Sportswriter Furman Bisher dies at 93

Award winning AJC sports writer Furman Bisher sat for this photo in his basement full of memorabilia on Oct. 9, 2009, in Fayetteville, Ga.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Award winning AJC sports writer Furman Bisher sat for this photo in his basement full of memorabilia on Oct. 9, 2009, in Fayetteville, Ga.

He covered the Masters, Kentucky Derby and the Georgia-Georgia Tech football game more than 50 times each. Most of the Super Bowls, too.

But on Sunday, the story of legendary sportswriter Furman Bisher came to an end. Bisher, 93, died of a heart attack, a longtime friend and editor told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"He put more quality words on newsprint than any other writer in the last half of the 20th century," former editor of The Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution. Jim Minter said late Sunday. "He never wrote a bad column."

Minter said Bisher's wife and step-daughter called him Sunday evening with news of his passing. Bisher had planned to spend Sunday watching golf on television when he complained of feeling ill and his wife, Lynda, called 911, Minter said.

At the hospital, Bisher went to sleep, Minter said. Doctors later confirmed the newspaper legend had suffered a heart attack.

A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Northwest Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Private graveside services are planned. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to Paul Anderson Youth Home, 1603 McIntosh St., Vidalia, Ga., 30474, or Eagle Ranch, 5500 Union Church Rd., Flowery Branch, Ga., 30542.

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In recent weeks, Bisher had battled back pain and even worried he might have to miss the Masters because of it, Minter said. But he appeared to be in otherwise good health and as feisty as ever, Minter said.

Bisher spent 59 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before retiring in 2009. He wrote his final column on the same typewriter he used when he started in 1950 as a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution.

“I just decided that’s enough — I had been thinking about it a couple weeks,” Bisher said when he retired from the AJC. “I wanted to get it done, get it over with, and as far as I’m concerned it’s no big deal. I just won’t be writing a column.”

Since his official retirement, Bisher continued to write occasionally for the AJC, including his annual Thanksgiving Day column on things he was thankful for, and to cover golf tournaments like the Masters, the PGA last August and the Tour Championship at East Lake.

"Mr. Bisher was as passionate about the AJC in his final days as he ever was," Ray Cox, AJC sports editor, said Sunday night. "And he was always a perfect Southern gentlemen. He was first and foremost a journalist but one whose ability to write far surpassed the skills of most of us who came into the business hoping to emulate him."

James Furman Bisher, born Nov. 4, 1918 in Denton, N.C., contributed hundreds of articles for Sports Illustrated, the Saturday Evening Post and many other national magazines. He also wrote several books, including a biography of Hank Aaron.

A father of three sons, Bisher said the death of one of them, Roger, at age 44, was "the toughest thing in my life."

Bisher's career began in 1938 at the Lumberton Voice in North Carolina. In 1940, he became an editor at the Charlotte News.

One of the biggest "scoops" of his career occurred in 1949, when “Shoeless” Joe Jackson gave Bisher and Sport Magazine his only interview since 1919, the year Jackson was ousted from baseball in the “Black Sox” scandal.

In addition to his writing, Bisher is credited with helping bring professional sports to Atlanta. He was a charter member of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium Authority during a time when it wasn't regarded as a conflict for a journalist to serve in such a capacity.

Bisher's honors include membership in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame, the International Golf Writers Hall of Fame, and the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, as well as the Red Smith Award for contributions to journalism.

A Bisher trademark was ending an occasional column with “selah,” the mysterious one-word farewell that he borrowed from the Book of Psalms. The meaning?

“I have no idea,” he said. “Your guess is as good as mine.”