I was startled Friday to see George Vecsey posting his last regular column for the New York Times sports section. I had assumed that Vecsey would just keep writing columns forever, since that's what I wanted as a reader. He pledges to contribute at least the occasional column going forward, and I hope he does.
Vecsey was that rarest of presences in the newspaper, a man of wide curiosity and learning who came fresh to every column with no interest in grinding an axe, only in treating people as people. He did not jump on bandwagons; he thought for himself but above all he felt for himself.
"I will always treasure the privilege of writing the Sports of the Times column," Vecsey wrote. "... I did aim my columns at a female Times reader who might not be a hard-core fan but might discover me in the sports pages. Why not address universal values? Why cut myself off from part of our smart and complex readership?
"My pattern was to mix it up -- the Super Bowl one day, a high school gym the next day, the familiar, the unfamiliar, opinion one day, description and mood the next. Goya and war one day, Monet and water lilies the next."
I remember sitting down next to Vecsey on a bus at the Nagano Olympics and talking Russian hockey with him. He was conversant with details of hockey in Russia that very few sportswriters would know, and he also was familiar with the work of my favorite poet, Anna Akhmatova. It was fun talking to him.
That presence, intelligence, open, and always human, will be missed. I hope that others emerge who can bring to sports such wide learning and wide focus, but I'm not optimistic. Find the humanity in sports -- wise words, George, wise words.