David McCollum, 1950-2018
For more than half a century in the newspaper business, 1972 journalism graduate David McCollum let his fingers do the talking through some 11,000 sports columns and countless game stories and features. The fingers that typed those stories and the heart that gave those accounts life were stilled April 30 with his passing in North Little Rock
At the time of his death, David was one of the most honored sports writers in Arkansas history, earning more than 200 writing awards, primarily at the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Arkansas, where he worked from 1982 until his passing, and before that at the Arkansas Democrat and the Orange (Texas) Leader.
David was inducted into the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 2012 and named Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year by the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters in 2008. Just last year he received the “Golden 50 Award” from the Arkansas Press Association for his half century in newspaper journalism.
In the fall of 1968 David enrolled at Baylor where he and I first met and bonded as the two journalism majors most interested in sports in our class. We studied under the tutelage of legendary Texas journalism professor David McHam and our first Lariat bylines appeared on the same October day that fall. That spring semester, we alternated three nights a week as the Lariat’s night editor, a fancy name for the proofreader who put the paper to bed in the wee hours of the morning.
In a profession of high stress and often exaggerated egos, David was an anomaly, easy going and with little ego, other than the pride he took in his work. As sophomores, he became sports editor and penned his first sports column, appropriately named “McCollum’s Column.” David would publish sports commentary and observations under that title for the next 50 years.
By our senior year I had gone to work full time for the Waco News-Tribune and David resumed his mantle as sports editor. He always had an eye for detail and an encyclopedic memory for the odd facts and figures of sports. In his last column for the Lariat, he reported that in his three years as sports editor during the Bill Beall era, he had witnessed three intentional safeties in football, two football coach hunts and a football team that played a half without a first down.
“I have seen the Baylor fan run the gamut of emotions from high optimism to sheer frustration to outright cynicism to cautious optimism,” he wrote in that final collegiate column.
After we graduated, our first professional jobs were with the Orange Leader, where I worked on the news side covering the city beat and David continued in sports. In Orange I began to understand what made David special not just as a sports writer but more so as a journalist: he was not about scores and stats as much as about sports as a social barometer of the human condition. His sports writing was strong on analysis and even stronger on context. In Orange he covered an integrated football game where the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross outside the stadium. He was in the Astrodome when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the much ballyhooed “Battle of the Sexes.” David later described the event as “Rosie the Riveter on steroids.”
After almost five years in Orange, David moved to Little Rock as sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat for five years, then got caught up in the newspaper downsizing of the early 1980s. He moved to the Log Cabin Democrat in nearby Conway so his wife, Beverly, could keep her job and they could raise their son, Gavin. At the Log Cabin Democrat, he covered University of Central Arkansas and Hendrix College athletics for the next 36 years. Between the two Arkansas papers, he reported on NCAA basketball championships, the Salt Lake City Olympics and multiple bowl games. Additionally, he covered the first inauguration of Arkansas native Bill Clinton as President of the United States. He compared the inaugural festivities to those of a bowl game.
David always had big-city newspaper talent but never the ego that believed bigger was necessarily better. He loved covering local athletes and contributing to his community and his church, where he was a deacon and Sunday School teacher.
He cherished Baylor, served several years as a director of the Baylor Alumni Association and returned to campus whenever he could. The last time I saw him was at our 45th class reunion dinner last fall, appropriately enough in McLane Stadium, where we dined with two former athletes and another Lariat reporter. Back home, he wrote another column, noting that he was the only one of us “still into games.” But David’s reportage transcended games and elevated any topic to the level of art.
Our final semester at Baylor, David decided to pen a feature on me. After he finished the task, he called it challenging to write about a friend and feared he didn’t do me justice. He asked if I would mind if he spiked the story. I said it was his call, and that story never ran.
This story was published, and now I know how he felt. I fear I failed to do David justice, not only as a journalist and writer but more so as a human being.