Enquirer Herald

Remembering my mentor

By the time this columnist returned from covering the Clover-Byrnes football game in the Spartanburg area Friday night, I was a bit tired and weary.

I began the day substitute teaching at York Comprehensive High School before departing on a bus following the Clover football team at 2 p.m.

I normally check my e-mail when I return home, but it was past 12:30 a.m. and I went to bed.

After making several stops Saturday morning and taking care of a few chores, I checked my e-mail slightly past 10:30 a.m. to find that Enquirer-Herald Editor Shannon Greene had e-mailed me while I was en route to Byrnes to inform me that Ned Burgess had passed away.

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a man who had influenced my life since the ninth-grade. It came as a jolt to me that I wouldn't be able to attend an 11 a.m. memorial service in Charlotte, a totally helpless feeling as I fought back tears.

Though I was unable to attend the Saturday morning service, I can say publicly in this column what Ned Burgess meant to me.

When I was a ninth-grader at York High School, I walked into the Yorkville Enquirer building on North Congress Street and asked the person at the desk why there was no coverage of Green Dragon football games.

Little did this ill-informed teenager know that Mr. Burgess had recently acquired ownership of the Enquirer and the Clover Herald.

Ned walked to the top of the stairs where I was standing and blurted, "I am the person you need to talk to."

He explained that he hadn't been in town very long and arrangements would have to be made for sports coverage.

After a brief discussion, he looked at me and said, "I tell you what, you write something about this Friday's game and leave it on my desk Monday after school. I can't promise you anything, but we'll see."

I told him I hadn't taken a typing course and he said to submit a hand-written article.

I wrote several paragraphs about the game on notebook paper and handed it to someone at the Enquirer Monday afternoon.Later in the day, I was about to enter Neely Drug Store and Ned tapped me on the shoulder and said with a grin, "Good afternoon, scoop!"

He liked what I had written and said he would pay me 10- cents per column inch to cover the games the remainder of the season. Most of my stories were in the seven to eight-column-inch range, so there were times when I was taking home 80 cents a week. It doesn't get any better than this, I thought to myself.

The biggest thrill for me was seeing my byline (by Gene Graham) in the paper the first time. This 15-year-old felt a surge of excitement and self-pride that was difficult to put into words. And a cash incentive to boot. Wow!

Fast-forward to spring of 1968. By this time, I had graduated from high school and completed basic training at Fort Jackson as a U. S. Army Reservist.

I had been away from York for some time, trying to find my niche in the job market.

While living with my sister, Mabel, and her family in Faith, N.C., I drove to York for the weekend to see what was going on with the friends I went to school with.

During a Saturday morning visit to Neely Drug, longtime friend "Little Arthur" Neely informed me that Ned Burgess was looking for a reporter for the Enquirer.

Knowing it would be a chance to reconnect with Ned, I stayed in York until Monday and went to the newspaper office on West Liberty Street.

We talked at length, during which he informed me that a reporter/photographer with a journalism degree was leaving the paper. Ned knew I had no degree but had gained some experience as general assignment reporter for the Kanapolis, N.C. Daily Independent and was play-by-play announcer for Brevard College basketball in the North Carolina mountain town.

Knowing I lacked the experience needed to cover all of the community news and sports, take photos and develop film and prints in the photo lab, Ned hired me anyway.

"I like your personality and the way you relate to people," he said. "You make people laugh and you make me laugh. Everything else will fall into place."

I will never forget that conversation. I needed someone to believe in me.

In addition to luring me back to York to work for him, Ned was the creator of this column.

He summoned me to his office one day and said he wanted me to write a sports column.

At first he suggested Graham's Quackers but later decided to go with Graham Crackers.

I talked to Ned on the phone a few weeks ago and we had a genuine conversation. He wanted to know my cell phone number, e-mail address and made sure he had my correct home address.

Ned Burgess had incredible communication and people skills. I know that in some way I attempt to emulate his God-given traits.

But I fall woefully short of measuring up to his lofty standards.

Ned was my mentor. Most of all, he was my friend. I miss him dearly; his lasting impression will remain forever.