many years, like the Southern Conference of Sportswriters, the ACC, the Football Writers—they wouldn't let you in because you're a woman. Isn't that right?
Garber: That's right. And that's one of the things that I think that young writers—young woman writers, particularly—need to be aware of. When I came back and talked to Leon Dure about the press box, he agreed to help me on that. And then I figured I'd gotten in that, so I said, "Well, they won't let me into Southern Conference Sportswriters, either." And he said, "That has nothing to do with you being a sportswriter." He said, "You can be a sportswriter without being in those organizations and those organizations have a right to put anybody in they want to and keep anybody out they want to." And he says, "I'm not going to help you with that."
And I thought that that was awful at the time because I really wanted to be in the Southern Conference Sportswriters Association almost as much as I wanted to sit in the press box. And I couldn't see the difference. But I do now. And the Southern Conference Sportswriters—we dropped out of membership and then when the Atlantic Coast Conference was formed in 1954. And the Atlantic Coast Conference sportswriters had the rule that the Southern Conference Sportswriters had. I still just could not be a member.
But our company used to pay all our dues. And we had a new sports editor come in; he didn't realize that I couldn't belong. So when he sent the dues in for the other writers, he sent mine in, too. And the treasurer obviously didn't know, either. And he accepted—I think it was five bucks then. He accepted my five bucks. And then there was a real problem because they had accepted me into membership as soon as they took my dues.
So they had a big board meeting. And I think it was kind of like, you know when a boys' gang runs around and little sister goes along with them. And they try to send her home and she won't get discouraged and finally they decided, well, let's put her out in the outfield and let her play the outfield and don't send her home and just accept her. And they did accept me. After I got in, they really did take me in as one of the group and I have a fine time in the organization.
And I remember one year when they announced the slate for membership, Bob Quincy from the Charlotte News was announcing it. And he went through the secretary and the treasurer and the vice president and the board of directors and everybody else. And finally he said, "We've got our nomination for president, our biggest jock of all, Mary Garber," and everybody got up and clapped. And it was quite a sensation because no woman had ever been head of a male writing organization.
And the Football Writers Association was the organization that kept me from being in the press box in those early days. And eventually I got into that. And I served two terms on the board of directors of that organization. And the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters have set up an award for the outstanding Atlantic Coast Conference woman athlete of the year and it's named after me and I consider that a very great honor.
Gentry: Well, you had to endure a lot of petty prejudice through the years but you won the big ones. What are some of the petty prejudices you had to endure?
Garber: Well, it wasn't so much—I think the prejudices that bothered me the most were the ones after I'd gotten established, when I figured everything was all over and you didn't have to worry about it and then you'd run into something that was just prejudice. I remember one time I went down to the Charlotte Coliseum to
cover a basketball game. And they had an informal reception and food for the writers before the game. And the police officer on the door wouldn't let me in because I was a woman. He said, "This is for men only." So I went and got a hot dog from the concession stand and I couldn't go in with the rest of the men.
And when I got home, I got to thinking about it and I wrote Paul Buck, who was the head of the Coliseum, and complained about it. And he said, "Look, why didn't you come down here and tell me about that? If you'd come down and told me," he said, "I would have grabbed that guy by the collar and thrown him out." He said, "You can't be kept out of things like that."
And then another time I was at an Appalachian football meeting and we all went out to the cafeteria to eat. And the lady who was at the head of the cafeteria line said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to go eat in the regular cafeteria, you can't eat here." And she just assumed that I wasn't a sportswriter. And little things like that bothered me more.
The only thing that's bad about prejudice—and it's true whether it's for women or males or athletes or whatever—is that when someone has a prejudice against you, it can't help but maybe destroy your confidence a little in yourself. When somebody says, "Hey, you can't do this," all of a sudden you think, "Well, maybe I can't." And you have to keep telling yourself, "Sure, I can. These people don't know what they're talking about." And sometimes it gets a little hard.
Gentry: I know some of your friends and some of the coaches really didn't understand how you endured it for a while, did they?
Garber: I think "endure" is the wrong word. I don't think there was ever anything I had to endure. That sounds really horrible. And it wasn't ever that bad. I think one of the problems that I had was that a lot of people never understood why I wanted to be a sportswriter, why does a woman want to do anything like that, why did I want to work all those long hours and spend all that time and expend all that energy and just concentrate everything in my job.
I remember one time right before Wallace Wade died, I was down talking with him and when I got up to leave, he put his arm on my shoulder and he said, "I just want you to know how much I admire what you've done. But I just can't understand why you wanted to do it." And I think that that was an attitude that a lot of people had.
Gentry: Obviously, as a woman you could never get in the dressing rooms when the players were undressed or get in them at all. And you learned to work around all of those problems. What are some of the ways you did it?
Garber: Well, you sort of had to. There wasn't any question of—when the game was over, I knew I couldn't go into the dressing room and so you had to learn to work out things. For a while, when I first started covering college sports, I used to take high school coaches with me and we'd go down to the game and they'd sit in the press box with me. Tom Cash went a lot, he was a coach at Gray. And I'd give him my credentials and he would go into the locker room where the post-game conference was held. And he was really good because being a football coach, he knew questions to ask that I wouldn't have ever thought about. And then as we were going home, he would talk about what the coaches had said and what they had done. And he was a very, very great help to me.
And Bones McKinney, who was the basketball coach at Wake Forest, when I first started all the coaches had their post-game conferences in the dressing room which meant, of course, that I couldn't go. And one time when I was out at Wake Forest talking to Bones, he said, "You know, I've been unfair to you and I'm not going to ever be unfair to you again." Well, Bones had been a very, very big help to me and very kind to me and very cooperative. So I couldn't figure anything he had done that could have hurt me. And he said, "I promise you one thing, that from now on I will always have my post-game conferences outside the dressing room."
And he did. And once he started it, all the other coaches did it, too. And so that solved one big problem.
But I remember one time, Wake Forest and Carolina got in a big fight at a basketball game. And there was no way that Bones could come out because there was just a mess around the dressing room. So I figured, "Okay. This is one time he's done the best he can, I'll just have to work around it." And I was standing outside and he stuck his head out the door and he said, "Mary, if you'll just give me a minute, I'll take care of the situation." So the Wake Forest dressing room was divided into two sides and the boys dressed on one side and there was a conference room on the other. But sometimes the guys came to the other side when they were not dressed. So Bones called, "Mary's coming in here. Don't come on this side and watch your language." So we went in there and had the interview. And I'll never forget the look on some of the people's faces when I walked out.
And then there was a man who worked on the football dressing room door at North Carolina State named John Baker. He was a police officer. I was down there with him one time and he wanted to know who I was and what I was doing and I told him. And he said, "Little lady, you do have a problem, don't you, 'cause you can't get into the dressing room?" And I told him, "Sure, I do." And he said, "Well, let me tell you what I'm going to do for you." He said, "You come down here every game right before the game's over and I'll slip you into the coaches' room and you can sit in there and I'll bring the players in to you."
So I would go down right before the game was over, he and I would stand by the fieldhouse and as soon as the game was over, we'd both run to the dressing room and he unlocked the door and let me into the coaches' room before the players got in there. And it was right next to the dressing room so you could hear what the coaches said to the players, you could hear the players talking, you could hear them singing their school song, and it was a great thing to get atmosphere. And then the coaches would come in there and have their conference so I could be in there for that. And then Mr. Baker would come and he'd say, "All right, Miss Mary, who do you want?" And I'd tell him what players I wanted. And I guaranteed they did not get out the door.
And one time I was waiting and he came in, he said, "Has everybody been in here?" And I said, "Everybody but Dave Buckey." And he scowled and about two minutes later the door flung open and Dave Buckey—I mean, he was shoved into the room, I don't mean he came. And he was just barely trying to get dressed and he'd had a big game and he just hadn't had a chance to get back in. But Mr. Baker wasn't going to let him get out.
Most of the time I would tell the sports information director what players I wanted and they would ask the players to come out and talk to me when they finish showering and dressing. But the trouble was that meant I had to wait forty-five minutes or an hour until the players finished talking to the male writers. And I remember one time, Virginia Tech beat Duke and a young player named Todd Greenwood threw the winning touchdown pass. So I went down to the Virginia Tech dressing room and I asked one of the assistant coaches to tell Todd I wanted to talk to him. About two minutes later he came out and he was just laughing. And he said, "Todd says please don't leave. He said he used to be a junior tennis player and he always wanted you to talk to him and you never did. And he said now he's got a chance to talk to you and he said please don't leave, he'll be out just as fast as he can get out." And that was very interesting.
And another time at Duke, Mike McGee used to hold his press conference in a room—it was a vacant room, it was a weight room, behind the locker room. And the sports information director said, "Mary, there's no reason you can't be in there." He said, "You can go in before the players get undressed." And he said, "Then I'll show you a way to go out through the physical education department and you won't have to come back through the locker room."
So that worked fine for about two weeks and then one week when I went in there, I started out through the physical education department and there was a man in there taking a shower. He nearly died and I did, too. I backed out in a hurry and we negotiated through the door. And it seems that—I told him what I was trying
to do and he said, "Well, I'm not even supposed to be in here but," he said, "I was playing basketball and I just thought I'd slip in here and take a shower." And so I said, "Well, just let me know as soon as you're through and I'll come on out." Pretty soon he said, "Everything's all clear, come on out." And so I did. A lot of times I would wait outside and I'd wait with the wives and the girl friends. And when the guys came out, they'd say, "Now, Mary's waited for you for all this time, you sit down and talk to her." So it worked out pretty well.
It was okay until I got on the morning paper because then I didn't have time to wait. And I remember one time Wake Forest was playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament and they were playing the semi-finals against Carolina. And Bill Cole and I were working the game together. And I asked him if I could have Wake Forest dressing room and he said, "Sure." So I went to Carl Tacy who was the coach and I told him my problem and I said, "Is there any way that I can talk to the players?" And he said, "I'll tell you what I'll do." He said, "You come on down about two minutes before the game's over and I'll slip you into the dressing room and you can talk to the players during the cooling-off period before they start changing. But," he said, "you'll have to get out when the players start changing."
So I went down there and Dave Odom, who was the assistant coach at the time, got me into the dressing room and—by the way, Dave Odom now is the head basketball coach—and when the boys came in, Dave said, "I think we better step back here into the shower because Coach Tacy's going to want to talk to the players." So Dave and I stepped back into the shower. When Dave got his job as Wake Forest basketball coach, that was one of my favorite stories, to tell about how Dave and I were in the shower together. But Coach Tacy told the boys that I was there and why and asked them to be cooperative. And they had beaten Carolina which was a big upset. And they were very cooperative to me and I got a great story because I got in before any of the other writers did. And they were really mad when they found that I'd been in there ahead of them.
Gentry: Well, you really never got into the locker rooms until the 1970s and never when the men were undressed, but invariably when you're making a speech, even today, people introduce you as the woman who broke into the locker rooms and then they giggle. And how does that make you feel?
Garber: It annoys me more than anything I know because the locker room is important, of course. But most all of us who cover sports spend a very short time in the locker room. But I never went into the locker room until the arrangements were made in the 1970s that women could go in. And I just hate this whole idea of "She's the one who broke the line of getting in the men's locker room—giggle, giggle, giggle, giggle." I surely hope I've done something better than that.
Gentry: I'm sure you have. Now, the law of the land is that women are supposed to have equal access to the dressing rooms but it just isn't always the case, not even in 1990, is it? Tell me about that fall 1990 incident with the New England Patriots and Lisa Olson.
Garber: As I understand it—of course, all I ever got on it was what was written in the newspapers about it. But Lisa Olson was in the locker room during an interview with a player. And some of the other players came up and exposed themselves and said, "Isn't this what you want to see?" And it was a very, very unpleasant incident for her. And she protested—she was not going to do anything about it, she was going to work through the Patriots. But another paper got hold of the story and they ran it, about what had happened. And so then, of course, her paper had to get into it.
And it developed into a really national incident. There were talk shows on it, there were all kinds of programs and all kinds of copy written on it. And it just concerned me because I can't see what the big deal about it is. The Constitution, the civil rights law of the 1970s says that men and women have equal access. Men cannot have any privileges that women can't have and women can't have any that men can't have.
And of course, the invariable question that comes up with this situation is "Well, if women can go into the men's locker room, then can men go into the women's locker room?" The answer of course is yes. But the difference is that women's locker rooms are generally closed to both men and women. So it's not a problem. And during the NCAA basketball tournament—women's basketball tournament—men go into the women's locker room just like women go into the men's locker room. Only the difference is that the women have enough sense to stay dressed until the men get out of there. So many people have tried to make this an emotional issue or a moral issue and it's not either one. It's a legal issue.
Gentry: Do you think young women sportswriters in the 1990s are going to even face more difficulties on this issue than you did years back, decades back?
Garber: Oh, yes, I think that the position of young women sportswriters today is far more difficult than mine was and that's for several reasons. One is I think that there's much more opposition to women sportswriters—there are so many more women sportswriters that all of a sudden people begin to realize, hey, women sportswriters are here to stay. When I came in, I was the only one and people sort of accommodated themselves to me and I accommodated myself to them. But it's much more difficult.
And I think one of the problems with the young women sportswriters today is that you never really know what the rules are. I knew what the rules were. When I went to a game, I knew I couldn't go into the dressing room, there wasn't any question about it. I remember a friend of mine who covered the New York Islanders for the New York Daily News. And she said the difficulty was that you never knew, one game you'd go and everything was okay, you could go into the dressing room and there was no problem. The next day you'd go and they'd say, "No, you can't go in." And it made it extremely difficult because you couldn't plan ahead. I knew when I went to cover a game that I couldn't go into the dressing room. So I made arrangements, I was all set up, I was all prepared to take care of the situation. But it must be extremely difficult to go to three games and not have any problems at all of access and then all of a sudden be told no.
And one of the big problems that young women face today is for some reason which I do not understand, the male sportswriters blame the women for all the problems. When a school closes the locker room to keep from admitting women, instead of saying "Hey, these people are trying to keep me from doing my job," they say, "Well, it's all Diane's fault because she wanted to go into the dressing room." It's not Diane's fault, it's not Lisa's fault, it's not my fault. All we're doing is trying to do our job and I can't understand why the men don't realize this and why they aren't as willing to fight for our rights as they are for their own rights. But that isn't the way it works and they don't seem to realize that if I lose my rights, then they're going to lose theirs, too.
Gentry: Do you think there's a way that they can remedy this situation so there's truly equal access?
Garber: I see no reason why women can't go into the dressing room. You know, somebody went to a great deal of trouble to invent two things—one is a towel and the other is a bathrobe. And all you've got to do is take the towel and put it around your waist or take the bathrobe and put it on. There's no law that says you have to walk around without any clothes on. Just last year, when Bighouse Gaines was going for his eight hundredth win over at the Coliseum. And even though I was retired and I was no longer covering games, I wanted to be there because I knew Bighouse and I wanted to be there when he won his 800th game.
Well, he lost. And I wanted to tell him that okay, we'll try again. And I had been told that under our new Coliseum there was an interview room apart from the actual locker room. So I went in to the Winston-Salem State locker room and found out that that isn't quite true, that even though they are separate, there's nothing between them. So I started to leave because there was no reason really for me to be there. And Buddy Taylor who's the trainer at Winston-Salem State said, "Wait just a minute." And he spoke to the boys and they put towels around themselves and went on and went in to take the shower. And there was no problem. There was no problem because they were considerate and they were gentlemen. And I just don't see why it can't be done.
Gentry: You mentioned a little earlier that you didn't have the pressure of deadlines up until you got on the morning paper. And part of that, you'd never really written a story in a press box, had you?
Garber: No, because for most of the time I worked on an evening paper and I would go cover the game and go down and talk to players and get whatever material I had. And then I would write my story—the game was on Saturday afternoon and I would write my story for the Monday afternoon paper, writing it on Monday morning. But of course, when I switched to the morning paper, then I had to write the story for the next day. And I had never done it, so Mal Mallette who was our sports director said, "I want you to try." And he said, "I'm going to send you down to Carolina and I want you to go through all the steps of writing your story. I want you to write it in the press box but we're not going to use it." He said, "You bring it home to me and we will go over it on Monday morning and I'll show you where you did well and where you didn't."
So I went down and I went to get my play by play and I went down to the dressing room and talked to players and came back and wrote my story just like it was going to be in the paper but of course it wasn't. But it took me a very, very long time to do it. And everybody else had gone and the sports information director was going, "Da-da-da-da, hurry up, finish up now." And my car was parked way away from everybody else's. And it was dark. And I did not enjoy that too much. But it did give me confidence. It showed me that I could do it. And from then on I did.
Gentry: Well, it was wonderful of him to take the time, too.
Garber: Yes, it was.
Gentry: To give you that dry run.
Garber: To give me the dry run rather than just throw me into the wolves and have me fall flat on my face the first time I did it. By the way, several years after that, there was a young lady working on one of the other newspapers and I saw her in the press box for the first time. And she came back upstairs, sat at her typewriter to write a story. And she froze. And I knew exactly what she was going through. She did not have any idea how to begin a story, she did not have any idea what to do. And I felt so sorry for her because I knew exactly what she was going through.
Gentry: And you had quite an experience covering that game of the Carolina Cougars, didn't you, with a triple overtime?
Garber: Yes. Carolina Cougars were a professional basketball team. And we had a beat writer on the Cougars. But Mel asked me—the beat man was working on a special story and Mel asked me to go with him. And he said, "You go ahead and write the story and he'll be there in case you need any help." And he said, "Now, I want a first half running and then I want you to top it and then rewrite for the last edition." I had never done any of those things. A first half running means that you write what happened in the first half, just like the game was over, and then you send that at half time and then you come back and cover the second half. And then when the second half is over you write about two graphs, saying just exactly what happened in the game. And then you go to the locker room and do all the rest of your work.
Well, in this particular game I did get the first half running down without too much trouble. But the game went into triple overtime. And I kept looking at my watch and they'd play another overtime and I'd look at my watch again. And I was a basket case by the time I was through. But I did get it done. And just like with the trip to Carolina, it gave me confidence that I could do it.
Gentry: Over the years, you've seen a lot of changes in the press box technology, like sending your stories back to the paper. What are some of the different things that you've seen?
Garber: Oh, it's an entirely different operation now. When I first began covering sports, we sent our stories by Western Union. We would write them on a typewriter and then we would hand them to a whole row of ladies, Western Union ladies who sat on the back row in the press box. And you'd take your copy back to them and they would send it to your paper by Western Union. And they were a very present help in time of trouble because when you made a mistake, they would come down and say, "You didn't really mean to say this," and that was a big help.
Then we went to telecopiers and they were big machines about that size. And I had little roll of them and you typed your story and put it on the little roll and sent it back by telephone to them, on the telecopier. And those things weighed a ton—they must have weighed fifteen, sixteen pounds. Then we went to computers and at first they were pretty heavy but now they've got them down to they don't weigh more than about six or seven pounds, they're real easy, you can just sling them over your shoulder, almost like a pocketbook. But they get temperamental sometimes. And I remember one time when I was down at Duke, they shot off fireworks after the game. And it didn't bother anybody's computer but mine. But mine just went berserk. I had to wind up dictating my story.
Gentry: Well, you were mentioned how Mal Mallette helped you with the dry run. He also helped you perfect your writing, didn't he?
Garber: Yes, he did. When he came in, he was very critical and most of us didn't like him at first. And when you came to work in the morning, you would find a whole bunch of notes on the—this was wrong, that was wrong, this was wrong, that was wrong. And it got to the point that we just laughed about it. But he used to sit down with me every day and go over the stories I'd written and show me what I'd done well, what I had not done well. And he was more critical than giving me praise. And after a while, it just kind of got to me.
And so one day when he was criticizing me, I said, "Mal, I don't think there's anything I can do to please you." And he looked at me and said, "Don't you know why I'm doing this?" And I said, "No." And I guess I was kind of like a sulky child. And he said, "I'm doing this because I think you can be really good." And after that, I would have done anything in the world for him because I knew he believed in me and he really wanted to help me. And he was one of the biggest helps that anybody's ever been for me.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Gentry: So you always had tremendous support from the people on the paper but in return, you've paid them back in your commitment to them. You once told me you worked twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, and I believe that, watching you in action. Do you think that kind of commitment is necessary to be a good sportswriter?
Garber: Not entirely. Not really that much. But I think that you've got to realize that sportswriting or newspaper work of any kind is really a twenty-four hour a day, 365 days a year, because you never know when news is going to break, you never know when the story is going to happen. And whenever it does, you have to be ready to go. I can't tell you how many times when I was working full time and even sometimes after I officially retired, I'd get a call at home at night that something had happened and they needed me back at the office. And you have to be ready to go.
And of course, in sports you've got to be working every weekend. I remember we had a young man who wanted to work in sports. And he worked about two weekends and then he asked the boss, "When do I get a weekend off? I can't work every weekend." Well, if you're going to work in sports, you're going to work every weekend. And it makes a—you have to be willing to give up a lot of things, you really do.
Gentry: And that's where your sister Neely, who has lived with you all these years, really helped you in taking care of your elderly parents and when you were gone half the night and gone every weekend—
Gentry: How did you divide the labor there?
Garber: She did all of it. She really did because I was gone, I was covering a football game every weekend and I was always gone and I worked a great deal at night. And she just had to be here, that's all. And she did it.
Gentry: So family was very important.
Gentry: Do you think a young woman today could be a successful sportswriter, mother and wife?
Garber: A lot of them are doing it. But it's very difficult because, as I say, you have tremendous demands on you and one of the problems is that you have to work weekends. A lot of women have full-time jobs but most of them work from nine to five Monday through Friday. And they can get good help to stay with the children and with the cooperation of their husbands, they can do it. But if you're working for a sports department, you're on the road a lot, you're sent on trips, if you cover a professional team you may be gone as long as ten days on a trip with a basketball or a hockey team or a baseball team or whatever. And it's very, very difficult. And I think you have to make a lot of decisions and you have to make a lot of sacrifices and you certainly have to have an understanding husband, too.
Gentry: Over the years, you've covered every sport and won scores of awards for your work. Looking back, what are the qualities in your work that give you the most pride and what are the qualities that you think make really a good journalist?
Garber: Oh, I don't know. Education was certainly important. I went to a liberal arts school, as I've said before, but I think that it's up to you as an individual to choose whether you want to journalism school or whether you want to go to a liberal arts school. If you do go to a liberal arts school, I think you need to take as wide an education as possible. And I majored in philosophy because every subject was an allied subject to philosophy and I could take just about anything I wanted. And I took a lot of economics, a lot of political science, a couple of languages, a lot of history, a lot of writing courses. I have a very, very broad education.
And I think another thing, if you want to write, it's never too early to start. I think you need to practice. I tell young writers that one of the things I would suggest them doing is watching a football game on television or going to a football and then coming home and writing the story, just as if you were covering the game, just very much like Mal did to me. And then see how your story compares with what the professionals did.
I'd certainly suggest that you read different newspapers. I used to read them when I was in high school and college because I liked to read over and over again the story of a game that I had enjoyed. But I think it's a very good idea to get several papers and read them and see how different writers handled the same game. For instance, just yesterday, we had this big Virginia-Georgia Tech game. And I think a young writer could learn a whole lot by reading the various reports on that one game and seeing how different writers handled the same material.
Obviously, it's a good idea to work on your high school paper and your college paper. If you can get a summer job on a paper, that's a very good thing to do. It will help you to find out whether you want to do it or not. If you're in college, working for the sports information department is a big help because it gives you a chance to do game coverage and to work on different kinds of sports stories. You might be a stringer for a newspaper—that is, you would cover certain events out at your school and report them to the newspaper.
But whatever you do, any time you write or any job you take, I would certainly ask the editor or whoever is in charge of your department to criticize your work. Tell them that you have no objection to them cutting anything out or leaving anything out but be sure to have them tell you why because that's the only way you're going to learn.
When you do get a job, I think you need to pay your dues. When women first came into sportswriting, all too many of them wanted to be feature writers and start right off writing a column and doing feature work. That's the cream of the crop, you don't start doing that. I think it's a good idea to start with high school sports because it allows you the opportunity to do a variety of things. You can cover games, you can write features, you might even have a column.
I think it's important to learn to cover nonrevenue sports. I don't like to say minor sports because there's no such thing as a minor sport to the people who play them. And the more different things that you can do—if you can cover a whole lot of different sports and be reasonably knowledgeable in them, you have a whole lot better chance to have a job on a newspaper. And if you like makeup work and if you like to lay out pages and read copy and do things like that, you can always have a job because desk men are very, very hard to get. And I think that you are to be sure that you don't let yourself get into a rut, that you never stop learning, you have got to be willing to try something new and try some different way of writing, change the way you're doing things.
Another thing is to don't be a clubhouse lawyer. There's always somebody on the staff who's going to be griping and complaining. If you've got a problem, go to whoever you've got the problem with and talk it out but don't be a whiner. And don't be a clockwatcher. Your job comes first. And you can't be one of these people who says, "Well, I can't cover that game because that's the weekend I'm going to the beach." Forget it. You've got to be willing to pitch in.
If you're a woman, don't look for discrimination. There was a young man who played at Wake Forest, he was one of the first blacks who played there. And one of the things he told me—we were talking about the job of being a black in an all-white school and having discrimination. He said, "Don't ever look for it." He said, "You will find enough discrimination that is really there without seeing discrimination when it isn't intended." And I think that's very important for women because you are going to run into problems and you are going to run into things that may seem to be discriminatory and may seem to be unfair but try to roll with the punches, try to work around them.
And a big help on that is a sense of humor. When those guys in the office get on you and they're giving you a bad time, a little sense of humor, a quick quip or letting them know—just like when your big brother used to tease you. He'll stop teasing you when he realizes he's not going to get a rise out of you and he's not bothering you.
And of course, the thing to be professional. Accuracy is important. Fairness is important. To present the story—the thing is to present the story as fully and completely and fairly as you can. And your most important asset is your integrity. If you don't have that, you don't have anything. And if you do make a mistake, if you do mess up somewhere, be big enough to admit it. Everybody makes mistakes and it will help you a whole lot if you'll say, "Hey, sure, I just blew that," but just don't do it again.
Gentry: How have the relationships of coaches and players and the media changed?
Garber: Oh, it's changed tremendously. When I first began covering college sports back in forties and fifties, I was close friends with the coaches at the various schools. If I wanted to talk to a coach, say, at Wake Forest, I'd just go out there and knock on his door and if he was busy at the time, he'd say, "Go mess around for a few minutes, come back and we can talk." I had their home telephones, they had mine. I visited in their homes, they visited in mine. I knew their wives and children. We were close friends. I never hesitated to call them
any time I wanted to talk to them. Often we would sit in their offices and we would talk football or basketball as the case might be.
And then during the discussions of any number of topics—I remember Bill Hildebrand helped me so much in learning about how to cover football, let me sit in on the coach's meetings because he knew I didn't have the background to it. He was a very close friend. And I used to call Earle Edwards every Sunday—he was the coach at State. I used to call him every Sunday morning at eleven o'clock to talk about the game the previous Saturday. And whenever his wife answered the phone, she'd say, "Earle, your girl friend's on the phone." And it was an easy-going relationship—I think we trusted and talked with each other.
I remember one time, Bill Tate changed his defense. When the sports information director sent out the lineup release, I spotted it right away, it was a different defense. I asked Bill about it and I said, "I want to write a story and explain why you're changing defense." He said, "Well, don't do that. That's going to be a surprise for the team we're playing." I said, "Bill, I know about it, I can't not write it." He begged me not to write it. Finally he said, "Who can I call to keep you from writing it?" I said, "The only person who can stop me from writing it is our managing editor because he's my boss. If he says don't write it, I won't write it."
So he called the managing editor and explained the problem to him. The managing editor sort of sided with me. Bill kept saying, "No, Mary is the only one that would know it and the only reason she knows it is because she's so close to the Wake Forest program and follows it so closely. So we agreed that they'd call in the sports editor and if he could spot the change, then I would write the story. If he could not spot the change, I would not write it. So he called in the sports editor and he did not spot the change. He did not realize that there'd been a defensive change. So I couldn't write the story. So I went back out and told Bill that I was not going to write it. He reached over and rumpled my hair and said, "I'm sorry but you lost this one." So we were friends.
But now all that's changed. If I want to talk to a coach, I have to set up an appointment. I have to call and I have to get through about three secretaries before I can get to him. And when I call, the secretary wants to know who I am, what paper I'm from, what I want to talk about, how long it's going to take. Sometimes the coach will call me back. Sometimes he won't. And it's no longer the free and easy relationship that it used to be. I used to sit down and talk football and basketball and baseball with coaches. And we trusted and believed in each other. And sometimes I think now there's an adversarial relationship. Coaches don't trust writers. They don't talk to us as freely. They're much more conscious of what they have to say. They're not as outgoing and honest with us as they used to be.
And I think one of the reasons is—at least this is what the coaches tell me—that so often writers have taken advantage of things they've told them and presented them in a way that wasn't really correct. And I didn't believe that for a long time. I didn't believe that writers could misquote you or could change what you said and make it come out different. But when they had all this fal-de-ral about women sportswriters, I was interviewed several times by—not writers here in the state but writers from other parts of the country.
I remember one writer who was from another part of the country who wrote a big story about me. He quoted me directly. He used words—I don't even know what they mean so I don't know whether it's what I said or not because I don't know what those words mean. They were just not anything I would have ever said. I found also that a lot of times when they'd have controversial things like "women in the locker room" and "should women be sportswriters" and things like that, people would call you and ask your opinion and you'd give it and say I think this or I think this and I think that—and they'd pick out one thing. They weren't misquoting you but they really weren't telling what you actually said.
So I do understand how the coaches feel. But it has changed sportswriting. We are just not able to have the access we had, we don't have the trust we had, and in a lot of ways we don't get the information we had. And the same thing is true with players. If I wanted to talk to a player, I just called him up and—or a lot of times with Wake Forest, I'd go by the training table and sit down and talk to them while they're eating. And usually they'd go up and get me a plate of cookies to eat while we were talking. But now everything's got
to go through the sports information office, you can't talk to a player until you do all that. And it's just taken a great deal away from it. I don't like it nearly as much. And I can't believe that the coaches do. And I can't believe that the players do. I think it was a much, much better set-up in the old days when we all knew each other and we were frank and honest with each other.
It was not at all unusual for me to go into—I remember one time I went into the Wake Forest basketball office and Billy Packer was an assistant coach. And I had hardly set foot in the door before Billy Packer said, "That was the dumbest story I have ever read in my whole life. I don't know why in the world you wrote such a stupid story yesterday." So we sat down and we went over what had upset him and I told him why I had done it the way I did. And we got the whole matter straightened out right there. But that doesn't happen now. Now, if I write something that the coach doesn't like, then the sports information director calls up. And the sports information director says, "Coach so-and-so was real upset with what you wrote." And my reaction is, "Well, who cares? I don't care whether Coach so-and-so is upset or not." And it's just not anywhere near as good for writers or coaches—or often for the readers, either one.
Gentry: You've lost a lot of intimacy.
Garber: We have. We have. We've lost a lot.
Gentry: Well, another major impact on your business must be television and the way it covers sports. How has that changed your coverage?
Garber: Television has really just revolutionized what we do as sportswriters. And it's made my job a whole lot harder, it really has, because when I first started covering games and I wrote my story for the paper, you as a reader, probably when you read my story, that was the first thing you had known anything about the game at all. You might have known who won or maybe once in a while you might have listened to a radio broadcast. But for the most part, you got all your information about the game from my story.
But now all that's changed. Now by the time I come home from covering, say, a Wake Forest game or Duke-Carolina game or whatever, you've seen it on television, you have seen experts interviewing the players, you have seen experts analyzing why the coaches made the moves they did, why the offenses and the defenses did what they did. And really, it's extremely difficult for us to come up something that is different. And also we have to be extremely careful because if I say Joe Blow caught the pass and made the tackle and you saw it on television and know perfectly well he did not, then ring-a-ring-a-ding goes my phone on Monday morning and you're telling me, "Hey, stupid, what game were you at?" It has made it very, very difficult and you have to be much more innovative. And you have to work a whole lot harder because of television.
Gentry: Well, in your long career you've been able to interview and write about a lot of famous sports legends. And the way you tell the stories, you tell things about them that most people never even see. I'd like to talk about a few of them. One is Jesse Owens. When did you meet Jesse Owens?
Garber: Jesse Owens, I had met him very, very briefly when he was at one of the Durham track meets. But that was in the mob situation where I was one of about fifty or sixty writers so of course he didn't have any idea who I was and I didn't have any direct contact with him. But CBS came down here to do a special on me for their CBS Morning News. And what they wanted to do was to follow me around for about three days. And so they asked me what I was going to be doing. And I told them that I was going to interview a Wake Forest basketball player and I was going to the Wake Forest-Carolina basketball game and the various things that I was doing.
And they seemed to be very unhappy with that. And they said, "Well, aren't you going to talk to anybody famous?" Well, there weren't that many famous people around here if their definition of famous does not include Wake Forest and college basketball players. But then I found out that Jesse Owens was coming here to make a talk at Wake Forest. So I said, "Well, Jesse Owens is coming here." Oh, they brightened right
away because of course he's the famous track star that did so well in the Olympics. And they said, "Well, we can get an interview with Jesse Owens."
So I called Wake Forest and told them my problem, that I really needed to talk to Jesse Owens. And they said, "Well, he's going to be very, very busy and we don't know whether he can talk with you or not." And I mentioned the magic words "CBS" and I think that had a whole lot to do with it because they called back in a very short time and said that Mr. Owens would be glad to have me interview him. So it was set up for me to go to his motel room and I was to walk down the corridor and knock on his door and all this was to be filmed. So I walked down the corridor and knocked on his door and he flung open the door and he and I fell on each other's necks like we'd known each other for a hundred years. He'd never seen me before and of course, I knew who he was but I had never met him before. So we sat down and we talked, with the cameras on and the lights and everything like that. And about halfway through the interview he got a coughing spell and we had to stop and turn off the cameras. And of course, as you know, sometime later he died of throat cancer. And I think at the time then he was probably having difficulties.
But when the interview was all over and we were standing talking and the lights had been turned off, he turned to me and he said, "Miss Garber, you're a very rich lady." Well, I had told the Wake Forest people to make me sound real good but I didn't want them to make me sound like a millionaire because of course, I'm not. And I said, "Well, I'm not rich, Mr. Owens." He said, "Oh, yes, you are." He said, "You have a great many friends and you're doing something you really love and that makes you truly rich." And I thought it was a very perceptive thing for a person who had known me all of thirty minutes.
Gentry: Sure was. Now, you met Chris Evert when she was just a child, didn't you?
Garber: Right. I covered a lot of tennis at Old Providence Club in Charlotte. And they had a women's tennis tournament—it was a very small tournament—and they were short one player. I think it was Billie Jean King dropped out, I'm not sure about who it was but somebody dropped out at the last minute and they had to get a replacement. So Cliff Turner, the man who was running it all, heard about this young girl who was from Florida, it was a fourteen-year-old named Chris Evert. So he checked with Margaret Court who at that time had just won the triple crown and was probably the number one player in the world, and said, "Do you think the women would mind if a fourteen-year-old came up and played in the tournament?" And Margaret said, "Oh, not at all." I said, "We would be very nice with her." And she said, "Why don't you get her to play Francois Durr first because Francois will be real good with her and she won't be too embarrassed losing."
So Chris came up and Francois Durr was the one that was embarrassed because Chris beat her, I've forgotten, something, 6-2, 6-2 or something like that. And then just to show that she played no favorites, she beat Margaret Court. And then she lost to Nancy Richey in the finals. And I went down on court to speak with her after the finals. And she had a big bouquet of roses in one hand, she had both of her racquets, and she didn't know how to handle them all. So I asked her if I could help her. And she turned and handed me her racquets. And here was this little slip of a girl, never seen me before in her life, turned over her racquets to me. How'd she know I wasn't going to walk off and take them? But we walked back to the clubhouse, me still carrying her racquets. And when we got to the clubhouse, she thanked me very much and I gave her her racquets back.
And then I saw her several years later and she played an exhibition in Greensboro and I talked with her then. She was sixteen then. And I said, "What would you like to do?" And she said, "I want to be a professional tennis player." And she said, "Someday I want to be number one in the world." And of course she was.
Gentry: Brian Piccolo is a favorite son in Winston-Salem, isn't he? Wasn't he?
Garber: He is. He is still. Brian Piccolo will never die in Wake Forest and Winston-Salem people's hearts because he was a truly, truly wonderful young man. He was a fine football player—the only bad thing I can
think about Brian, I can think of one bad thing about him. He absolutely hated to practice. And he was the worst goof-off and the worst get-out-of-everything when it came to practice because Bill Tate who coached football at Wake Forest used to give red helmets to everybody who worked hard in practice. And Brian in four years never came close to getting a red helmet. But he was a great guy.
And I remember his senior year he won the Arnold Palmer award which was the highest athletic award for Wake Forest. And for some reason, the guy who covered it for the morning paper left the Arnold Palmer award out when he listed all the other awards. Well, of course, Bill Tate was about to have a stroke. And he called up and he was very unhappy. And I don't know why I was picked, I just think they should have sent the guy that left it out but they sent me out to talk to Brian and try to make up for the mistake that we had made.
And Brian was just as nice as he could be. He just considered it a fender-bender in the history of the world, I don't know. But he was very cooperative and very nice. And it didn't make any difference. Joy, his wife, was very upset about it. But we wrote the story.
And then even though Brian was leading the country in scoring and yardage, he wasn't drafted when the NFL made their draft. And it hurt his pride. He tried very hard not to let anybody know that it hurt him, but it did hurt him. And the Chicago Bears signed him as a free agent. And then when he got to the Chicago Bears, there was Gale Sayers, so Brian still didn't get to play. He used to come home in the summer and we'd sit up in his apartment and try to make up Chicago Bear lineups that would get Brian to be a starter. And eventually he did. And I remember I called him after he started the first game and I said, "How you doing?" He said, "I've never hurt so much in my whole life but I've never been happier." And of course, very shortly after he achieved his great success, he developed cancer and he died. But he really was a perfectly wonderful young man.
Gentry: You got very close to Frank Howard, too, didn't you?
Garber: Yes. Yes. Frank's a phony. Frank pretends he's a big, tough, mean guy but he's not. He's one of the nicest people I know. Right after I started covering college sports, Clemson came here and I was sent out to Bowman-Gray Stadium to talk to Frank and to do a story on the game, pre-game story. And I told him who I was and what I was there for. And I expected him to hand me my head but instead of that, he called the whole Clemson team together, had them gather around, and he said, "This is Mary Garber and she's my friend and she's here to cover the game and all of you guys be good to her when she talks to you." You know, he didn't have to do that but it was a very, very great help to me.
And then later on, after I got to know him pretty well, he was having a football clinic down at Clemson and that was right after integration came in. And Dave Lash, who was a very close friend of mine, one of the black coaches here, wanted to go to the clinic but he didn't want to go if there was going to be any unpleasantness or anybody was going to make him unwelcome. So I wrote Frank and explained the situation to him and told him who Dave was and I said that, "He doesn't want to come if there's going to be any problem." So Frank wrote back, "Tell him to come."
So I told Dave and he went down there and he said he'd hardly checked into his motel room and bang! bang! bang! on the door. And it was Frank Howard. And he said, "I just checked in to see if you were okay and if everything was all right and if you need anything, you let me know because I'm going to be around here." And you know, he didn't have to do that, either. But it was a very kind thing.
And then one of my first trips to Clemson, he asked me if I had been there before and I said no. So he drove me all around Clemson and showed me the whole university. And I've never had anybody speak with so much love and affection for an institution as he did about Clemson. And as we started back to the motel, he said, "Where are you staying?" And I thought that was kind of dumb question since he'd picked me up at the motel and he knew perfectly well where I was. And I told him. And he said, "Oh, that's a bad place for rattlesnakes." He said, "You don't have any snake bite medicine with you, do you," meaning, of course,
some alcohol. And I said, "No, I don't." He said, "Well, you can't be at that place because you'll get snakebit sure as the world." So we stopped by the ABC store and he bought me some.
And after the game, that next day I was at the filling station and Frank drove up with his wife. And he said, "Come over here." He came over to the car and got me. He said, "Come over here and meet Mama." So I started over there and he put his arm around me and whispered in my ear and he said, "By the way, don't tell Mama nothing about that rattlesnake medicine." Now, he's a wonderful person, he really is.
Gentry: That probably wouldn't happen today, would it?
Garber: No, I don't think it would.
Gentry: What about meeting Vince Lombardi?
Garber: Oh, Vince Lombardi. That man scared me so. He was coach of the Green Bay Packers. And before Coach Lombardi came in, the Green Bay Packers hadn't been too—well, they'd been horrible, if you want to know the truth. I won't even say they hadn't been too good, they'd been horrible. But it was before Coach Lombardi came and it was a very loose organization. They used to play an exhibition game down here at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem with the Washington Redskins. And for some reason, I had the Packers to cover and I would go over to Greensboro where they stayed. If I wanted to talk to a player, I'd just do like this and he'd come out of practice and we'd sit down and talk.
And the first year that Coach Lombardi came in, I walked over there. One of the guys I knew was in practice and he cut his eyes around me, said, "Don't come near me, don't say a word to me, don't come near me, go away." And I didn't—I figured I hadn't done anything to him, I didn't know what was his problem. And I found out that Coach Lombardi was a real bear and he didn't want writers around for practice, he didn't want anything to do with them. So I stayed away and went back to the motel.
I asked the publicity man if I could talk with Coach Lombardi and he looked like—sort of like if I'd asked could I talk to the President of the United States or something like that. Finally he said, "Well, you can have lunch with Coach Lombardi." So I sat at the table with Lombardi and the other coaches. And he totally and completely ignored me, I might just as well have been a pillar of salt sitting there because he didn't pay any attention to me at all—he talked to the coaches and they discussed what they were going to do in the afternoon. And I didn't get a chance to say a word, I didn't get a chance to ask any question, didn't get a chance to do anything except sit there and eat my lunch.
So after the lunch was over, I said, "I didn't get a chance to talk to you at lunch, I'd like to ask you a few questions." And he looked like, "Well, awrrrr, I wish you'd go away, but okay." And one of the questions I asked him was how important are these exhibition games, do they really mean anything? And he said, "Yes, they do, because," he said, "we have players who are sort of on the borderline of being cut and we look at what they do in these exhibition games and decide whether we're going to keep them or not." And I said, "Could you tell me some players who are in that category?" And he said, "Well, Tim Brown's one." So of course, immediately I went around and found Tim Brown. And we found out we had a great deal in common because Tim had grown up in an orphanage and I had covered Children's Home football here and we had a great deal in common as we talked about what life in an orphanage was like, growing up there.
And the game that night, Tim had a great game. So of course, as soon as the game was over, I went down and talked to Coach Lombardi and I said, "Did Tim Brown make the team?" And he said, "Well, we might keep him for a few more weeks, anyhow." And of course, Tim Brown stayed for not just a few more weeks, he stayed for a great many more years in professional football and had a great career.
Vince Lombardi's wife was just completely opposite from him. She was just a real outgoing, friendly person. And when I got to know her, I had a different view of Coach Lombardi. She said that one time he—
he was always telling the players, "You've got to be mentally tough. You can't let little things, injuries and that, get you down." And one time he sprained his ankle and she said he limped around the house and griped and complained. Finally she said to him, "Vince, you've got to be mentally tough. You can't let a little thing like a sprained ankle get you down." And I said, "What did he do?" And she said, "He didn't speak to me for a week!"
Gentry: Now, you knew Lefty Driesell a long, long time ago, when he first began, didn't you?
Garber: I knew Lefty when he started working at Davidson and I was covering Davidson then. I used to go down and talk to him and I remember one time we'd had an interview and he said, "Come on, let's go to lunch." So we went to one of the campus restaurants. And he said, "What would you like to have?" And I didn't know exactly what I should order. And he said, "Why don't you have a steak?" Now, don't ever offer me a steak unless you mean for me to take it because I'm going to take it. So I said, "Okay, I'll have a steak." And then he took a hamburger. And I said, "Why aren't you taking a steak?" And he said, "Well, I had a late breakfast and I'm not very hungry." So I ate the steak and enjoyed it. And then I found out afterwards that I'd eaten up his whole recruiting budget for the next month.
But Lefty was a person who really was his own worst enemy because he'd try to put on the worst connotation of himself. I remember one time and a friend of his were at the beach and they were walking along and they saw a place on fire. And Lefty went into the house and got the people out and really saved their lives. And when I said something to him about it, he said, "That wasn't anything. If they had known it was Lefty Driesell coming in, they'd have probably called the cops. But he really—you know, he really took a risk of his life to do that.
And another time at Duke he started off with a man-to-man defense and then went to a zone in the second half—and lost. And I said, "Lefty, why did you change?" And he said, "Because I'm a dumb coach." Well, he's not a dumb coach. He's a very, very talented coach. And I don't know—but he's one of my favorite people.
Gentry: What about Coach John Wooden?
Garber: I met Coach Wooden down at Campbell College basketball camp. And they used to have very many famous coaches down there. And they had so many and so many people wanted to come down and talk to them that they had Press Day. And they set up a routine where the writers had fifteen minutes with each coach and then the coach went on. And after Coach Wooden had finished his interview with my group, I had some questions I wanted to ask him. And so I went up to him and I said, "Could I talk with you some more?" And he said, "I've got to go on to my next interview but we can get together at lunch." And I figured, well, he's not going to follow through on that. But I was walking over to the cafeteria for lunch when he called to me. And he said, "I'm just getting back to you. Now we'll sit together at lunch and talk." And I said, "Coach, you can't sit with me. You've got to be at the head table." And he said, "I'm not going to sit at the head table, I told you that we'd talk at lunch and we're going to talk at lunch." So we sat down at the foot of the table and we talked basketball all during lunch and he was just as nice as he could be.
And then I saw him again when North Carolina State beat UCLA in the semi-finals of the NCAA tournament in Greensboro. And of course it was a tremendously disappointing loss for Coach Wooden. And of course it was very exciting for everybody in North Carolina to have North Carolina State on a brink—and they did that year win the national championship. And so in the press interview after the game, we just talked and talked and talked with Norm Sloan, the State coach. And Coach Wooden sat outside the interview room and he must have waited for forty-five minutes to an hour without getting upset or without getting angry or anything at all. And then he came in and answered our questions.
And the next morning at 7:30 they had a Fellowship of Christian Athletes breakfast. And we were all in there when Coach Wooden came in. And when he walked in the door, there must have been
two hundred fifty or three hundred people there and they all stood up and applauded. And I asked him why he came after he lost. I said, "It must have been disappointing for you." And he said, "I came when I won so I should certainly come when I lost."
Gentry: Looking back on all you've done and all the praise you've received for your work, what do you think the greatest compliment you ever had was?
Garber: There's absolutely no question about that. It was a compliment that I heard second-hand. I was covering the soap-box derby down in Bowman-Gray Stadium. And a friend of mine was up in the stands. And she saw two little black boys—she said they were about eight and ten—sitting up in the stands. And one of them said to the other, "Do you see that lady down there on the field?" And the little boy said yes. And he said, "Do you know who she is?" And the other boy said no. And the first boy said, "That's Miss Mary Garber. And she don't care who you are or where you're from or what you are. If you do something, she's going to write about you." And I'd like to have that on my tombstone.
Gentry: That's wonderful.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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