Mary Garber, well-known nationally as the "Dean of Women Sportswriters", has been a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Sentinel and Journal (now combined into the Winston-Salem Journal) since 1944, covering every sport. Though she retired from the strenuous schedule of covering Atlantic Coast Conference football and basketball games four years ago at age seventy, she still works seven days a week covering tennis, small college sports, coaches' conferences and special assignments. The paper has been her life. She has worked for it without interruption since 1940 when she was hired as society editor.
"If Mary wants to work here until she dies, it is fine with me," says her publisher, Joe Doster. "She is a living legend in Winston-Salem and a first-rate PR person for us because she has so many fans and followers. Mary is a lady of great integrity--genuine, competent, fair and concerned. Players, coaches and readers have loved her. We at the newspaper are part of her family."
I met Mary in August 1990 on the first of four trips to Winston-Salem to research her long career and complete five interviews, the last being videotaped in November 1990. I was immediately impressed by the energy of the five-foot dynamo and her love and commitment to her work, which she has no intention of quitting. All of our interviews took place in the living room of Mary's family home, a lovely house full of mementos, where she has lived since she was eight years old when her father moved to Winston-Salem to open his building contracting business. She lives in the home with her younger sister, Cornelia, "Neely," who has supported Mary's career by keeping the house and caring for the aged parents through the years. Neither sister has ever married.
Before interviewing Mary on tape, I talked at length with many people who knew Mary well and could give me insights into different stages of her life and career. Joe Doster, her publisher, was an excellent resource into her newspaper career, her strong points as a journalist, and how she has become a "living legend" in her community and among sports people.
Lib Byrd, widow of Carlton Byrd, Mary's sports editor on the Sentinel for decades, provided personal insights. Lib had known Mary since childhood, lost touch with her in college years, then became a close friend starting in the 1940s when they worked together on the newspaper. "Mary is as dedicated a professional as I have ever known," she says. "Her whole life centers around her job. Carlton got teased about having the only woman sportswriter on his staff for decades, but Mary proved herself. She has so much humanity and the capacity for finding out things about players and coaches that no man ever could or would. Mary has an immense pride in her work and was always careful with facts. Her human interest stories were the best. I think Mary has dedicated her life to making people feel good about themselves."
During the course of reviewing Mary's papers and stories, I read many letters from middle-aged men who wrote to thank her for writing about them in high school and college, bolstering their egos and giving them good advice on everything from career choices to overcoming the fear of going to Vietnam. Throughout her career, Mary took a personal interest in most of the people she wrote about, and their rapport and trust in her is evident in the quality of her stories.
Mary came from a prominent family, but she was interested in everybody. In an era of segregation in the South, Mary was the first white sportswriter on her paper to spend time reporting on black high school and college players. She felt black parents were just as interested in reading about their sons in the newspaper as white parents were. Prior to that, reports on black games were called in by black correspondents, if they were reported at all.
Coach Bighouse Gaines of Winston-Salem University, a black college, remembers Mary's arrival on his campus in the mid-1940s. "There were two different worlds, white and black, and most news about black people ended up on the Sunday newspaper's 'colored page.' We had outstanding athletes here and Mary came to write about them when no one else cared. Mary was always trying to help the underdog. We appreciated that and helped her. She never had any trouble on this campus or any other black school. Mary is loved in the black community in Winston-Salem. She came from an aristocratic background, but she never knew any racial barriers. I think her greatest strength is her positive, honest approach. Most writers show players as big dummies who break the rules. Mary would always look for the good in people."
Being the only woman sportswriter in the region for some thirty years was not easy for Mary. Though she had credentials, she was thrown out of the press box at Duke in 1946 because women weren't allowed there. For years she was barred from all the major sportswriting associations because they did not accept women, then later became president of one and on the board of directors of another. For decades she could never get into the dressing rooms after games like male sportswriters did to witness the excitement of a win or the letdown of a loss, but she learned how to work around the dressing room in a variety of ways and get great stories anyway. Most coaches helped her because they respected her and like her work.
Mary's fifty years in journalism and pioneering sportswriting career give us a fascinating look into women's emergence in the newspaper business in World War II, the segregated South, and a tough lady's quiet triumph over discrimination in a male-dominated sports world. She is an outstanding storyteller whose humanity and love of people radiate throughout the interview.
Diane Koos Gentry
Timeline of Important Dates
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: I'd like to talk to you on this tape about your background and your childhood. Where were you born?
Garber: I was born in New York City at 460 Riverside Drive. I was born at home on April 16, 1916.
Gentry: Born at home, isn't that unusual for someone in New York?
Garber: I don't know. I never have really found out why both my sisters were born at Women's Hospital in New York and my parents decided to have me at home.
Gentry: What was your father's occupation?
Garber: My father [Mason Garber] was a civil engineer and a contractor and his father, my grandfather [Daniel Anderson Garber], founded the Northeastern Construction Company which had offices in New York and Baltimore and later in Winston-Salem. My grandfather was concerned about the lack of standards in the construction business so he was one of the founders of an organization called the Associated General Contractors which set standards for construction companies. When you signed with a company that had the AGC emblem, then you knew that they met certain standards for performance and that they really knew what they were doing. It was very much like a Better Business Bureau is today.
Gentry: And he created that.
Gentry: What about your mother's father [Harry M. Archer]? What did he do?
Garber: My mother's father was a doctor and he was a fire buff. And when he was a little boy in New York City, he used to have an organization. In order to be a member of the group you had to know every fire box in the city of New York. But of course, there weren't as many as there would be now.
But after he graduated from medical school, he got interested in the fire department, and he outfitted his own ambulance. He, as they say, rolled, that is he went to every major fire in the city of New York for many, many years. He crawled under buildings to give shots to firemen who were trapped inside. And he became something of an expert on burns. He won the James Gordon Bennett medal for heroism. He was a deputy commissioner in the New York fire department when he died.
Gentry: That's fascinating. Well, they were both trailblazers. Do you think that had anything to do with you being a trailblazers as a woman?
Garber: I don't know whether it did or not, maybe there's something in genes. I think we were a family of individualists who if we saw something we wanted to do and something that we thought was important, we just went ahead and did it. That may be a genetic thing, I'm not sure.
Gentry: Where did your father go to college?
Garber: He went to Virginia Military Institute which is in Lexington, Virginia. He stayed there for three years but right before his first class or senior year he decided he wanted to be someplace where he'd be closer to my mother who was living in Allendale, New Jersey, and New York City, so he transferred to Columbia University. That's where he finished his education.
Gentry: I see. How did they meet, do you remember?
Garber: Yes. My mother [Grace Dean Garber] was fifteen, my dad was sixteen. She was living on Allendale and he was living nearby there. As young people they just got together. He used to come over to her house and play tennis and they became close friends. It developed into something considerably more than that.
Gentry: They were married a long time, weren't they?
Gentry: What was your mother's background, then? Did she grow up in New York City?
Garber: She grew up in New York City and she was the typical young lady of the time. She attended a private school called Semple School where the lady who was in charge made them stand up for "Dixie." I have never understood why they did that, but I guess it was because she had a Southern background somewhere.
Gentry: Must have.
Garber: My mother was brought up as young ladies were in those days and she, to describe her more than anything else, was a lady.
Gentry: And became a Southern lady.
Garber: Right. I've already told you about my mother's father. My mother's mother [Helen Louise Archer] ran the house and did all the things that a lady did in those days. She was a real beauty, with black hair and was a very lovely lady. But she died when my mother was twenty.
Gentry: How about your other grandma [Nellie Garber]?
Garber: She was a housewife, too, and she ran things for my grandfather's house. She was a Virginia lady and very proud of her Virginia ancestry.
Gentry: What was it like to be a small child in New York City? Do you remember much about it?
Garber: I wasn't a small child in New York City. About three weeks after I was born, or four, five, six weeks after I was born, we moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where my father was building the Customs House. I'm not sure how old I was when we moved back to New York City for a very short time, then lived in Ridgewood, New Jersey, with my grandparents. Ridgewood at the time was a very small community where everybody knew you. I would be going downtown or running around somewhere and the policeman on the beat would say, "Mary Ellen, go home, your mother wants you."
I started school there in kindergarten and went to school through the third grade. My grandfather was mayor of the village of Ridgewood for five or six years.
Gentry: Is that close to New York City?
Garber: Yes, it's about twenty-eight miles outside of New York City. It is one of those communities where everybody works in New York City and they would commute back and forth.
Gentry: What were your parents like in personality?
Garber: My father was a very outgoing person and I thought he was a very funny person, a real wit. He knew a lot about politics. He could talk on politics or music or sports or literature, just about everything, and he really knew what he was talking about. I know that at one time he offered each one of us a hundred dollars if we could beat him at any sport—except swimming which my older sister [Helen Garber] was very good at or horseback riding which my younger sister [Cornelia Garber] was very good at.
Gentry: Did you take him up on it?
Garber: None of us ever beat him. I don't think any of us ever even tried.
Gentry: That was a pretty good dare, though.
Garber: Right. Certainly was.
Gentry: Do you have sisters and brothers?
Garber: I have two sisters, an older sister who is four years older than I am. She was an accomplished pianist until arthritis made her give it up. Now she plays the recorder. She went to Hollins College and majored in piano and graduated there. Then she went to Michigan and got her degree in musicology. She got her degree in musicology and met her husband out there. She married and had four children, three boys and a girl, and they lived in California. Now she's living in Denver, Colorado.
And then I have a sister who is five years younger than I am. She's lived at home here all the time. I certainly would not have been able to do the things I did if she hadn't stayed home and looked after our parents, run the house, and did all the things that had to be done. Without Neely, I couldn't have done what I did.
Gentry: And so you've lived in this house how many years?
Garber: We've lived here since 1924.
Gentry: Wow! That's continuity.
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: Once they got out of the East and into North Carolina, did they like this area a lot better?
Garber: Much, much better. It was a much better place to raise a family and I don't think they ever wanted to go back to New York City again. We never considered it.
Gentry: So you were only eight years old when you came?
Garber: I was eight when we came here.
Gentry: When you settled down, where did you settle in Winston-Salem?
Garber: We lived in a house which at the time was outside of the city limits and located on a dirt road with big ruts in it. It was called Lover's Lane. Now it is one of the big thoroughfares in the community and it's called Stratford Road. And when we moved here, we were the only house on the block outside of a white house which was on Buena Vista Road. Now the place is all built up. When we moved here, it was all woods and you could play outdoors and go just about any place you wanted to. It was a great place for kids to grow up.
Gentry: And you had a horse, it was country enough to have horses and—
Garber: Oh, that was long, long, long, long, long after that. We didn't have horses until during the War. Then we had horses in the back yard but that was—gosh, that was in 1945, '46, somewhere along in there.
Gentry: Did your mother ever work outside the home?
Garber: She worked as a volunteer. In those days, women very rarely worked outside the home. She worked for the Red Cross and she was active in church work and she was commissioner of the Girl Scouts, worked for the Juvenile Relief, and she did a whole lot of things outside of the home as a volunteer.
Gentry: Was yours the kind of family that did things together as a family?
Garber: Oh, we did a lot of things together. In fact, when we were growing up my sister Neely and I enjoyed doing things with our family more than we'd enjoy doing things with kids our own age. We went to the movies and we played tennis together and we played games in the back yard. I remember at one time we went through a period of dressing up for every Sunday night supper. Each week we would have some kind of a theme. I remember one time we had books and Neely stuck a pillow in her front and came as the "Shape of Things to Come." We had a lot of fun together.
Gentry: Did your parents dress up as well?
Garber: Oh, yes. Everybody did. The whole family did.
Gentry: As books.
Garber: Right. That particular time. We had different themes every week and that particular time it was books.
Gentry: Would you have to guess what each one was?
Gentry: That's interesting. So your family was really one that encouraged creativity, obviously, if you did all these things.
Garber: Oh, yes, they did encourage creativity. And they encouraged debate. We would have great discussions about politics and music and literature and everything because, as I say, my father and mother were very well informed. Dad encouraged us to think and talk about our beliefs and then he would challenge us by taking the other side, no matter what side—
Gentry: So you would argue.
Garber: Yes. And we used to kid him because when he started to lose, he'd say, "Well, all right, now, if you want to be silly." That meant that we'd won the argument and the discussion was at an end.
Gentry: It was just like a debate, then?
Gentry: This went on all the time?
Gentry: Did you have any family traditions that were particularly interesting?
Garber: One of the family traditions we had was held every New Year's Eve or right around New Year's Eve. We would get together in the dining room and each member of the family would take turns sitting up in the big chair while the other members of the family would tell him or her what they had done well in the year and what they needed to work on. That included our parents. We would tell our parents what—
Gentry: You'd tell them what they needed to work on?
Gentry: That's great! How many years did you do this? Was it all through your childhood?
Garber: I don't remember. We did it quite a number of years.
Gentry: I'll be darned. And you constantly discussed politics and all kinds of current affairs.
Garber: I wouldn't say constantly, but we certainly had quite a bit of talk about them. There was always interesting conversation at the dinner table and around the house.
Gentry: Did your parents also encourage you to read?
Garber: Yes. And I remember right before I left Ridgewood, New Jersey, someone told me about the library. It was the first time we'd had a library in Ridgewood. I couldn't believe that you could go to a place that was filled with books and you could have any book you wanted. I couldn't believe that anything was as great as that.
But I didn't choose my reading material well. I just read everything I could get my hands on. Mostly I read sports books. My sister Neely was a very good reader. She read the best books—history and travel and things like that. I read mostly junk.
Gentry: Well, sports books aren't junk. Can you remember any particular books that were your favorite?
Gentry: When did your interest in newspapers develop?
Garber: I don't know. I decided when I was eight years old I was going to be a newspaper reporter. And I'm not sure I had any idea what a newspaper reporter was at the time. But when we moved here, I was ordered like most children to write letters back to my grandparents back in Ridgewood, New Jersey. And rather than just write them a letter, I took a piece of notebook paper and drew out a newspaper. Then I put all the things that children would usually write to their grandparents in as news stories and wrote headlines on them and reported all that went on in our family that I would ordinarily have written in a letter. I called it the Garber News.
Gentry: Well, you must have been pretty familiar with newspapers to put it in story form with headlines.
Garber: I don't know, I just did it from watching what newspapers were like because we had newspapers around the house. I just followed it from that. I don't think I really knew what I was doing.
Gentry: Did you do that for a number of years?
Garber: I did that for several years, yes.
Gentry: That's great! What about when you went back in the New York area to visit your grandparents, did you read newspapers back then?
Garber: I think that was when my interest in sports began because one summer right after we moved down here, I'm not sure if it was the first summer we moved down here or the second, but my grandfather came down here and took me back with them to spend some time with my grandmother and him in Ridgewood. And he was an extremely indulgent grandfather. I loved the New York Daily News because it had good funnies. My parents, my mother particularly, did not like me to read the New York Daily News because it was a tabloid and she didn't think it was the kind of newspaper that I should be reading. But my grandfather didn't let that bother him at all. If I wanted it, that's what I got.
So after I'd read the funnies, I thumbed through the thing and started reading the sports page. And there was a story in there, an interview with Jack Dempsey about how he had lost to Gene Tunney. So I read it and a couple of days later we went out to dinner with some of my grandparents' friends. The men were talking about the Dempsey-Tunney fight and what had happened to Dempsey because, of course, he was a great champion. And I piped up and reported what the New York Daily News had said. All of a sudden I was the center of attention and all the men were listening to what I had to say. My grandparents couldn't believe me. Where did I pick up all this? Of course, I liked being the center of attention.
Gentry: Did they ask you a lot of questions?
Garber: They asked me a lot of questions and I was able to answer them from what the newspaper story had said. Then I started reading sports pages and got interested in boxing. From that I went into baseball and then into football and pretty soon I liked all sports.
Gentry: Boxing, that's pretty unusual.
Garber: Yes, it was. And I guess if I'd read some other story about some other sport, it might have started some other way. I don't know.
Gentry: Was your father interested in boxing?
Garber: Yes. He was interested in all sports.
Gentry: As a family, did you go to a lot of sporting events?
Garber: We went to a lot of football games. He and I went to a couple boxing matches. There really wasn't that much boxing around here when we were living in Winston-Salem. But we went to college football games almost every weekend.
Gentry: Your whole family?
Gentry: So that's probably where your interest in sports really developed.
Garber: I don't know whether that's where it began or how, but we used to go to Duke, Carolina, Davidson and all the different college football games.
Gentry: Did you ever play sports in the neighborhood like a lot of kids?
Garber: Oh, yes. We used to play all kinds of sports in the back yard, then I sort of left this group. There was a group of kids that lived down at the end of Stratford Road and I went down there and played with them. They had a football team which they called BVDs, the Buena Vista Devils. We played teams from other neighborhoods on Saturday mornings. It was real tackle football and I was the only girl on the team. We didn't have any equipment, so I just wore a pair of corduroy pants and an old sweater. But I remember one time one of the teams that we played did have football uniforms, that was when little boy football uniforms were just coming in. And we beat them. We were very proud of ourselves because they had all this great equipment and we beat them, anyhow.
Gentry: Well, what did they think about the lone girl on the team? Did they accept you?
Garber: The boys accepted me and I was one of the group, one of the gang. I had everything, all the rights and privileges of a boyhood gang. But they treated me a little different from the way they did the other boys. For instance, one time one of the boys grabbed my sweater and tore it. And immediately all of the other boys jumped all over him and said, "Don't tear her clothes!" And you know, he didn't mean to, he was just trying to make the tackle and he just grabbed my shirt or my sweater. He wasn't trying to do anything.
Gentry: He forgot you were a girl.
Garber: Yes. And they reminded him very quickly.
Gentry: You were a big tomboy then growing up. Always a tomboy?
Garber: Yes. I sure was.
Gentry: Were your sisters also tomboys?
Garber: Neely played with us some when we used to play in the back yard but my older sister was not interested in anything like that. As I said, she was a pianist.
Gentry: Quite different.
Garber: Right. Neely liked horseback riding. She was much more interested in that.
Gentry: Well, did your mother object to you being a tomboy and playing football with the boys?
Garber: I don't think she did, no.
Gentry: You said she was a real lady.
Garber: She was a real lady. And I think she sometimes was worried, I think both my parents were worried that I was going to get hurt but they never said I couldn't do it. And at one time they went to New York City on a visit and they told me that while they were away that I should not go down to the lot at the end of the block and play. So I just told the little boys, "Come on up to my house," and they all came up to my house and we played in my back yard, which of course was not the point.
Gentry: Right. I'll bet your father was thrilled that he had someone who was so interested in sports since that was his interest.
Garber: Yes, I think he was. Don't get the idea that he ever thought I was his son, I wasn't. I was a daughter, I was a girl, he knew it and there wasn't any question about it. I never had the idea I was a boy.
Gentry: No, I'm sure you didn't. As a little girl, did you have particular sports heroes that you followed?
Garber: Well, Gene Tunney was my first one because of the boxing incident. And then I followed the New York Yankees for a while. But my big sports hero as I was growing up was Knute Rockne who was the coach of Notre Dame at the time. I think the reason I got started with him was because Notre Dame was so good. But then when I got involved with Notre Dame and there was a great deal of talk about the Notre Dame spirit and I just sort of got interested in that and followed them. I wanted to go to Notre Dame and I wanted to be like they were. I looked up to Knute Rockne and admired everything he did.
And of course, as you may or may not know, he was killed in a plane crash in 1931 when I was fourteen. I was just absolutely distraught. It was like losing somebody who was in my own family even though I had never met him or seen him. Of course, he had no idea that I existed.
Gentry: The team did, didn't they?
Garber: I used to write to the Notre Dame players. And they would write back letters to me. All my little girl friends wrote to the movie stars and I wrote to football players.
Gentry: I think that's great! Wasn't your interest in sports rather unusual for a little girl growing up in the twenties?
Garber: I don't know. I'm sure there were other girls who were interested in sports.
Gentry: You weren't expected to behave in a certain way because you were a girl?
Garber: I was expected to behave in a certain way because I was a girl and I did behave in a certain way because I was a girl. I think my interest in sports was unusual but I don't remember that anybody said you can't do that because you're a girl.
Gentry: Oh, I think that's great. Obviously, you had a family that allowed you to be what you wanted to be.
Garber: That's right.
Gentry: Be an individual. Well, your whole family is a group of individuals.
Garber: I think so. And they just sort of accepted this was my interest and we were encouraged to follow our interests. I said my older sister was a pianist, she was encouraged in her music; my younger sister was a horseback rider, she was encouraged in her riding.
Gentry: When you went to high school, did you continue your interests?
Garber: Yes, I wrote for the school newspaper the whole time I was there, all four years I was there. I took some part in athletics, I played on the girls' softball team. That was fun. I enjoyed that. And I ran in the city track meet. But I was never a really talented athlete, never.
Gentry: Were you too small?
Garber: I was small and slow and I just wasn't a well-coordinated athlete. We used to spend a lot of time at school hanging around the journalism office. We'd sit around, settle the affairs of the world and talk and run around together. That was the main thing I did when I was in high school.
Gentry: What high school was it?
Garber: I went to Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Was that a large one?
Garber: At the time I was there, it was the only white high school in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Oh, really?
Garber: Yes. There are several now.
Gentry: So then it was quite a large high school.
Garber: No, it wasn't that big. I don't remember how many it was but it wasn't really that big. In the city of Winston-Salem there was the black high school which was Atkins and the white high school which was Reynolds. And then right after I left, several other high schools opened within the city. But at the time I went to high school, if you went to public school that was where you went.
Gentry: I see. Did your parents expect all of you to go to college, I mean was that just expected?
Garber: They didn't expect it, no. They offered the opportunity to go. My older sister went and graduated, as I say, in piano. I went and graduated in philosophy. And when Neely came along, she said, "I don't want to go to college." And that was it.
Gentry: She didn't go.
Gentry: Oh, I didn't realize that.
Where did you choose to go to college?
Garber: Well, when I graduated from high school, I wanted to go to Duke. And I'm afraid my reason was that they had a good football team—which was not a very good reason. But my father thought I was too young to go to a big university so he said if I would go to Hollins for two years that I could transfer. After two years, I didn't want to transfer.
Gentry: You really liked Hollins.
Garber: I liked it very much.
Gentry: Now, tell me about Hollins. Where is it?
Garber: It's right outside of Roanoke, Virginia. It's a girls' school and at the time I went to it, it was very, very small. When I went in the fall of '33, there were ninety girls in my freshman class and my first year there
I knew every girl in school by name. It's a lot larger now, but it's a very good academic school. As I say, I majored in philosophy because I planned to go into newspaper work and I thought it was important to have as broad an education as possible. And philosophy enabled me to take a wide variety of courses.
Gentry: And you would tell young people today to take a wide variety like that?
Garber: I think that it is better preparation for newspaper work to have a wide variety of courses than it is to go to journalism school, but that's just my opinion.
Gentry: Now, at Hollins, did you work on the college newspaper?
Garber: Yes, I worked on the college newspaper all four years and I was editor my senior year. We didn't have any collegiate athletics at the time because the philosophy then was it was bad for women to have the stress of competitive sports. So we had intramural sports, we had class teams, we had odds and evens in hockey and reds and blues in basketball. And I played all those sports but we didn't ever play against other schools.
Gentry: They were afraid you'd get hurt?
Garber: No. It was supposed to be very bad for you psychologically or something, it was a very strong feeling at the time.
Gentry: That was a theory at the time.
Garber: At the time, yes.
Gentry: Did you take any writing classes beyond the philosophy or was there a journalism department or journalism classes?
Garber: No, there was no journalism department, never was any journalism department. And I took—
Gentry: Creative writing?
Garber: I took some writing courses. I took several writing courses and my senior year I took an independent study in which I would decide certain topics and I'd go write on them. Then of course the thing would be critiqued and then I'd do something else. It was sort of a freelance writing class.
Gentry: How big were your classes in a small place like that?
Garber: Well, my freshman and sophomore years, they ran maybe twenty-five—twenty or twenty-five students in the class. Sometimes the lecture courses were a little bit bigger. But my senior year the biggest class I had was six and I had three independent studies in which I was the only one in the class.
Gentry: Wow! So you got to know your professors pretty well.
Garber: Very well. And my major professor in philosophy used to have her class up in her apartment and we would go up there at night and she always served cake and coffee after the class. And she had a big old cat named Kitsy Bunny. And Kitsy Bunny used to come into the open window and jump up on the table where Miss Williamson was conducting the class. And we used to always try to encourage Kitsy Bunny to knock the papers on the floor because that meant the end of the class.
And I had a professor who taught me American Diplomacy and International Law. When it came time for the final exam, I said, "What day do you want to give me the final exam?" And he said, "In the first place, it's too much trouble for me to make up an exam and in the second place, it's too much trouble for you to write it and in the third place, it's too much trouble for me to read it after you've written it, so I'm not going to give you one."
Gentry: That's terrific! Did he treat all the other students that way?
Garber: I don't know, I was the only one in the class. I'm sure he gave an exam in Political Science and the other classes where he had more than one student.
Gentry: Was it customary that professors would have their classes in their own apartments or houses?
Garber: It all depended upon who the professor was and it depended upon how big the class was, a lot of the classes, of course, you couldn't have them in an apartment. I think Miss Williamson was unusual that she had it in her apartment. I had my class in International Law and American Diplomacy in the professor's office.
Gentry: Didn't you hear a coronation?
Garber: Oh, yes. I guess it was George VI's coronation, we went up to Miss Williamson's apartment to listen to it on the radio. One of the professors who was up there had been to a coronation and she described how everything was when the procession came down to Westminster Abbey. It was just like being there because she knew everything that was happening.
Gentry: And so you learned a lot in that kind of an environment.
Garber: That's right.
Gentry: Then you think that a small place like Hollins was much better for you than going to a large place like Duke?
Garber: Much, much better because Hollins gave me a chance to do a whole lot of different things which I couldn't have done if I'd been in a large school. I had a wide variety of activities and Hollins enabled me to try my wings to do all the different things I wanted to do. They never told me I couldn't do something because I was a woman.
Gentry: Of course they wouldn't, with a woman's school. Did they tell you you could do anything because you were a woman?
Garber: We didn't discuss it. You didn't have any discussion about what you could do and what you couldn't do.
Gentry: On the paper there, did you have a specialty?
Garber: No, it was a very small paper, you just wrote about anything.
Gentry: Including sports?
Gentry: You covered their sports?
Gentry: When did you graduate?
Garber: I graduated in 1938.
Gentry: Okay, the Depression was on then when you were both in high school and college. Did that affect your family in any way?
Garber: Not particularly. We certainly never were hungry or never cold or never had any real deprivations from it. But people did come by here and ring the bell bow and say they were hungry and we would fix them a sandwich and hand it to them and they'd sit down on the front steps and eat it right then.
Gentry: That happened quite often?
Gentry: Your dad built a lot of buildings in Winston-Salem, didn't he?
Garber: Yes. My grandfather built Reynolds Auditorium and then my father came here to build the railroad station. He built the City Hall and the YMCA and the bus station and quite a number of residences.
Gentry: Was his the southern office of this construction company?
Garber: This construction company had offices in New York, Baltimore and then in Winston-Salem.
Gentry: Owned by your grandfather and started by your grandfather. Your dad ran the Winston-Salem office?
Garber: My dad ran the Winston-Salem office, yes.
Gentry: I see.
Garber: And then after the Northeastern Construction Company was—I don't want to say folded because that's not what I mean but the Northeastern Construction Company went out of business and my father set up his own construction company called Mason Garber Construction. And he did a lot of war work during World War II.
Gentry: Do you think living during the Depression in your formative years, your high school years and your college years, affected you later?
Gentry: In any way?
Gentry: Not affected your thinking?
Gentry: In high school and college, did you have a job of any kind—part-time job, summer job?
Garber: All I did, from the time of 1929 when I was twelve years old was go to a girls' camp called Silver Pines Camp in Roaring Gap, North Carolina. I went there as a camper until I was a senior in high school and then I became a counselor. And I was a counselor every summer until I went to work for the Sentinel. And that camp meant a great deal to me. It gave me a good feeling of self-worth and the feeling that I could do a lot of things. And also I learned a lot of fundamentals of sports while I was there.
Gentry: And when you were a counselor, did you teach sports to the kids?
Garber: Yes. I taught just about every one of the land sports. I was never a good swimmer—you had to be an examiner in the American Red Cross and I never could pass that. I wasn't a strong enough swimmer so I never taught swimming. But I taught baseball and archery and quite a number of sports like that, worked with the dramatics group and put out the camp newspaper and worked with the woodworking classes. I taught just about everything.
Gentry: Do you think your experience in working with that newspaper and working with sports and playing sports throughout your career helped later on?
Garber: I guess I did. I couldn't say in exactly what way, though.
Gentry: Well, you were involved with sports from an early age.
Gentry: Did you date in high school and college?
Garber: Not dating as such with me going out with one boy. We ran around in a group; as I say, we used to hang around the journalism office together and we did a lot of things from that. And I said we did a lot as a family group. I had a group of girl friends and when I was high school I organized Rockne Club and—
Gentry: Oh, you had a Rockne Club?
Garber:—and that was with some of my friends who were girls. We were interested in the Notre Dame football team, but I think I was the only one who wrote to them. Then we had a group of boys and girls that used to go around together. There was a lady who always had us down to her house on New Year's Eve, but I don't remember pairing off with boys and girls at all. When I was in college, most of the girls I ran around with didn't date much and I didn't either. We went to dances and parties and there were always boys and girls around.
Gentry: When you finished college, did you expect to marry or did you want to devote your life to a career?
Garber: I don't know that I made a great decision or thought about it one way or the other. I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I just don't remember thinking about whether I was going to marry or not.
Gentry: So you had exactly the idea of what you wanted to do.
Garber: I knew I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I don't think I had any idea of what sort of newspaper writing I wanted to do.
Gentry: No dreams of any particular kind?
Gentry: So you went back to Winston-Salem, right after college?
Garber: Yes. Right after I got out of school, I came back home. It was during the Depression and there were no jobs. So the first year I was out of college, I worked at Summit School, which is a private school in Winston-Salem. I worked with their after-school recreation program. And I got the sum of $25 for the whole year.
Garber: But I only worked five days a week for a couple of hours in the afternoon so it isn't as bad as it sounded.
Gentry: And you didn't try to find a newspaper job right away.
Garber: Oh, yes, I tried to get them but there wasn't one available.
Gentry: Summit School was what you could find.
Garber: I tried every place I could to get a job but I don't think I really knew how to go about sending out a resume and going to interview, I really didn't know how to go about it. I went down to our local newspaper and applied for a job and I did get a chance to do a couple of freelance stories for them. I wrote on a French girl who was visiting in Winston-Salem in the early forties. I don't know, it must have been '39 because it was before I went to work. The war had begun and she was worried about her people in her homeland. And then I did a survey of going through the police accident reports and wrote a story on the most dangerous intersections in Winston-Salem. But those were just—
Gentry: Right out of college, freelance?
Garber: Yes. And during the summers I was at Silver Pines. A lot of people from Winston-Salem went up there and spent the summer at Roaring Gap. And I did a weekly society column while I was at camp, telling about things that were going on at Roaring Gap. They ran that on the society page.
Gentry: Had you known anybody on the newspaper?
Garber: Oh, yes, there was the lady named Mamie—Mamie Hegwood, and then she married and she was Mamie Braddy. I've known her since I was in high school. And I think she was the one that kept egging the people down at the paper to take me on. I'm sure she was the one responsible for me getting my job.
Gentry: I see. [Tape Interruption.]
Did you finally get a job on the newspaper then?
Garber: Well, in February 1940, Art King who was managing editor of the Sentinel, that was the evening paper, called and asked me if I was interested in doing a survey on what readers thought of our society page. And he gave me a list of people to call and to go to see. I didn't have a car and I didn't know how to drive. So my dad took one of the workmen off his job, loaned me his Plymouth, and the guy drove me. And he was making more than I was. We went all through northwest North Carolina and knocked on doors and asked people what they thought of the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel society page. Then I compiled the answers and sent in a report.
Gentry: What did you get for that piece of work?
Garber: I don't remember, $60 a month was what I made when I went to work full-time. I've forgotten what I was paid for the survey, maybe $25 or $30. It wasn't much.
Gentry: How long did it take you to do the survey?
Garber: It took me about two weeks, maybe a month. I think I was two weeks on the tour and then compiled it. I wasn't a very good typist so my dad took my written account and had his secretary type it. It looked real fine. I'm real glad that she did it because if they'd ever seen how badly I typed, I probably never would have gotten a job.
Gentry: So you finally got a real job at the newspaper after that, didn't you? How did you finally break in?
Garber: Well, that happened in March. Art called again and asked me if I would like to be society editor of the Sentinel. What had happened was there were two women who were putting out the two society pages together and they were very good friends. They were spending all their time yakking with each other and there wasn't a lot of work getting done. So he put both the women together on the Journal and I came in and did the Sentinel society page. It made for a rather sticky situation because we were working in the same office. And needless to say, the lady who had been displaced as Sentinel society editor didn't think I was too—very much cute and she didn't much want me around. And it was a rather hairy situation for a while.
Gentry: Were just about all the women working on the society page at that point?
Garber: The only one who wasn't working society was Mamie Braddy who I think I mentioned earlier. She had been at the Sentinel since back in the late twenties or early thirties. Right after she got out of high school, she had to get a job, so she went to the newspaper and said that schools were something that everybody contributed to and they wanted to know more about them. She suggested that she be hired as a school reporter who would tell about what was going on in the different schools and board meetings and things like that. And they hired her on. From there, for the time she spent at the paper she covered every beat there was. She was one of the best police reporters we've ever had. She was excellent at the police department, knew every cop in the place and if there was anything to be found out, she could find it out.
Gentry: Were society pages beginning to change by then?
Garber: No, no, no. They were just like society pages used to be in the old days. We wrote about parties and we wrote about weddings and we wrote about engagements. About the only difference I did, I did more on club meetings and I tried to cover the whole city, not just the society section club meetings. We wrote about women's golf but mostly it was what the ladies wore, what the fashions were and what they had for lunch. And we had a long column every day, what we called personals which reported that Mr. and Mrs. Jones were visiting friends in Asheville. About the only offbeat thing I did was a column for women on how to watch football. And that was how to watch it at a game because television hadn't even been invented then.
Gentry: So you told them just how the play-by-play went?
Garber: Not play-by-play but what to watch for and what a first down was and that the guys in the white uniforms were trying to get the ball over the one line and the guys in the blue uniforms were trying to stop them. It was really very, very basic. But it was just so that you wouldn't feel too stupid when you just went with your boyfriend to the game.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: How did you write your stories for the paper back then?
Garber: We wrote on manual typewriters on long strips of white paper which we called copy paper. We made carbon copies of everything and kept the carbon paper in a big roll in the cabinet. We'd cut out a new piece when one got worn out because obviously it would when you wrote several stories on it. And one of the things I remember when I first came, I was scared to death about everything, as most new employees are, and about the second day that I was there I lost the piece of carbon paper they'd given me. And I didn't know that all you had to do was go to the cabinet and get all the carbon—
Gentry: They only gave you one?
Garber: They had given me one because there was a whole roll in the cabinet. And I thought, gosh, and here I've lost my carbon paper on my first day and I'm going to get fired. And I went to Mamie, Mamie Braddy, who was our sister confessor, and she took me by the hand and showed me where there was a whole roll of carbon paper and I could get all I wanted. But I was terrified for a few minutes.
After you typed out your story, you put it in a little tube and sent it up to the third floor to the composing room. There it was set in type by a linotype operator. A linotype operated something like a typewriter, only instead of printing words on paper, it set them into lines of metal type. These were placed in long trays. The type was covered with ink and by placing a piece of paper on it, a copy could be printed out. This was given to proof-readers, who went over it for errors in spelling, punctuation or fact. Corrections were made on the side of the page, just as proof-readers do today. Then, it went back to the linotype operator for corrections. The trays holding the metal type were taken to a larger tray, for want of a better word. These were the size of the newspaper page. A composing room worker placed the type on the page, just as it would appear in the paper.
I would come up and watch as the composing room man placed the type. I could tell him if I wanted something changed, but since I was not a member of the union, I could not touch the type. There was another reason for not touching it: If I dropped it, the lines got all out of place and this was called pied type. It had to be straightened out by hand. Needless to say this took time and made the composing room men very unhappy. Also, the type was hot. Once they let me pick it up, and I didn't want to try it again.
After the type was all in place, they would put another big piece of paper over it, roll it again, and I could make corrections from what we called the page proof.
Gentry: Well, how did you like covering society? It's so different than sports.
Garber: Yes, it was, and I know it sounds awful, when I told people I was society editor, they'd go, "Ya-a-ack, why would anybody want to be a society editor?" But you must remember that first it was a job, which is something I hadn't had. And second, I was really working for a newspaper and that's what I wanted. I got along all right with most things, I did the club meetings and even the weddings and everything else.
But the time I really got in trouble was we had a big Easter Monday dance at one of the downtown society clubs and everybody got dressed up in their finery. And the society editor was supposed to go and report what everybody had on. And all I knew was that you had on a blue dress and she had on a red dress, so I knew I was going to be in trouble with that. I had a friend who worked at one of the fashion stores. She went with me and told me what all the different ladies were wearing and what the dresses were like. So I got along fine and I sounded real intelligent.
Gentry: Was that the only time you had to do something like that?
Garber: That's the only time.
Gentry: Everything was segregated in Winston-Salem back then, wasn't it?
Garber: Oh, yes, there was strict segregation. We did not run any news of black people in the regular news section. We had a daily column which we called "Activities of Colored People." And we had a black man who had an office downtown and he would collect all the news of church meetings and society events and anything that would be of special interest to our black citizens. He would bring his copy up to the paper and we would run it. But, the only time a black person got his or her name in the news sections was when they were arrested and then they'd have John Jones, Negro, arrested for whatever he'd been arrested for.
Gentry: For murder?
Garber: Whatever. It didn't make any difference. And then on Sunday we had the Negro news page which was a full page and we ran pictures and reported on activities of the black people in that.
Gentry: Was it called Negro news back then or colored?
Garber: Activities of colored people in some way or Negro news. But when you identified a black person, it was John Jones, Negro, not John Jones, Black.
Gentry: What kind of salary did you make that first year in society?
Garber: Oh, my salary was enormous. It was $60 a month. Of course, that may not seem like much but it was a whole lot more than I'd been getting. And also, we could go downtown after we'd put the Sentinel to press and have lunch and we could have a meat and potato and vegetable and drink and dessert for I think it was thirty or thirty-five cents. You never had to tip the waitress because she was delighted to be serving you. And you could get a hot dog and a drink for a dime. So $60 really went a long way.
Gentry: Certainly. Before the war, were there very many women on the paper?
Garber: Mamie Braddy was the only one that was on, but by the time I came, the draft had gone in and men were starting to be called into the service, so we added women. I came and then Frances Griffin came and Annie Lee Singletary came. And by the time the war started, we had six girls on the staff.
Gentry: Did you socialize quite a bit? Was it a very easy, friendly place to work?
Garber: There was an easy, friendly type atmosphere. I remember one of the first days when I got there, one of the men came over to me and said, "Don't worry what anyone else tells you, we run this paper and we'll tell you what needs to be done." We had a real team spirit on the Sentinel, everybody worked together and we had a lot of fun together.
And there was a guy named Stuart Rabb. And he and his wife—and then there was another couple with them and a guy who worked up in Mt. Airy named Tom and I can't even remember his last name. We used to get together every weekend and go over to somebody's house and drink coffee and beer and have a big time and settle the affairs of the world and do all the things that you do when you're twenty years old.
And then we had a lot of staff parties, too. The whole crowd would go and we'd go someplace and we'd dance and we'd do all the same things that anybody else does when they have fun together. But it was a group activity and we all enjoyed each other's company.
And then during the war when we had the six girls, we did a lot together. We just went everywhere together, we ate together, we socialized together. In fact we got so carried away with ourselves that we wrote a book which we called "Copy Cats" and we sent it off to be published and were amazed to find that a publisher,
Henry Holt, was interested in it and asked us to rewrite it. And we did and we sent it back in. But by that time the lady who was supposed to be the reader fell and had an accident and she was out of the office for several months. The war ended and of course then the thing was deadaroo and we never had anything to come from it. But we had a lot of fun together.
Gentry: What was the book about?
Garber: About six girls putting the newspaper out during the war and all the things that we went through.
Gentry: All the trials and tribulations?
Garber: All the trials and tribulations.
Gentry: Those six girls I don't suppose were all journalists, were they?
Garber: Yes, all of them had writing experience. One of the things that we did was when Nady Cates—he was our managing editor who I think I probably mentioned earlier—got married, there wasn't anybody there to give him the traditional stag party. So we six girls gave him a stag party. That was one of the most unusual things. Also when his baby was born, he didn't pass out cigars, he brought candy.
Gentry: What kind of stag party did you give him?
Garber: We did just what anybody else does on a stag party. We invited him out to somebody's house and he was the only man there and we gave him a real hard time.
Gentry: That sounds like fun.
Garber: It was fun.
Gentry: When you were in society before the war, what kind of hours did you work? Was it a nine to five job?
Garber: I came on nine to five or eight to four but it was a very easy job. You went at a certain time and you came home at a certain time and I had more than enough leisure time, I just had plenty of time to do anything I wanted to do.
Gentry: So you kept on with your home life and your family?
Garber: Oh, sure, everything that I'd always done, went to the movies and did everything I'd ever done. Working in society was a snap.
Gentry: And you were still living at home with your parents?
Garber: Yes, I was still living at home.
Gentry: When did you get out of society and break into the news?
Garber: I think it was in 1942, I'm pretty sure that's when it was. And I can't even remember what my first news beat was. I got a chance to get out of society and get into news. And I think that was when I did the Community Chest and what we used to call the do-gooders, the welfare department and all things like that. I kind of enjoyed that.
I know one of the stories I wrote was one of the caseworkers in the welfare department had told me that the payment to welfare recipients with large families was really not enough to sustain life. I wrote the story and of course the head of the welfare department had six fits, one right after another. And she was great. She never let on that she'd told me and of course I never let on that she'd told me. She kept looking at me and she'd say, "Mary, where would you get such information?" And I said, "Well, I haven't any way of telling you, I'm not going to tell you anything about it." And she'd been the one that told me. But it was a good story and it was something that needed to be told.
Gentry: What were some of your beats when you were covering news?
Garber: As the war went on and more of the men left, the women covered everything. I covered the county courthouse which included court and which I did not like at all; court just bored me to death. And I thought federal court was even worse than state court. That was horrible, I didn't like that at all. I covered the labor unions and I liked that. But the labor unions were trying to organize Reynolds [tobacco] and I'm afraid I got carried away and I got very much interested in it and I started reporting what the labor unions were doing, overemphasized what they were doing, and didn't really present the company side fairly. I was taken off the beat and I should have been. It was the wrong thing.
And then for a while I worked on the morning paper which is the Journal, on the news side, and I covered the fire department there and I just loved that. One night they had a fire over in one of the poor sections of town and I was roaming around in the dark and the fire chief saw me. And he said, "Miss Mary,"—you've got to remember in the South everybody is Miss whatever your first name is—he said, "You should not be out here tonight, it's cold and you shouldn't be here. Go sit in my car and I'll come tell you all about it." So I went and sat in his car and his driver opened the door for me, turned the heater on, and it was oh, so nice and warm and comfortable. It was rainy and cold and gooky outside. And in a few minutes, he came over and he said, "Miss Mary, so and so and so lived here and this is how much damage was done and this is what started it," and everything.
Gentry: He knew how to report it.
Garber: Yes, he had everything about it. And then another time there was a fire downtown in one of the big department stores and he asked me if I'd like to go in and see the damage and I said, "Yes." And he said, "Now, it's kind of messy in here." So he took my hand and took me inside and showed me everything. And he was right, it was messy. There were three inches of water on the floor and everything stunk and smelled and I ruined a good pair of shoes. So much for covering the fire department.
Gentry: So there were real concessions made for you because you were a woman?
Garber: Oh, there were, very definitely. In those days, gentlemen really looked after women—
Gentry: They really respected them.
Garber: They really respected you and you never had to do anything if you didn't want to, it was really nice—in a lot of ways.
Gentry: Covering news, did you have an ordinary schedule or did you have to work into the night?
Garber: No, no, there was very little night work. Once in a while you'd have a night meeting to cover. I remember one time I covered a PTA meeting at night. And of course when I covered the labor unions, there were night meetings. On the Sentinel, we just sort of worked it out. Up until—I can't remember, I think it was about '43 or somewhere along in there that the wage an hour law came in and you had to start filling out a time card. But for a long time, we never filled out a time card. You came in and did whatever you had to do
and when you got through you went home. You might be sitting at the movies at two o'clock in the afternoon or working at ten o'clock at night. And you didn't worry about what the time was.
Gentry: The labor unions, was that a dangerous story or was it violent or anything?
Garber: No, no, I don't remember that we had any violence. It was a very emotional thing and the labor union that came in and organized was definitely Communist-dominated and that made a big difference. But the people that I worked with and the men that I saw day by day weren't Communists and I liked them and I enjoyed being with them.
Gentry: But you were sort of pro-union, you thought?
Garber: Then I was much too pro-union. You cannot allow yourself to get involved with a story that you're covering where you're for one side or the other, you've got to be strictly down the line with as fair with one side as the other. That's what a reporter does. And I was wrong, there's no question about it.
Gentry: Did someone talk to you about it?
Gentry: Who was that? Nady Cates?
Garber: No, the publisher talked to me about it, and was very nice and explained the situation to me and why I was falling for this. But in your twenties, you're so idealistic and your eyes are so full of stars. For instance, I remember they brought an organizer in from outside named Karen Morley. And she had been a movie star, married to a movie star. And she talked about how if you could get the labor unions in, they could control things and they could just pull out everything and just bring the country to a halt. And I didn't know what she was talking about. You know, I did not understand at all what she was saying. When I look back at it now, I think, "Good Lord in heaven, why in the world was I so stupid as to not realize what she was telling me!"
Gentry: Well, you were young.
Garber: I just was too young and had too many stars in my eyes.
Gentry: And you hated the courts—or you didn't like reporting on the courts.
Garber: No, I didn't. I just never liked court. I thought it was boring. And that was another situation where women were sort of at a disadvantage because there'd be an especially hairy case of rape or something else like that and the judge would say, "Now, Miss Mary, you don't want to listen to this." And you know, it was just—
Gentry: He'd say it right in the court?
Garber: Yes. And he'd just lean over to you—see, you sat up by the court reporter and he would lean over to you and say, "Now, you don't want to listen to this, do you? You're going to be embarrassed."
Gentry: Did they allow women on juries at that point?
Garber: At first, no, but later they did. One time they were trying to get a jury for a divorce case and they went around the courthouse rounding people up and I went down there. And the judge said, "I'm sorry but women can't sit on the jury." This was back in—gosh, what, '42, I guess.
Gentry: Did your salary improve any over the $60 a month when you were in the news?
Garber: Yes. As you got experience, you went up. I don't think it was because I switched from society to news. In any job, after you've been through a probationary period you get a raise and I got periodic raises as I went along.
Gentry: How long did you stay in the news department?
Garber: Until 1944. Then I went to sports.
Gentry: Since you were still in news during part of World War II, how was the war treated as a story in your paper?
Garber: Most of the actual war news was handled by the wire services. And of course there was a great deal about it. You've got to realize now as we're heading into another very serious international situation in 1990, we can turn on the television and we see people from the actual war front talking to us. But in those days, you'd hear Ed Murrow in London but he would make a tape and it would be flown over to the United States to be broadcast. Or we'd hear it on the radio. But it took a whole lot longer to get news than it does now. But we who were here, of course, did not have any actual—we didn't have any invasion or anything like that in North Carolina or in Winston-Salem. So we didn't have any actual coverage of the war.
But the thing that you've got to understand is everything was World War II, everything was involved in the war, all of us were. There was no one who didn't have somebody in the armed service, you either had a son or a husband or if you were a child, a father, or a friend or a brother—or a sister. Somebody was involved in the war services all the time and so all of us, whenever anything happened in the war, we were a part of it. And there was constant keeping up with what was going on overseas. We had a service which we called "Soldier Boys Pictures." If your son or your husband or any member of your family had been promoted or been sent overseas, you could bring his picture in and we would run his picture in the paper saying "Private John Jones has been sent overseas." Of course, we couldn't say where he went or what group he was with. Or we would say that John Jones has been promoted from corporal to sergeant, or to private first class or whatever.
Gentry: People were very interested in that.
Garber: Very much interested.
Gentry: I mean, that was big news.
Garber: And it was amazing because from the high society of the most important people in town down to the lowliest people in town, they'd still bring in their pictures and pull them out with us and they were just as proud of their boys. And we never turned them down; everybody got run.
And then we ran what we called "Pictures for Daddy" because a lot of times the men would be overseas when their babies were born. And so the mothers would bring the babies in to the photographic studio and we would take a picture of the baby and the mother and run it in the paper and then we would send a copy of the picture to Daddy, wherever he was.
Gentry: Oh, that was nice.
Garber: And then we ran a weekly letter which we called "A Letter to Joe," in which we included such things as the high school basketball and football scores and what was going on in the town and any just purely local news that you would write to a kid who was overseas. Then as the servicemen started coming back from overseas, we ran interviews with them if they'd been in any major action. And of course, all of that had to be
cleared with the department—whatever service they were in, whether air force or navy or army. And we had the numbers for all those people and who were the public relations officers. By the time you'd done it a while, you knew pretty well what you could use and what you couldn't. And you knew when the kid told you something you couldn't use, you just automatically eliminated it. We would call and say, "I've got a story." I used to be able to read them pretty fast because I knew exactly what I couldn't use—what I could use and couldn't use. And sometimes you'd read along and he'd say, "Hey, wait a minute, what'd you say?" And then you'd have to go back and say. And then he'd say, "Oh, yeah, that's okay."
Gentry: It must have taken forever to clear all that.
Garber: It did. And the thing that really took forever was that when you put in a long distance call you had to wait. Everything was priority and military had priority over everything. We had a priority over you as an ordinary citizen because we were a newspaper. And when it got close to deadline, we'd use our newspaper priority which meant that only the military went ahead of us. But sometimes that took a while to get through and you just had to sit there and wait until you could get through. That was the way it went.
And we ran a lot of local stories. Everything was patriotism, of course. Everything was promotion. We wrote stories about bond drives and the movie stars would come through selling bonds and we'd go interview the movie stars. And there were scrap drives and there were blood drives and there were drives for the Red Cross, people did knitting for the Red Cross. And all those things which we now would consider promotions were run as—we would put them on the front page, even.
Gentry: Was there ever any criticism of the war, in any way?
Garber: No. No. Why would we criticize it? This was our life. And there was rationing news. Everything was rationed. You couldn't get anything, shoes were rationed, clothes were rationed, food was rationed. And you'd swap back and forth during the war. For instance, we had a cow which we kept out in the country so we had butter all the way through the war. But we would give butter to somebody and they'd give us something that they had. And I remember one time I went to a meeting and they had a mixer to get everybody acquainted. You went around and shook hands with everybody and told them what your name was. And somebody had a prize in their hand and when the music stopped, if you had the prize, you got to keep it. I had the prize and it was one square of bitter Baker's chocolate. And I sat right down there and ate it.
Gentry: You'd think it'd be melted.
Garber: Because I hadn't had chocolate in I don't know when. You couldn't get soft drinks, you couldn't get chocolate.
Gentry: You couldn't get chocolate?
Garber: No, all that went to the armed forces. Everything went to the armed forces. You couldn't get cigarettes, you couldn't get Coca-Colas, you couldn't get candy. Everything was rationed.
Gentry: With this all-woman staff of reporters during the war, did you ever have a chance to do a story on women's impact, like women doing Rosie the Riveter type jobs?
Garber: No, because that wasn't news any more because everybody was doing—women were doing every job. So it wasn't a big deal when a woman was doing anything.
Gentry: You didn't do stories like that?
Garber: I don't remember that we did. About the only thing I can remember that I did on something like that was a story we did on how do you feed your pet during the war, because the present pet foods had not been developed and it was hard to get table scraps to feed your dog and cat and the only pet food they had was just awful, the dogs and cats just hated it. But that was all they had, so they ate it.
There were all kind of funds for the dogs and cats who were hurt in the Blitz and we would collect money in the United States and send money over to Europe for the dogs and cats.
Gentry: I'll be darned. That's great.
Gentry: Do you remember the ratio of men to women on the paper during the war?
Garber: It was all women. The only men we had, we had a man who was managing editor who—he wasn't a cripple but he had a bad leg. And then we had two older men who were working on the desk who made up the paper and wrote the headlines. And everything else was women.
Gentry: But it was six of your women who actually did all the reporting.
Garber: Did all the reporting, yes.
Gentry: And this is for the afternoon paper.
Garber: The afternoon paper, right.
Gentry: So your newspaper really ran with a skeleton crew, didn't it? Or were there enough women to replace the men?
Garber: The Sentinel was a very small paper, I think we had about a thirty thousand circulation. And I don't remember how many we had on the staff when I came there but we didn't have a whole lot more than six, it was a very small paper.
Gentry: Did you cover much of anything besides the war during those years?
Garber: There wasn't anything beside the war, there wasn't anything that went on that wasn't connected with the war. We had a Daily Vacation Bible School at the Episcopal Church and it asked the children what they wanted to do in Daily Vacation Bible School. Instead of studying about Jesus, they wanted to learn close order military drill. So we got a man from the Office of Flying Safety which was stationed here. And these were children from eight to about fourteen, boys and girls. And he stood them out there in the hot sun and he taught them military drill just as you teach the men in basic training. And a couple of them fainted and he said, "Haul 'em off if they can't take it." And they were absolutely marvelous. And by the time the end of the Daily Vacation Bible School—we covered it for the newspaper—they were absolutely precision. They came and performed their drills in front of all the parents and everything like that. And then all the parents and all the visitors and spectators and the children led the way and with the cross in front of them and the kids singing "Onward, Christian Soldiers." We marched into the church. And there wasn't a dry eye in the place. And all of these were children whose dads were overseas or their brothers were overseas and they were just proud that they could do something that their older brothers or their dads were doing.
Gentry: That's great. Didn't the war give you your first opportunity to really break into sports?
Garber: Yes, it did, because we had a high school boy who came in before he went to school in the morning and put up a Sentinel sports page. And then when he got to be eighteen, he joined the navy and there wasn't anybody there. So they asked me if I'd like to go into sports and that was when I got my first chance to go into sports.
Gentry: Why did they choose you?
Garber: I don't know. Probably because I was always talking about sports and I liked to go to games. And Jim Wommack, who was a photographer on the paper, and I were arguing about who was going to win particular games. I remember we had a standing bet on the Duke-Carolina game, which was not surprising because people frequently bet on games. But the surprising thing about it was that I bet on the team I wanted to lose because I felt I was a real albatross and if I bet on the team, they would lose for sure. So every year I would bet with him on the Duke-Carolina team and I always bet on the team I wanted to lose. So I was delighted when I lost the bet.
Gentry: Funny. So there were no men on the sports staff at all—
Garber: Not on the Sentinel. Now, on the Journal, Frank Spencer, who was too old to go into the army, put out the Journal sports page by himself. What we did was sort of supplement because obviously one person couldn't do everything. For instance, when I went on the Sentinel sports page, I hired what we called correspondents from each high school. They were all kids who were in school and they would bring in the reports of the games. I remember one young man who worked for one of the schools brought in a story about his team playing and he said, "J. C. Kelly was the star of the game as Mineral Springs beat so-and-so." And of course, the author of the story was J. C. Kelly.
Gentry: So you weren't running constantly, then. You had these kids reporting—
Garber: No, no. We had these high school kids, I had one young man who worked with me for the whole year that I worked named Horace Billings. He went with me to the baseball games. He started from Old Town and he used to cover all the high school games. He was sort of an assistant to me. And he and I did a lot of things together. In fact, he was the one that took me fishing for the first time. I told him I'd never been fishing. So he took me up to his grandmother's place in the mountains and we went fishing.
Gentry: So it was really the two of you.
Gentry: And these correspondents who were in high school.
Gentry: And you did it all.
Garber: We did it all. You have to remember, during the war there wasn't that much sports going on because all the men were in the army and the navy and college sports was made up almost entirely of men who were in the service. For instance, they had a naval program at Carolina and they had one at Duke and that was where they got their teams, from the men who were in training in the army or navy. They played on the teams. And in high school, women coached the teams and the high school kids played on them. And several places they had a high school boy who coached the team and he'd play and then coach the team.
Gentry: Wow! Had you ever in your wildest imagination envisioned yourself a sports reporter before that?
Garber: Never, because it just was considered that women couldn't do it. Now, some women had done sports, of course, but most of them were specialists. One lady who preceded me called in women's golf to the New York newspapers. She played in the golf tournaments and then she'd get the scores and call them in. But most of it was people who were specialized in some particular sport.
Gentry: And I suppose in some of the papers in your area there were women—
Garber: During the war?
Gentry: During the war because—
Garber: Oh, yes, during the war there were quite a number of women. Most of them were just filling in at the time and in fact, during the war, one time I got the flu and I was out for about two weeks and the society editor put out the sports page. I mean, they just handed the material to her and she wrote the heads and she didn't know one story from another. We gave her a bad time about that.
Gentry: So during the war, what kind of sports stories did you actually cover?
Garber: During the war, I covered two college games. One of the first games that I covered was the Duke-Carolina game. And of course, you remember I was working on the evening paper so I didn't have to write a game story, I just went to the game and then on Monday I wrote a report of what had happened. Right before Thanksgiving, Nady told me that—Winston-Salem State, which is a black college in Winston-Salem, played a traditional Thanksgiving morning game. So Nady said, "I want you to go over and cover that game because we have always covered it." And I had never covered a football game in my life. I didn't have the faintest idea how to cover a football game. And he showed me how to make a play-by-play and to put all the plays from one team down one side of the paper and plays from the other team down the other side. And I went over there and I didn't have any idea what to do. There were no programs, there were no line-ups, there were no numbers—there were numbers on the players but I didn't know who they were. And I was just desperate, I didn't know what to do. And I went into the so-called press box which was jammed with men. And I sat down there and there was a very nice black man sitting next to me. And I told him my troubles. And he said, "I know all the players, I'll help you." So he sat down beside me and he said this is so-and-so carrying the ball. And between the two of us we got the whole thing and I came back and wrote the story. And I was so pleased with myself but bless that man's heart, I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had him.
Gentry: You didn't even know who he was.
Garber: No. I have no idea who he was.
Gentry: Did that go on a Negro page or a colored page?
Garber: No, no. We ran that in the news section, on the Sentinel sports page.
Gentry: So they were loosening up on—
Garber: They were starting, yes. I think sports was probably the first place to break down and bring in black news because sports people are just way ahead of everybody, anyhow.
Gentry: You're a little biased, I think.
So what were some of the changes in sports during the war? I mean, you had mentioned some of them, were there any others with all the men gone?
Garber: With all the men gone. As I say, there were women coaches and—in the spring of 1945, we had a professional baseball team come in here from a farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals. And I was really nervous about that because Nady told me that covering high school kids was fine because they were young and they were glad to get their names in the paper and they would do anything they could to help me. But he said, "Now, baseball's different. Those professional baseball players are not going to like it when a woman comes around." And he thoroughly scared me.
We had a photographer who just worked that one winter named Frank McMillan who had played professional baseball. He showed me sort of how to score a game. I told him that I was worried and he said, "Don't worry." He said, "You be nice to the baseball players, they'll be nice to you." And he said, "You treat them fairly and you write nice things about them and you won't have any trouble, they'll like you." So that made me feel better.
But the manager's name was Pappy Smith. When I met him, I thought he was 9,800 years old. But he died about a year ago and his obituary was in Sporting News and he was only a year older than I am. But I just thought that he was the oldest person I had ever seen in my life. And he took one look at me and he said, "They told me down in spring training there was a woman here but I didn't believe 'em!" And I thought, "Oh, goodness, this is going to be awful." But to give him his credit, he was never unfair to me and he always did everything he could to help me and be very nice. I don't think he ever really accepted me. I made friends with his wife and that helped a whole lot because she helped keep him in line.
But the players on the team were no problem at all because they were kids. The shortstop was fifteen, one of the outfielders was sixteen, one of the pitchers was seventeen, and the oldest guy on the team was twenty-six years old and he had something wrong so he was 4-F. But we just had a great time together. I went around with the players, we went everywhere together, and they would tell me what was going on, and they'd tell me things long before they happened. So I had no trouble at all covering the games.
When they used to go to Greensboro, the boys didn't want to ride the bus so I'd load my car with players and we'd go over to Greensboro to the game. And at the time, you could not go over thirty-five miles in your car or they'd take your rationing stuff away from you. The boys used to give me such a bad time about that, they'd say, "I could get out and run faster than this." And so I'd tell them, "Well, get out and run faster than this if you can do it."
Gentry: You had enough gas available to you to do this?
Garber: There were three levels of ration cards in the war. One was the A card which the average person got. It varied how many gallons of gas you got according to the rationing periods. Usually it was about three gallons a week for the A cards. The B cards were for people who used their car on business and really had legitimate business. I think we used to get about six gallons a week. And then the C card was for the military personnel and people who were in a war business. My father was doing work for the navy so he had a C card and he could have all the gas he wanted. You could get it any time you wanted and have all you wanted.
Gentry: Six gallons a week didn't give you a lot of games to cover.
Garber: No, we didn't cover much.
Gentry: You had to be careful.
Garber: I didn't go—outside of that Duke-Carolina game—and of course, Winston-Salem State was right here in town.
Gentry: Or to Greensboro, for instance.
Garber: And then I went to Greensboro. We only went two or three times. That's only twenty-five miles so that's not far. We didn't do very much traveling, no.
Gentry: Did sandlot football and being a spectator at all these games in your childhood really prepare you for covering sports?
Garber: I don't think so, not really. I think it helped them in that I had played a little football so I knew what it was like to throw a block and knew what it was like to make a tackle. I remember one time when I was playing, I made what I thought was a great block on one of the bigger boys and just knocked him flat and I thought I was doing so well. He grabbed me by the arm and he said, "That was a clip and don't you ever do it again because you can hurt somebody." So nobody ever had to explain to me what a clip was.
And then I remember another time I met some of the kids from another team and they said, "We've got a play that we don't think you can stop." And of course, I had to say, "Yes, I can." And they ran what was a reverse. I'd never seen one before in my life and of course, I went the wrong way and I got caught completely out of position and to their great delight did not stop the play. But I learned what a reverse was and nobody ever had to show me what that was. So in that way it helped but when you got down to actually covering the game, no, I did not have the background. I had to do an awful lot of work to get it.
Gentry: Do you think you were accepted pretty much as a woman sportswriter back then, by most people?
Garber: At first because, as I say, women were doing everything and so it wasn't that big a problem. I was dealing with high school players and they accepted me easily and, as I say, the baseball kids were so young that I didn't have any problems with them, either.
Gentry: Was it that first year of covering sports that really convinced you to do that for the rest of your life?
Garber: Yes, it was, because I had never thought about sports before. But once I got into it, I found this is something I truly, truly love to do. And even though I had always enjoyed newspaper work and wanted to stay in it, this was just something special. I think maybe Nady Cates summed it up when he told me one day, "When you were just a news reporter," he said, "you were just routine, you weren't any better than anybody else. But," he said, "you're different since you've been in sports, you're much better."
Gentry: Mmm. That's perceptive.
Gentry: Then when the men started coming back, really all coming back, did you expect your job in the sports department to end?
Garber: I knew my job in the sports department was just—I believe the word was "for the duration," and I knew when the men came back that I'd be put back in news.
Gentry: You didn't have to sign any kind of contract?
Garber: No, no. Our paper is not a contract signing paper. They say, "Would you like to do this?" or "Will you do this?" or "We want you to do this." And you say yes or no. But there's no contract signing.
Gentry: So then the people you replaced were back again.
Garber: Yes, Carlton Byrd was. The boy I replaced never came back because he was a high school kid. He was a temporary employee. But Carlton had been the sports editor and he flew a fighter plane during the war
and when the war was over, he came back and took his job back as sports editor of the Sentinel and I went back on news. That was in the fall of '45.
Gentry: You never had a fear of losing a newspaper job during this time at all?
Garber: No. No.
Gentry: Did many of the other women that were hired temporarily get fired?
Garber: No. Of the six girls we had on the staff, one of them, Mamie, stayed until she retired. Frances Griffin who was another one of the girls on the staff stayed. She worked, I think, about twenty or twenty-five years until she went to be public relations director at Old Salem. That was her choice. Annie Lee Singletary who had worked on the paper left shortly after the war to go to work as a public relations person for the Baptist hospital. Libby Holder who worked on the paper during the war left because she was married and was going to have a baby. And E. Sue Shore who was the other girl on the staff left because she was getting married. I was the other one.
Gentry: It just worked out.
Garber: It just worked out.
Gentry: There were no hard feelings?
Garber: There were no hard feelings. Nobody left because they didn't want to.
Gentry: The paper sounds like it was very humane.
Garber: Yes, it was a humane paper. We enjoyed each other's company, we had a good time together and it was a real good place to work.
Gentry: I guess you kind of miss all that all-woman staff, though?
Garber: Huh-uh. No. Men are so much fun to be with. We have a marvelous time on our sports staff. We enjoy each other's company and we get along well. Men are great to work with.
Gentry: When you left the sports beat, then, and went back to news, what kind of stories were you asked to cover?
Garber: I went back to cover the news beat and I can't even remember what it was now. And then I did a lot of other things, I edited the Negro news page once a week and I just covered a regular news beat and I really don't remember what I did. But I was so hooked on sports that I kept going over to Carlton and saying, "Wouldn't you like me to do this?" or "Wouldn't you like me to do that?" And he was real nice and always let me do things.
Gentry: He'd let you sneak in?
Garber: Right. Then finally after about a year, Nady said, "Look, you're spending so much time working for Carlton and not much time working for me, why don't you just go over and be on the sports page?" I remember the day it happened. Wallace Carroll was the managing editor at the time and he called me and he said, "Would you like to go back in sports?" And I said, "Yes, I would." He said, "Okay, you can do it." Reynolds High School was playing a game in Greensboro that night and I went back to the paper to pick up some stuff. I was running down the stairs just as hard as I could go and he was coming up the stairs. I just about cold-cocked him. And he said to me, "Are you glad to be back in sports?" I said, "I sure am."
Gentry: So you had a lot of mentors on the paper, a lot of people that would give you freedom to do what you wanted to do. I mean, you could write sports stories when you were supposed to be in news—
Garber: Right. They just sort of let you go your own way and they were very good to me.
Gentry: Is that true still? Is that the way the paper is?
Garber: Oh, yes. That's just the way we are. And as I say, Nady Cates was the one that helped me get started. And of course, I couldn't have done it if the top management hadn't said, "We're willing to have a woman on staff." And poor old Carlton, no one knows what he went through when he had a woman on the staff. I'm sure he got a lot of flak.
Gentry: And after the war, you were the only woman sportswriter in the area—
Garber: In the whole area.
Gentry: For how many years?
Garber: I don't remember.
Gentry: Twenty or thirty?
Garber: At least that.
Gentry: So they must have had some flak from somebody or—
Garber: Oh, they did. I know. Nady used to say that people would come to him and ask, "Why do you want to put that woman on your staff?"
Gentry: What would he say?
Garber: He would say, "That's our business. We want her and that's the way we're going to have it." And of course, that helped. You had to have the backing of the top management because don't forget, there was no civil rights. They could have let me go any time.
Gentry: But you were obviously very good at what you did or they wouldn't be for you.
Garber: I hope I was good. But all I know is that they let me stay—after the war. I think it's interesting to look back on two of the big days in World War II. One was, of course, the Sunday that Pearl Harbor was bombed because I think everybody that was alive at that time remembers that perfectly horrible day and how you just couldn't comprehend it. You couldn't believe that it had happened. And all of a sudden everybody in the United States was your friend. We walked downtown the day after Pearl Harbor and well, you just spoke to everybody. People were walking downtown carrying American flags. I know that sounds corny but that's the truth, that's the way it was. And for at least several months you were just totally and completely united and you loved everybody and you were just so concerned with everybody who was overseas. If somebody came up to you and said, "My boy is at Pearl Harbor," then they were your friend and you just hoped that everything was all right. And you stopped total strangers and asked them if they had anybody overseas.
And then the joyous day when the war was over. V-E Day was good but when the war was over in Japan and Japan surrendered, then all of a sudden, everything was off. I was spending the weekend at Silver Pines Camp when the word came. And after we put the kids to bed we had a big celebration at the camp. We got hamburgers—and of course, you hadn't been able to have meat or anything like that for so long.
And we got hamburgers and catsup—and that had been rationed, too. I remember cooking a big old hamburger and taking the catsup bottle and just shaking it until the meat was completely covered with catsup because it had been so long since I'd had all the catsup I wanted.
And my family went downtown in Winston-Salem and sat on the porch of the club there and watched the people go by. Everybody was walking around hugging everybody else and it was just a completely joyous occasion, having been through so much and for so long to know that the people you loved were going to come home.
Gentry: I imagine the paper had streamer headlines.
Garber: Oh, we had streamer headlines that the war was over and quotes from everybody including John Jones on the street. We wanted to know what did everybody thought. It was just marvelous.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: I'd like to center on your early career as a sportswriter. Where we left off last time, you had just gotten back into sports after being in the newsroom for a while. And the war had ended and the men had come back. So it was quite a different thing, wasn't it, when you started covering sports full-time with the men being there?
Garber: Oh, it was an entirely different situation because all of a sudden, instead of being one of several women working in sports jobs and different other assignments, I was the only woman in the whole area doing sports. And it was just a completely different situation. Then I was working under the leadership of Carlton Byrd who had come back after flying a fighter plane in the war, so I had to make a lot of changes in what I did.
Gentry: Now, how big was the Sentinel sports staff at that time?
Garber: The Sentinel sports staff was Carlton Byrd and me. And that was it.
Gentry: For how long?
Garber: Until the two papers were consolidated.
Gentry: Until the seventies then?
Garber: Into the seventies, yes. And we divided the work by Carlton doing what he wanted to do and then I did everything else.
Gentry: That's quite a load for two people.
Garber: It was a lot of work for two people but it was a great opportunity for me because it gave me a chance to cover a wide variety of topics, it gave me a chance to get a lot of experience that I wouldn't have gotten if I'd started in under the set-up that we have now where everything is very structured and definite assignments are given out and everybody has little pigeon-holes into which they fit. I had a chance to really try my wings and do pretty much what I wanted to do.
Gentry: What did you cover most in those years?
Garber: Most of it was high school sports. The Sentinel which was an evening paper circulated just within Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and so we covered just the high schools within Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. And as I remember, there were about twelve or fifteen high schools. And I covered them very, very closely.
I used to visit every school at least once a week and go to either football or basketball practice, as the case might be, and I'd usually start out early in the afternoon and go by the school. I knew most of the coaches' teaching schedules and if they had a vacant period, I'd try to go by and hit them during their vacant period and then we could go in the teachers' lounge and talk. It gave me a chance to get to know the coaches better and to pick up on all the different things they were doing. If I couldn't get to see the different ones,
I would get on the phone at night and call the coaches at home and we would talk about sports and what went on during the day and what they had done and what their plans were.
Gentry: It's a good thing gas wasn't rationed during that period.
Garber: No, that's it, it is a good thing because if gas had been rationed, I wouldn't have been able to do all that.
Gentry: Were you completely accepted as a woman on the high school level covering sports?
Garber: Well, the high school kids and the coaches were so delighted that somebody was coming around to cover them that I think I could have been a two-headed monkey and they wouldn't have cared. It didn't make any difference to them whether I was a boy or a girl, a male or a female, they would get their names in the paper and they would get in stories written about them. It just didn't make any difference to them. And most of them were young. So we sort of learned together and helped each other.
Gentry: Well, then, during that time Carlton Byrd covered most of the college sports.
Garber: Carlton covered most of the college sports. He would go directly to the college game on Saturday because he often went out of the state. He'd go to Clemson or Virginia and other places out of the state. And he had to leave early. So I would come in on Saturday morning about 6:30 and do my high school round-up from the games on Friday night.
And then some weeks I would cover a college game but other times I didn't cover a college game. A lot of it depended on whether there was a Saturday night high school game because what we had was we had so many high schools and so few places for the teams to play that we had a Thursday night game. The Children's Home which was an orphanage here played their games on Friday afternoon at their school grounds. And Atkins [a black high school] also played on Friday afternoon so I always caught one or the other of their games. And then I'd cover a game on Friday night. If there was a high school game on Saturday night, I would cover a game on Saturday night. And in those days, most of the high schools didn't have press boxes or anything like that and I had my choice of sitting in the stands, which was kind of bad because every time everybody stood up to cheer you couldn't see what was going on. So usually I worked on the sidelines and ran up and down the sidelines as the teams ran up and down the field.
Gentry: Taking notes all the time.
Garber: Taking notes. I carried a clipboard and I would keep a play-by-play and then keep the statistics.
Gentry: You did all this while running up and down the field.
Garber: All running up and down the sidelines. I can assure you I was in real good shape. I remember going down one time to cover a state play-off game at Pinehurst and that was real sandy. And that was the time it really did get to me because you were running in that heavy sand and you felt like you were putting your feet in cement. And Floogie Ariel who was the trainer for the Wake Forest football team was down there. And he came up to me afterwards and he said, "Lady, I have never seen anybody who could run as continuously as you can." But I did it so much I was really in good shape.
Gentry: Did they have jogging shoes then?
Garber: No. What kind of shoes did I wear? They didn't have jogging shoes. I just wore regular oxfords more than anything else, just regular flat-heeled shoes. And one of the big problems you had late in the year when it got really, really cold, there was no way that I could keep my hands and feet warm. I found that by
wearing a sweatshirt right next to my body, then putting my regular shirt and jacket over it, I could keep my body fairly warm. And I wore a knitted cap which kept my ears warm. But there was no way that you could write and keep your hands warm because you had to wear light mittens or you couldn't write. And you couldn't wear fur-lined boots because you couldn't run in them. So my feet were always cold and my hands were always cold and I never figured out a way to solve that problem.
Gentry: Was that the era where you got your trademark of your knit cap that everybody talks about as your trademark?
Garber: I guess so.
Gentry: It was really a matter of keeping warm.
Garber: It was just a matter of keeping warm. I didn't worry much about how I looked or anything because another thing you've got to remember, in those days women didn't wear pants. I wore a skirt.
Gentry: You wore a skirt and did all that?
Garber: Right. Because women didn't wear pants in those days.
Gentry: I didn't think of that.
Garber: Right. And I remember one year—I think it rained every Friday night all fall long. And so I would come home after work on Friday and I had an old skirt and a pair of old beat-up shoes and some wool socks and a sweatshirt. And I would put those on because I knew I was going to get soaked again that night. Then when I'd come home that night after the game, I'd just take them off and hang them on the line and put them back on the next Friday. And at the end of the season, I'd just open up the trash can and throw all of them—the shirt, the skirt, the shoes, the socks, everything into the trash because they were absolutely unusable.
Gentry: When did you start wearing pants?
Garber: Actually you didn't start wearing pants until—I'd stopped running the sidelines by the time we started wearing pants.
Garber: I would give anything in the world to be able to dress as I do in Reeboks and slacks. It certainly would have been a whole lot more comfortable.
Gentry: Oh, yes. When I talked to your publisher and some of your colleagues about those early years, they said you had an extraordinary rapport with the high school students and really got down to their level more than anybody. And how did that develop? How did you get so close to the kids?
Garber: I don't know that I got down to their level or anything like that but I genuinely liked the kids. And I got to know them. As I say, I would go to practice and I would talk to them and they would talk to me. The kids were my friends just as the coaches were. And I realized that even though a kid might be 6'2" and weight 250 pounds and tower over me, he was still just a kid and he had all the doubts and all the concerns and all the questions in his mind that any kid growing up has. And I think that was one reason why I tried to be as gentle as possible with them because it was just so easy to hurt them and there was really no reason to hurt them. That didn't mean that you always had to say everybody had a great game. A player understood if he missed the extra point and lost the game, he knew that I had to write that John Jones missed the extra point. But you didn't have to belabor him about it. And you didn't have to say that Bill Smith played a poor game.
If Bill Smith was one out of twenty-five passes completed, you knew he had a bad game and you weren't holding him up to ridicule because he knew the statistics were accurate and that was what had happened. So it was okay.
Gentry: Well, you covered more than football, you covered all the high school sports, all different kinds of—
Garber: Basketball, baseball. At baseball games, I'd always sit on the bench with the team. There were two local teams playing. High school teams played seven innings. So I'd sit half of the game, the first three and a half innings on one bench and then at the middle of the game, I'd move over and sit on the other bench. And one time I went over to sit on the bench for one team and they said, "No, please don't sit here. Every time you sit here, we lose." So I went back and sat on the other bench. I don't think my sitting on the bench had anything to do with it.
Gentry: Did you have some help along the way when you first started covering all this variety of sports?
Garber: Oh, I had a great deal of help. The high school coaches were like brothers to me. There was one in particular named Tom Cash who coached at Gray High School, one of the schools in town. And he used to go with me down to the college football games. I'd give him my press credentials and he would go into the coaches' conferences which were in the dressing room where I couldn't go. And he was a big help because he being a football coach knew some real good questions to ask that I would never have thought of asking. And then when we were driving home, we'd talk about the game and he gave me a lot of insight that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
Gentry: He came just to help you, then.
Garber: He came just to help me. And he was a really, really big help to me and he would always answer my questions and explain anything I didn't understand. I remember one time that I got a very ugly anonymous letter about something I had written. Anonymous letters are very, very hard to take because you have no way to fight back to them. If someone writes and criticizes something you do and signs their name, then you can write them back and explain. But you have no way to deal with an anonymous letter.
I took it over to Tom and he read it. And finally he said, "Don't ever be worried about someone who values his own opinion so low that he won't even sign his name." And that was the biggest help to me because I got quite a number of anonymous letters after that. Whenever I got one, I'd just make an airplane of it and sail it into the trash and figure that if they had such a low opinion of their opinion, that there certainly wasn't any need for me to get upset by what they thought.
Gentry: So for years Tom Cash went with you to games.
Garber: He went several years and John Frederick went with me.
Gentry: Big help, getting into the dressing room.
Garber: A big help because I couldn't have done it otherwise. A lot of times Tom and Johnny would go with me to high school games if their teams weren't playing. One night we went down to Burlington to a game and it snowed. And I hate to drive in snow. Tom said, "Would you like me to drive home?" And I said, "Yes." So he drove my car home and put it in the garage. And honestly, I don't know how those two guys got home.
Gentry: They walked.
Garber: They must have walked because they left me here and said goodnight to me and I don't know how they got home.
Gentry: You were sometimes called to do things during the high school games that no male sportswriter would have done, weren't you? Like I heard once you sewed up a player's pants?
Garber: Oh, yes, I was. I went to a high school—this was Johnny Frederick's. I went to a high school basketball game one night and Johnny was sitting there and he had a pair of basketball pants. And I mean they were ripped from the top to the bottom. He said, "Mary, could you sew these up for me?" Well, in the first place, I don't know how to sew, but I felt it was perfectly safe for me to say, "Sure!" because where would you find a needle and thread in a basketball gym? So I told him, "Sure, if I just had a needle and thread, I'd be glad to do it." Johnny said, "Well, I've sent for one." And pretty soon two kids came back and they had gone to a house in the neighborhood and told the lady they were on scavenger hunt and they had to have a needle and thread and she'd given it to them.
High school gyms were not really well-lighted. The lighting was kind of dim. But I finally got the needle threaded and started sewing. And they were not very nice stitches. I was trying to get the hole mended, I didn't care what it looked like. And while I was sewing away, the girls' basketball game was going on and a pass got away from one of the players and hit me and knocked the needle and thread out of my hand and the pants on the floor. And I thought, "Well, I'm saved now." But those boys crawled under the stand and found the needle and thread and gave it back to me. Then Johnny sat on one side and the boys sat on the other side and knocked all the other errant passes away. And I finished the sewing and gave the pants to the boy.
I've never had such a horrible game in my life. I was so afraid every time that boy went up for a rebound, I could just see my stitches ripping and he being exposed in all his glory. But I'm proud to say that the stitches held and I hope his mother sewed them right when he took it home.
Gentry: That's amazing. Are there any other things you did for the teams?
Garber: Oh, yes, I used to make cookies for the children at Christmas. One Christmas I made crying towels for all the coaches. I just got plain cloth dish towels and stenciled them in the different colors of the schools and "Crying Towel for Coach" whatever the coach's name was. That made a big hit. In fact, I saw a coach just a few years ago and he said, "You know, I've still got that crying towel."
Gentry: Boy, that was probably in the forties or fifties.
Garber: That was back in the fifties, it wasn't in the forties. It was in the fifties, I guess.
Gentry: That's great. And that was just an idea you had.
Garber: Yes. But it was a strange relationship I had with the kids. I think they really liked to have me around and, as I say, I had fun with them. Several years ago this man came up to me and he said, "Do you remember losing your rain hat out at Rural Hall?" Well, I didn't remember. But he said, "You did. You went off and left your rain hat on the bench at the baseball practice field." And he said, "I took it home and I still have it." Now, we're talking about something that was twenty-five to thirty years ago. Can you imagine anybody picking up somebody's rain hat, a yucky old rain hat.
Gentry: Did he save it for you?
Garber: No, he wanted to keep it.
Gentry: As a souvenir.
Garber: As a souvenir.
Gentry: Ah, you were really adored then.
Garber: I don't know. I thought it was a little weird myself. But this guy was forty years old.
Gentry: Well, do you think it had to do with your attitude toward the kids that as you said, you didn't hurt them, you went out of your way to be nice to them and help—to listen to them?
Garber: Yes, I think that they felt I was a friend of theirs. Of course I was a way that they were going to get their names in the paper which was a pretty nice thing for them. And I think they felt that I wasn't going to take unfair advantage of them.
Another thing, we were talking about how the kids would turn to you sometimes for rather interesting situations. I was covering a basketball game one night and there was this little kind of a fat boy who was the official scorer for one of the teams. Usually at the half all the kids would go down and get cokes and popcorn and bring them back and eat to sustain them for the second half. But this time, Jimmy didn't leave. So I knew Jimmy had something on his mind. So finally he said, "Mary, can I ask you a question?" And I said, "Sure." And he said, "How do you ask a girl for a date?"
Now, I knew how you sat home and waited for a boy to call you but I didn't know how you went about asking a girl. And so I said, "Well, Jimmy, all you do is pick out the girl that you'd like to have a date with and call her up and ask her if she'd like to go to a movie with you or whatever you want to do on a particular night." And he asked, "Well, suppose she says no, what do you do?" I said, "Well, I can't imagine any girl saying no to you but if she should be so stupid as to say no to you, then I'd dump her and go get a girl that had better judgment." That seemed to satisfy him. He never said anything more about it and I never heard anything more about it. But about ten years later I was shopping in a department store and there was Jimmy and he was buying doll clothes. So I think that Jimmy very definitely found somebody to say yes.
Gentry: Right. When I went through your papers, I found some moving letters from high school players. You had obviously influenced their lives. One was an insurance agent who remembered you from thirty years before and said that he would never forget you. And another one was from a mother who said you had encouraged her son to go to Davidson College and you produced an M.D.
Garber: Right. I don't know how familiar you are with teenagers, but teenagers hesitate to talk to their parents about things sometimes and then talk to an outsider. This particular young man who later became a doctor stopped me one time over at Hanes High School. He was getting ready to go to college. And he asked, "Do you think you could think that I could be a doctor?" I said, "John, you can be a doctor if you want to enough." We sat there and talked. He said he was going to Davidson and major in pre-med and that he wanted to be a doctor. And he is. He's a doctor now, and he lives just a couple of blocks from me. His mother wrote me after he graduated from medical school and told me that the little talk I had with him had influenced him.
Now this man that wrote me the other day, I'm sorry, I don't remember him.
Gentry: There were so many, all those years.
Garber: You can't remember them all. I get so many letters. I got a letter a couple of years ago from a man who runs a paper mill up in western North Carolina. He said that I had helped him at a time when he had doubts about himself and felt that he couldn't do anything. That story I had written about how well he had played in a game had helped him have confidence in himself.
Gentry: That makes you feel very good.
Garber: That helps you a whole lot. Another man stopped me one day and said that he wanted to thank me for giving him a chance to go to college. You know, I didn't know where in the world I'd ever helped him to go to college. But he said that the stories I had written about him had helped him to get a basketball scholarship and he had graduated from college. I don't know whether it's so much that the kids have any particular warm feeling for me but I represent a very wonderful time in their lives. High school sports give kids a chance to get some recognition, it gives them a chance to feel good about themselves, to be part of a group, to get respect among their peers. And it's a marvelous, marvelous time in their lives. They connect me with that and that's why they like me so much.
Gentry: Do you think your being a woman had anything to do with that? Or was it just a personality?
Garber: I don't think being a woman had anything to do with it. I think a boy could have done the same thing. It's just a question of letting people know that you're interested and that you care about them and that you're there to give them any help you can give them.
Gentry: Obviously, it meant a lot to them.
Let's talk a little bit about the black schools, particularly in the forties and fifties when segregation was at its height. Was anyone covering these black high school games?
Garber: I don't think so. We had students in each high school who served as correspondents. We paid them to call in games. We did the same thing with the black schools. The only difference was that our staff members did cover white high school games. We did not do that with the black schools.
When I started covering high schools, I felt that all the schools should get coverage. I felt that black parents were just as interested in what their children were doing as white parents were. I felt black kids worked just as hard, and there wasn't any reason why their games should not be in the paper. I started covering Atkins, which was the black city high school. They played their games on Friday afternoons after school. And I would go there to write about the games, as I did with the white schools when they played Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
And it was a rather unusual way to cover them because the principal of Atkins didn't think it was right or seemly for me to sit in the stands so he arranged for me to watch the games from the music room. The music room overlooked the football field and he had three high stools that he would pull up by the window and if it was warm we would open the windows and if it was cold we would close the windows. And the principal, Mr. Carter, and John Watson Moore who was the superintendent and I would sit up there in the music room and watch the games.
I remember one time Atkins was playing for the state championship. The Atkins band was just out of this world, they were so good. When they had the half-time show, the visiting band took so long that there wasn't time for the Atkins team to do their show. The kids were so disappointed. So Mr. Moore, who was a very nice person, sent down word to the band director that if the band members would not mind, he was very disappointed that he hadn't seen the show and he would be most appreciative if they would be kind enough to stay after the game and do their show for him. And he said he felt sure that the people who were at the game would like to see it, too. There were expressions of appreciation on those kids' faces because they'd worked so hard. So when the game was over, we all stayed and the players sat down and watched the show and all the fans stayed and they put on their half-time show for them. I thought that was such a considerate thing for that man to do. He was a diabetic and I know it was very hard for him to stay the extra time because he had to eat at certain times.
Gentry: Well, before you came along covering these games, were black sports relegated to the Negro page or whatever you called it?
Garber: No, black sports were not relegated to the Negro page. We ran them in the sports section but, as I say, they were done by high school correspondents.
Gentry: Yes. Right. I saw a recent videotaped interview with a former pro-basketball player, Happy Hairston?
Gentry: And when they asked him about his fondest memories of Winston-Salem high school sports, he mentioned you immediately, before anything else. So you must have made a real impact on those kids.
Garber: Well, you know, I don't think at the time I realized how important it was to those kids that I came out there and saw their games. That was a very nice thing that Happy said and the fact that I accepted him and he accepted me and we just saw each other, me as a writer and he as an athlete—I don't think either one of us ever thought about black or white or male or female or anything else.
Gentry: But you were the only white person there, weren't you?
Garber: Outside of Mr. Moore.
Garber: I know I never considered it. I remember one time I was over at one of their basketball games. In the gym there must have been 2500 people and I was the only white person there. And I didn't feel uncomfortable. I didn't even realize it at first. I just enjoyed being with those people. They accepted me and we were just good friends.
Gentry: I'm sure that wouldn't have been true with a lot of people. Obviously, the sport was never covered before, before you started covering it.
Garber: No. And one of the things is that even to this day adult men who are in their forties and fifties and who played on Atkins and Carver teams at that time will tell me, "You never realized how much it meant to us to have you come, that we would stand there on the sidelines and watch the gate for you to come in." And you know, it scares you to think that it would be that important to them.
Gentry: When I talked to Coach Bighouse Gaines of Winston-Salem State U., the black college in Winston-Salem, he said you appeared on his campus about 1948 or '49 to cover games and you were the only white reporter that cared at all. He said that he felt that you had absolutely no racial barriers, that you were really color blind. And it meant so much to them that you were there.
Garber: Right. Well, really, I remember when I used to go over to Winston-Salem State and Bighouse was coaching football and basketball then. And they used to have their practices on a—well, it was just a vacant lot—I wouldn't dignify it by calling it a field—and it had great big old rocks in it. And the poor kids would run plays and they'd have to go around those rocks. And I just don't see how they ever did it. And they played in a horrible little gym where the ceiling was so low that if you put much arc on the ball, it would hit the ceiling. And you just really didn't understand why their facilities were so much poorer than the other schools. Of course they have very nice facilities now. But I don't think I ever thought about people being black or white. People are people. And I think anybody who has prejudices for race or religion or anything else, they're the losers because they miss knowing so many wonderful people.
I remember one time I was in the hospital and you know sometimes when you're in the hospital you don't get the best service in the world. And I was not getting the best service. And then some flowers came
and they were from Cleo Wallace who at the time was football coach at Winston-Salem State. One of the floor nurses was in my room at the time and she said, "Who sent you those flowers?" And I said, "Coach Wallace from Winston-Salem State." Well, her eyes practically bugged out of her head. And she asked, "Do you know Coach Wallace?" And I said, "Yes, I do, he's a very close personal friend." The word went all up and down the hall that that lady in 402 knows Coach Wallace and Coach Wallace is a friend of hers. And I want you to know—I don't believe if George Bush went to the hospital, he would get any more service than I got. All I had to say was, "I would certainly like to have a cup of coffee," and boy, they'd go make it and bring it to me.
Gentry: Because he was a prominent coach?
Garber: No, because he was black and most of them were black.
Gentry: Oh, they were black, too, okay.
Garber: It gave me a status that I would never have had without it. And I told Cleo about that and he said, "Well, I'm glad I did one good thing for you, anyhow."
Gentry: You came from a prominent family and you know, prominent families generally have black help. So your parents, did they feel the same way about blacks as you, just sort of color blind?
Garber: No, I think my parents because they were brought up a generation ahead of me were different, but I think my mother had the attitude that you treat all people decently and fairly and that you are kind and considerate of all people. And I think a lot of that rubbed off on me. This is just something I have always felt. I don't remember ever feeling any other way. I always have accepted people for what they are because it's my philosophy that everyone in the world can do something better than I can do it, and everyone in the world can teach me something I don't know. That's true of any people, anywhere, at any time.
Gentry: It's a great attitude. Now, how did the black coaches treat you. They were very friendly towards you, weren't they?
Garber: Most of them were. There was one who was a basketball coach at Atkins. And he and I had a little problem. He was never rude, he was never unkind, but he just sort of kept me at arm's length. And I tried everything but I couldn't get through to him. So I went to Bighouse and I talked to him about it. And it was interesting because the young man who was the coach—I'd known his father who had coached in another high school in the western part of the state and we'd been good friends so I couldn't understand why I couldn't get through to this guy. So I told Bighouse about it and asked him what I should do. And he explained to me that the young man was very shy and that he just couldn't get used to working with a white lady. And he said, "If you will just continue to do as you're doing and be patient, he'll come around." And it was about a week later that I went over to the school and went by his classroom and we started talking. We covered the basketball that we needed to cover. Then we just started talking about things in general, nothing very spectacular. And all of a sudden, I looked at my watch and it was quarter to six. There was not a soul in the school but he and I. And he looked at his watch at the same time, he said—
Gentry: You had been talking for hours?
Garber: Right. We had been talking for about two hours. And he said, "Gosh, we'd better get out of here." So we left and ever after that, he was one of my best friends, he went out of his way to help me, he was just one of the nicest coaches I've ever known. And he went on and coached in college and we were always very, very good friends.
Gentry: You probably covered him again then.
Garber: It was just a question that he was just a little ill at ease with me and once he realized that I wasn't any different than anybody else, he and I became good friends.
Gentry: Now, Bighouse was never ill at ease with you, was he?
Garber: Bighouse and I were talking the other day trying to remember the first time we met each other. And we couldn't remember. But I think we just sort of hit it off from the very beginning.
Gentry: This guy, what is he, six-seven or something like that?
Garber: He is an enormous man.
Gentry: Three hundred pounds. And little Mary— [Mary is about five feet tall and ninety-five pounds]
Garber: Right. We have just always sort of leveled with each other and been friends. I've known his kids from the time they were little. I remember one time I was over there covering a basketball game and they had a JV game. The varsity game was supposed to start at—I think it was at 7:30 or something like that. And it was getting late. And I said, "Bighouse, you're never going to get your varsity game started on time." And he said, "Oh, yes, we are." I said, "You can't possibly do it." And he said, "Oh, yes, we are. Clarence"—and that's his son—"is running the clock." So then I watched, he gave Clarence the signal and I watched Clarence. The clock ran during time outs, it ran during free throws and the second half lasted about five minutes. And those kids were out of there before they realized what had happened—I know they thought it was an awful short half but the game got started on time.
Gentry: Now, who was David Lash?
Garber: David Lash was the football coach at Carver. That was the county school for blacks. And David and I, we were talking the other day trying to remember when we first saw each other. And he said the first remembrance he had of me was I was covering one of their football games and he said that Carver had really whomped up on one of the other teams. I came down to the bench and asked him about the game and what he had to say about it. And he said that he started—and this is his word—mouthing off about how good the Carver team was and how they had really stomped the other team and the other team wasn't any good. He was really carrying on. He said I stopped him and said, "Coach, do you really want to say that?" And as he said, it brought him up short and he realized how stupid that sounded for him to be bragging so much. So he amended his statements and toned them down a little.
That was something I tried to do because most of these guys who were coaching high school sports were young, they were just starting out, and sometimes they got carried away and said things they didn't really mean. I tried to give them a chance to say, "Hey, think about that, do you really want to say that?"
Gentry: Well, that's good.
Garber: Then if they went ahead and said, "Yes, I do want to say that," then that was their problem.
Gentry: You had a real positive attitude toward them.
Garber: Right. And I always tried, too—Bighouse always kids me about this—if a kid made a mistake in grammar, I tried to correct it, because there's no reason to make a kid look ignorant and stupid in the way he talks. Some of them just don't know any better and maybe they'll learn by seeing it put in the paper correctly.
Gentry: Yes, he told me you'd always correct the black English when you heard it.
Garber: Right. Why embarrass a kid and make him look bad? That doesn't accomplish anything. And I'm certainly not going to say, "That's not the way you're supposed to talk, you're supposed to say it this way." But I figure if they tell me what they want to say and then I correct the English and put it in good form, maybe they'll learn from it.
Gentry: Sure. Sure.
Garber: I remember one coach—and this was Tom Cash—I asked him one time for a statement after a game. And he said, "I can't think of anything, but make up something for me and be sure I show good sportsmanship and use good grammar."
Gentry: That's great. Did you?
Garber: No, I didn't make it up. He told me what I wanted to know. He was just being funny.
Gentry: Now, you and David Lash have a tennis tournament named after you.
Garber: Right. There's a group of black men who had the Winston-Salem Sportsmen Club. They used to get together and meet at the black YMCA and pick football games and do anything that a sports club does. During the early years of high school sports, all the white schools had athletic banquets and the schools would pay for them or the parents would bring food. But the black schools had no way to do that, there wasn't any way that they could have football banquets or basketball banquets or any of the things that the white schools did. So the Sportsmen's Club decided that they would have a banquet each year for the black athletes. You had to be a varsity athlete, stay out for sports all during the year, and the kicker was you had to make a "C" average in your studies. They had it over at the YMCA and they usually had some prominent black athlete come. They had Jim Brown one year, they've had really outstanding people—so it was something the kids really wanted to do.
And one year David said to me, "The boys want you to come to the banquet." Well, if you're a high school writer, you go to so many banquets that the last thing you want to do is go to a banquet. And this particular banquet was on April the 19th which is my birthday. So I said, "David, thanks very much but that's my birthday and I'd like to be home with my family that day." And a couple of days later he came back and said, "The boys are very disappointed. They want you to come to this very much and I know it's your birthday but please come, they will be so disappointed." I couldn't figure out why in the world the boys would be disappointed because I couldn't imagine why they would care one way or the other whether I was there. Jim Brown was going to speak and that was important. But I didn't want to offend David and I didn't want to do anything that was wrong so I said, "Okay, I'll come." When I got there, they gave me an award for sportswriter of the year. And they were so delighted that they had put something over on me, that I didn't have any idea about it. They just got the biggest kick out of that.
The tennis tournament was started by the Twin City Kiwanis Club, a black organization. The Sportsmen also established a Winston-Salem-Forsyth County high school sports hall of fame on the grounds that college players get in halls of fame and professional players do but there's no place that recognizes kids who are outstanding just in high school. And so this has been set up by the Sportsmen's group and it's been going on now for—oh, I think about thirteen years. Carl Eller and Happy Hairston and I were among the first inductees.
Gentry: Oh, that's great. It's a good idea.
Garber: It is. It's a real good thing and it's nice every year they take in some players and these guys come back and it's just fine to see that almost every one of them have been successful. The group they took in last year, one of them was the director of students at a university, another one was a lawyer, another one was an
insurance agent, one of them professor at a college, another was director of nursing in a hospital—and every one of the group that came back, every one of them had been successful in business as well as being successful in athletics—which says something for athletics.
Gentry: Which may say something about honoring them at that age, also.
Garber: Right. And it's nice to all get back together and talk about old times and what it was like in those days.
Gentry: Sure. Sure. Well, with the racial climate in Winston-Salem, during the segregation era was it difficult for blacks pretty much across the board? Your situation was unusual that you really were friends with a lot of black people.
Garber: The situation then, of course, in strict segregation, blacks knew that there were certain places they could not go and there were certain things they could not do. The lines were drawn. But it's amazing how much went on between the two races. I remember there was a group of white kids and a group of black kids who used to go up to one of the schools in the area and play football against each other every Sunday afternoon. And there was never any problem with it, there was never anything that went wrong. These were kids from the white neighborhood which I would have said would be prejudiced against the blacks. And the blacks lived in the neighborhood nearby and they were probably prejudiced against the whites. But those kids played football up there every Sunday afternoon and there was never any trouble.
Gentry: So it's a one-to-one relationship.
Garber: Right. And when Billy Packer was at Wake Forest and Earl Monroe was at Winston-Salem State, the Wake Forest basketball players used to go over to Winston-Salem State every weekend and play basketball.
Gentry: That's great.
Garber: They had no officials. If a Winston-Salem State player charged into a Wake Forest player, they called foul on themselves, took the ball outside and went ahead and played. Bighouse said the first time he saw it, he nearly had a stroke because he was afraid there was going to be trouble. But never! They got along just fine by themselves.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Garber: Integration here was forced, as it was in almost every place, so there was some resentment both by the blacks and the whites and there were some problems. I remember one high school game when Atkins, which was a black school, and North Forsyth, which was an integrated school, played a football game over at Bowman Gray Stadium, a municipal stadium. The two teams got into a rather bad fight and the game was halted. I was covering it for the evening paper and Luix Overbea who was black—who is black, he hasn't changed—was covering it for the Journal.
We were sitting up in the press box—Bowman Gray did have a press box—and here was almost a riot on our hands. We sat there for a minute and looked at each other and finally Luix said, "I'm going to have to go down on the field and find out what happened and get a story for the morning paper." And I looked at him and I said, "Luix, you take care." And he looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Mary, you take care." Here was a black guy and a white lady both concerned about each other's safety.
So I waited for maybe two or three minutes and then I followed him down through the stands. The Atkins fans were on the same side as the press box so I walked through the black fans and never did any one of them say anything to me, do anything to harm me, move toward me or frighten me or hurt me in any way.
Page 43 Now, several of them came up and said, "Mary, what happened?" They were confused. I went down on the bench where the Atkins players were and those kids were terrified, some of them were crying. They couldn't understand how it had gotten out of hand so quickly.
So I talked with David Lash, the coach. Then I went over to the North players and they were the same way. These were just frightened kids. It's something that had started with you-push-me-and-I-push-you and then you-hit-me-and-I-hit-you and it just got out of hand. I had gathered all the notes I needed and started walking to my car. All of a sudden I looked around and David Lash was beside me. And he said, "Mary, I'm going to walk you to your car just in case." So he walked me to my car, saw me into my car and saw me drive away.
I came home the back way through the white section of town and I had no problem whatsoever. But Luix went through the ghetto area which you had to go through to get to the Bowman-Gray stadium and his car was riddled with rocks. We got together the next day and we both agreed we were scared to death. He was black and he was scared and I was white and I was scared. But that was really the only time that I remember anything really getting out of hand. And after that, they set up an interracial committee to see what could be done to straighten out situations like that. As far as I know, we never had anything like that again.
Gentry: So now there really isn't a problem, no obvious problem.
Garber: Not really, no. I mean, you're always going to have some prejudice.
Gentry: There are no such things as white schools and black schools now, they're all completely integrated.
Garber: Yes, they're all integrated. And of course, you're always going to have kids who make problems. I know one time we had high school basketball games over at the coliseum. And one night over there, there was a black kid who was just really being obnoxious and making a lot of trouble. The police didn't know what to do. Bighouse was there. Bighouse went over to him and put his arm around the boy and talked to him for a few minutes and the boy nodded his head and turned and walked out the door, just as quietly as he could be. I went up to Bighouse and I said, "What did you say to that kid?" And he said, "I went over to him and I said, 'You've had too much to drink, haven't you?'" And the boy said yes, he had. Bighouse said, "And you know what you're doing? You're ruining a good time for a whole lot of kids, black and white, by the way you're acting. Don't you want to go home?" And he said, "Yes, I do." And he went home. I don't think anybody in the world could have handled that situation but Bighouse.
Gentry: Of course, Bighouse was about six foot seven.
Garber: Yes, he's a big guy. But the thing was he was quiet and he gave the kid a way out. He didn't say, "You're a bad, nasty boy and you ought to be locked up in jail." He just let the boy know that he was doing a thing that was hurting other people and that that was not the right thing to do.
Gentry: I'll bet he's very good with his students.
Garber: He was good. He was very good. He's an amazing person. I was in his office one time and a young man came in and he said, "Coach," and asked a question. Well, I could understand the young man very well. Bighouse said, "I can't hear you." And so the boy repeated the question. And Bighouse said, "I still can't hear you." And the boy kept raising his voice and speaking louder and louder. And Bighouse kept saying, "I can't hear you." And finally Bighouse said, "I can't hear you and I won't hear you until you take your cap off when you come into the house." So the boy took off his cap and asked the question and Bighouse answered it and he went out.
Gentry: Oh, that's funny.
Garber: I couldn't figure out what in the world Bighouse was doing because I understood perfectly what the young man said, there wasn't any question. He was speaking very plainly and he was asking a very intelligent and good question. But that's Bighouse.
Gentry: He taught them some manners, too, while he was at it.
Garber: Right, he did. He was always walking through the waiting room when the kids were waiting to see him and saying, "Why don't you open that book and see if you can't find something interesting inside of it?"
Gentry: I suppose these coaches were father figures to a lot of their players.
Garber: Oh, very definitely, because in a lot of cases these kids don't have male parents in the home. Bighouse is a real father figure to them and all coaches are. It's amazing what impact the high school coaches have. If I was in charge of schools, I'd be very careful who I picked as a high school coach because these kids really put a lot of stock in what the coaches said. We had a coach at Reynolds High School several years ago named John Tandy. And he was a tremendous leader of young people. A friend of mine was sitting down to dinner one night with the family and the little girl who was a freshman in high school made a statement. Her father said, "Honey, what makes you say that?" She said, "Because Coach Tandy says it and if Coach Tandy says it, it's true."
Coach Tandy also had a big influence when they had integration over at Reynolds. A black young lady was the first student to break the color line. And Time and Life and all the major networks and everybody were down to cover this event. The night before, some people went in on the driveway going into the school and wrote some very ugly racial slurs. John Tandy came early in the morning and saw them. He got some of the kids who were the leaders in the school, and told them, "This is a reflection on Reynolds High School." Those kids got down on their hands and knees and scrubbed all those racial slurs off the driveway. When the people came to cover it, there was not a sign of it anywhere.
And Coach Tandy went out and met the young lady and walked her into the school. There was never any trouble, everything went just perfectly. But John had a great deal to do with that.
Gentry: When did you break in to covering college sports?
Garber: Well, I covered college sports, as I've said before, a little from the forties on. But I really didn't start covering college sports on a regular basis until Wake Forest came here in 1956. With a university here in Winston-Salem, I started covering it a lot more. And finally, I got so I was covering Wake Forest as one of my major beats and I would go out there every day. I would go to practice every day, I would go by and see the coaches every day. And I got to know the players and the coaches and have a very good rapport with them. That's really when it began.
Gentry: As the only woman sportswriter in the area, did you have any trouble getting into the press boxes that were always full of men?
Garber: Yes, I did, at first. I guess it was in '46, I'm not exactly sure when but I went down to Duke to cover a football game with press credentials but the sports information director wouldn't let me sit in the press box because he said women were not allowed. And while I was talking with him, there was a little boy about ten years old hopping up and down on one foot, hopping up and down the steps. I said to the sports information director, "Who is he? Is he covering for the Lilliputian Gazette?" And he didn't think that was very funny. He put me in what they called the wives' box and I tried to cover the game with the wives talking about "Boy, John was in a bad humor when he went to work this morning. I sure hope we win because he's been in such a foul humor for the last two weeks." The kids were beating on the table and chair for Duke and it was horrible.
So I came back home and I had talked with Leon Dure who was the managing editor and he wrote to the athletic directors at what they called the Big Four which is Duke, Carolina, State and Wake Forest and said that it was up to the Winston-Salem Journal/Sentinel to decide who they sent to cover the game and that when they turned me away, they were turning away the Journal/Sentinel, not me. And of course, all the athletic directors didn't want to get involved in an argument with one of the biggest papers in the state so they all agreed that I could sit in the press box. And I never had any trouble after that.
Gentry: You were never thrown out of the press box again?
Garber: No. No.
Gentry: Then didn't you wear a badge for years that said "No Women and Children Allowed in the Press Box."
Garber: Oh, yes. Of course, in every press box you wear a tag which shows that you're entitled to be in the press box. And it's like your ticket to the game. But most of them, even up until a few years ago would say women and children were not allowed in the press box. At one time, it said women, children and pets. I don't know why they dropped the pets but I wore the tag with women and children and so did several other women sportswriters.
Gentry: And nobody ever protested?
Garber: What difference did it make? It didn't make any difference. Women were still in. If they wanted to use up their old tags that said women and children are not admitted, it didn't bother me. I suppose I should have objected but I didn't.
Gentry: And then you had a problem, didn't you, with having no women's bathrooms in the press boxes for years?
Garber: Oh, yes, for a long time—up until just the last few years, there were no women's bathrooms in the press box. And when I had to go to the bathroom, I'd have to wait until half-time and run down and get in the line at the women's restroom in the regular arena and sometimes you had to move fast to get back. But now almost all the press boxes have separate men's and women's restrooms or sometimes they have co-ed and men and women use the same one.
Gentry: Were you accepted by the male sportswriters in the press box in those early years?
Garber: Nobody bothered me. Now, I understand that some of the women who are covering sports now have been called very ugly names and been treated very nastily by some of the men in the press box.
Gentry: I'm speaking of the forties and fifties.
Garber: I never have had that problem at all. They didn't pay any attention to me. We just sort of sat next to each other and didn't have much to do with each other. About the only time that I remember was I was
covering a game at State and there was a guy from one of the Washington papers, he was a big, fat guy, and he was sitting right behind me. And he made all kinds of comments about women shouldn't be in the press box and dyah, dyah, dyah, dyah, dyah. I didn't pay any attention to him and just ignored him. While he was talking, the State team came out to warm up. The man took a look at the State team going through their drills and he went over and poked the Maryland sports information director and he said, "I don't see why you can't get anything right. Every one of these numbers are wrong." He didn't realize that it was the State team, not the Maryland team that had come out. I got so tickled, I thought I was going to absolutely pop. And I sat there and giggled and giggled and giggled and giggled.
Gentry: And you didn't say anything.
Garber: I didn't say anything to him, no. I figure I may be stupid but at least I could tell one team from the other.
Gentry: So the men just pretty much ignored you.
Garber: They ignored me, but it was my fault as much as theirs. You know, it wouldn't have hurt me at all to turn to the man that was sitting next to me and say, "My name is Mary Garber, I'm with the Winston-Salem Sentinel." And if I'd done that, he probably would have said, "My name's John Jones and I'm with" whatever paper he was with. I think the problem was that both of us were brought up at a time when men and women didn't mix in situations like this and neither one of us knew how to react. They were afraid to tell the stories they usually told and use the language they usually used when I was around. And I didn't know quite how to act with them, I didn't know what to do.
This was one of the biggest problems I had when I began. I was walking unchartered territory, really, and I sort of felt like I was playing in a game and everybody knew the rules but me. There were a lot of times I really didn't know how I was supposed to react when certain things happened. I remember one time I went to Carolina when Jim Hickey was coach. I had an appointment to talk to him and I went into his office. He stood up behind his desk and he said, "I'm thinking about coming around the side of this desk and punching you in the nose." Well, now, I knew he wasn't going to come around and punch me in the nose, I knew he wasn't going to do anything to me at all. But I also knew that I had to make some response. And I really didn't have the faintest idea of what to say. Just on the spur of the moment I said, "And who were you planning to get to help you?" Well, he just absolutely broke up and he came by and gave me a big hug. It was obviously the right thing to say. But I had no way of knowing. I didn't know what to do. He wasn't trying to give me a hard time, he was just teasing.
Gentry: Well, how did you deal with this over the years? It was probably thirty years before another woman got in the press box with you, wasn't it?
Garber: I don't know how long it was but gradually it was just like anything else, you came to be accepted. They knew I was coming, they knew I was around and it just got to the point where we just got along much better. I remember when blacks started to work for the papers, one of the games that one of the first black writers came to, he was from the Durham paper, and he and I sat next to each other. And I was feeling pretty sure of myself by that time. So when he came in and sat down, I reached over and poked him and I said, "Welcome, fellow minority." And he laughed. We just sort of kidded along with each other.
And a lot of unusual things happened. I remember one time I was down at State with Frank Weedon who was the sports information director. It was Homecoming and he came over and gave me one of the flowers that the sponsors wore and put it by my desk. He said, "I know you can't wear this but maybe you can take it home and wear it tomorrow." And you know, things like that didn't happen to the men.
Gentry: Well, you made no waves, either, did you?
Garber: No. No. Because you've got to remember that up until the seventies there was no civil rights law, there was nothing that made the papers say that they could keep me. And so I didn't want to cause any trouble, I didn't want to do anything to be an embarrassment to the paper. So I was very careful in what I did and I tried to walk the straight and narrow. I think it was probably a good idea.
Gentry: Is that what you'd call your Jackie Robinson philosophy?
Garber: I guess so because Jackie Robinson was breaking in at that time and he was playing with the Dodgers. And he had to take a whole lot more than I ever had to take because people weren't that ugly to me as they were to him. But he learned to keep his mouth shut and to mind his own business and do his job and he was accepted. And I felt that if he could take all the things he took, I could certainly take what little I had to take. There was very little of it.
Gentry: Didn't a black Wake Forest player once give you some good advice about things like that?
Garber: Yes, he did. His name was Robert Grant and he was one of the first black players to play for Wake Forest. And of course, he had to take a lot of the stuff that anyone breaking a line does. We were talking one time and I was asking him how he had adjusted to being the first black player. He said one of the most important things was to not look for discrimination. He said, "You'll find enough of it. There will be enough discrimination that is true without you getting upset over something that doesn't mean any harm." And I found that that was a really, really good piece of advice. I tried whenever something upset me to think whether this was really important to my job or whether the person who did it really meant to hurt me. And to be sure that the things that I got upset about were really important and not just something that was part of my ego.
For an example, when I was kept out of the press box, Leon Dure helped me with that. But when I was kept out of the Southern Conference Sportswriters, he said he would have no part in interfering with that because that was up to the men whether they wanted to take me in or not. He said, "That has nothing to do with your job." And I realize now that it was just an ego thing, I wanted to be accepted and it hurt me because I wasn't accepted. But it really wasn't that important. I think that's one of the hardest things a woman sportswriter has to learn. Some things are important, some things aren't. If you waste your energy and strength getting upset over things that just hurt your ego, you're never going to get anywhere.
Gentry: I suppose through the years you've faced a lot of petty little prejudice.
Garber: Yes, and even though you know it's not important, it does hurt you. I know one time I was covering a football media thing up in Boone. We went to lunch and all of us were going down the line. I got in line to go down to the cafeteria and the lady at the cafeteria stopped me and said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to go someplace else because this is just for the football people." I mean, she never asked me if I was with the football people, she never did anything—
Gentry: She assumed you weren't.
Garber: She just assumed that I wasn't.
And then I went into a press conference at Carolina and the man on the gate let every man through and when I came through, he checked my credentials. These are unimportant things, they don't mean a thing but they are really annoying.
Gentry: At the time they hurt, though.
Garber: They don't really hurt, they just make you mad.
Gentry: All right. What about women, did they ever criticize you for being a woman sportswriter or were they just proud?
Garber: I think a lot of women didn't understand why I was doing it. A lot of people didn't understand why I wanted to do it. I remember Wallace Wade who was coach at Duke. He was always very nice to me and we got along fine. Right before he died, I was at his house and he said, "I just want you to know how much I admire you for all the things that you've accomplished. But," he said, "I will never understand why you wanted to do it."
And really, sometimes I felt that the women were more prejudiced against me than the men. And I don't understand that, it's something I don't understand.
Gentry: I don't either. Maybe way back but not since the women's movement, anyway.
Garber: No. But some of them just felt that this wasn't right for a woman to be there. And there was a great deal of snickering and giggling about going into the men's dressing room. I never went into the men's dressing room, never. Until the set-up was made so that I could go in and the men stayed dressed. I think that annoys me as much as anything. Whenever I'm introduced, I'm always introduced as the lady who broke the barriers and went into the men's dressing room. Then everybody giggles. And I just want to say "Eya-a-a-ak!"
Gentry: When did the barriers, if there were any barriers with male sportswriters, completely break down or pretty much break down?
Garber: It wasn't a great thing and all of a sudden, Mary is accepted and everybody blew a great trumpet and the roll of drums and all. It was just sort of a gradual thing. The first time that I really felt accepted by the other writers, I was covering the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] meeting in Greensboro and I went by the press room. Obviously I felt enough at ease to go by the press room where the guys were. They were getting ready to go out to eat. I had made it a self-imposed rule that I was never going to invite myself and I was never going to say, "I'm going with you," which I would do now. As they were getting ready to go, one of the guys turned to me and said, "Mary, what are you going to do?" And Elton Casey who was sports editor of the Durham Herald at the time said, "Well, she's coming with us." It was just like big brother saying to little sister, "C'mon, you can play with us." So we went downstairs and got a big table, there must have been twenty of us. I was the only woman there but I felt absolutely and totally at ease. We all talked across the table and about every two or three people split a bottle of wine. We had a perfectly great time. And I really felt that they accepted me.
But then just a few years before I retired, Helen Ross who works for the Greensboro Daily News and I were assigned to go on the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters bus, on the football tour. And I'd been several times before and so had Helen. But we had always driven our own cars to Duke and Carolina and State and picked up the crowd there. No women had ever ridden the bus. The men were not at all happy to see us. Helen and I got together the night before and we agreed on two things. One, we were going to stay completely away from each other. We were not going to stand there and hold hands. And two, no matter what the men did, we were not going to make any reaction whatsoever. So we sat apart from each other on the way down there.
The first thing they did was to turn the air conditioning down so low that it must have been twenty degrees below zero and all the men were freezing. I had a sweater in my bag so I just took the sweater out and put it on and I was perfectly comfortable. I didn't care if they put it down to thirty below zero. That was all right. And then they started telling dirty jokes. The bus driver was so embarrassed by the jokes they were telling that he disconnected the public address system.
When we got down to Clemson, we got out of the bus and I went to pick up my luggage and all of the sudden, this big hand reached out. It was one of the radio announcers. He yanked my bag out of my hand and
carried my bag into the hotel for me. It was a tiny, little bag, just a little overnight canvas bag. It wasn't heavy. But I thought that was strange—here they give you all this flak all the way down and then they carry your bag for you. And then that night at the Clemson dinner, the jokes continued. Helen and I totally and completely ignored them.
Gentry: They were doing that for your purpose.
Garber: Oh, yes, they were doing it just to see if they could embarrass us. And we paid no attention to them whatsoever. And even Charlie Pell who was the coach said, "Mary, this isn't right." And I said, "Don't pay any attention to them, they're just trying to see if they can embarrass us." Then by the next day, we went back to Duke. They sort of let up. And at lunch that day, Helen and I sat down with them and they made no move to stay away from us or anything like that. At Duke that night there were no dirty jokes, there was nothing, there was just a perfectly normal meal and nobody gave us a hard time at all.
And the next day we finished up at Carolina, we were sitting on the grass by the fieldhouse there waiting for the bus to come and pick us up. And one of our chief tormentors was sitting next to me. And I said, "Now, come on, it really wasn't so bad having us along, was it?" And he looked at me and said, "No, you all done good, you can come back any time you want to." I thought, "Hoo-ray, we have finally made it."
But the funny part about it is we stopped covering the ACC tour after that.
Gentry: This was in the eighties, right?
Garber: Yes. It was just a few years before I retired. I don't think Helen ever went back, either. But at least we know we can come back if we want to. You know, a lot of times when you are the only woman in the place, they start swapping stories. One of the times that I really was embarrassed, I was at a high school coaches' clinic. One of the speakers told an off-color joke. The joke was okay, that didn't bother me at all. All the men laughed and I did, too. But he was the secretary for the National High School Federation and the North Carolina high school federation man got up and went to him and explained that there was a lady there. Well, he stopped and he said, "I am sorry, I have just been told that there's a lady present. I apologize for that story, I am very sorry."
And every man in the place turned around and looked at me. I thought I was absolutely going to die. If he had just left the thing alone and paid no attention to it whatsoever, it wouldn't have been embarrassing. But when he apologized and 250 men turned around and stared at me, my face was just as red as it could be. And I'll never forget Wilbon Clary, he was the coach at Children's Home. He sat next to me and he reached over and patted my shoulder. He made me feel so good, as much as if to say, "Hey, don't let it get you down."
Gentry: In all those years of being the only woman sportswriter in the region, how did you compete with men and work around the problem of not getting in the dressing room to get interviews?
Garber: In a lot of ways, I think it was easier then than it is now because even though there's supposed to be equal access and women can go in the dressing room, some places won't let you in, some places will, and some places you have to go to an interview room. You really never know what the situation's going to be. I knew that I could not go into the dressing room so I learned to work around it. And I did it in various ways. When I was working on the evening paper, it really wasn't a problem. I had to wait forty-five minutes or an hour and that was annoying but it wasn't an impossible situation. I would tell sports information directors what players I wanted to talk with. I found afterwards when I compared notes with other women who were covering sports that they did the same thing. I always asked for more players than I really wanted to talk with because you could always count on at least one and maybe two of them slipping out the back door without talking to you because they were tired. I mean, they'd played and they'd answered the same question nine thousand times.
Gentry: Because all the men had gotten to them first.
Garber: Right. And then they had to go and talk to me again. It was a real pain to them. Sometimes I would get assistant coaches to get players out of the dressing room. Sometimes I'd talk to assistant coaches because they could tell you the strategy of what went on and how things were done. When I got in the real desperate straits, sometimes other writers would share quotes with me. Coaches would get players out of the dressing room for me. I got an awful lot of cooperation and help.
I remember one time I really had a problem. I was covering the dressing room in a semi-final game of the ACC basketball tournament. It was the second game, and the game started at 9:00 which meant it was going to be over probably at 11:15, 11:30. That didn't give me time to stand outside the dressing room and wait while the players talked to all the men—then showered, dressed and came out. So usually when we have a split like that, one writer will take the winner's dressing room and one will take the loser's. But Bill Cole and I were working together so I said to Bill, "Could we each take a school rather than winners or losers and then I could plan for working around the dressing room?" So he said, "Okay," and I took Wake Forest.
So I went to Carl Tacy who was the Wake Forest basketball coach and explained my problem to him. And I said, "I really don't know what to do. Is there any way you can help me?" And he said, "Well, I'll tell you what I'll do. If you will come down to the Wake Forest dressing room about two or three minutes before the game is over, I'll get one of the assistant coaches to slip you into the dressing room and you can talk to the players during the ten-minute cooling-off period when writers are not allowed in there." And he said, "But you'll have to get out when the men come in and the players start to dress." So I said fine, that's all I need, ten minutes will give me all the time I need.
So about two minutes before the game was over, I went down to the dressing room and Dave Odom who is now the Wake Forest basketball coach was an assistant coach then. And he slipped me into the dressing room. And it was the time that Wake Forest beat Carolina in the semi-finals so of course it was a big win for Wake Forest. And when we got in there, he said, "Now, Coach Tacy always likes to talk to the players so maybe we'd better step back here in the shower." And that set up, of course, one of my very favorite stories that I tell around Wake Forest today with great embarrassment about the time Dave and I were in the shower together. But the shower was all yucky and wet and the shower dripped and I got all wet. But Coach Tacy talked to the players and he said, "Now, Mary is here and she's here with my permission. And she only has ten minutes so when she tries to talk to you, please talk to her." And of course, the place was bedlam, the guys were hugging each other and crying and dancing and it was just absolutely marvelous. And I got some great quotes and got the real atmosphere of what the dressing room is like immediately after a big win.
Gentry: That was the first time you'd really seen it?
Garber: Right. And then—the first time anybody'd really seen it. When Carl got ready to go, he gave me the signal and I went out with him. And all the men were waiting outside. They were so mad when they saw I had gotten inside. And Betty Cuneberti who was working for Washington had gotten in, too. He'd done it for both of us. And we really got flak for that.
Gentry: I'll bet.
Garber: But I guess they didn't stop to think of all the times we had waited outside and they had been inside.
Gentry: Of course they never thought about that.
Gentry: Didn't Bones McKinney early on get you in his dressing room?
Garber: No, no, no. What Bones did was to have his coach's conference outside the dressing room—at that time, all the coaches had their conferences after the games in the dressing room. And I couldn't go in there. So one day Bones said that that was not fair and he promised me that he would always have his press conference outside the dressing room. And once he started it, all the coaches did it.
But one particular game, Carolina and Wake Forest had a big fight. And so, you know, people were milling around outside. And there was no way Bones could come out and I understood that. But he stuck his head out the door and he said, "Give me a minute and I'll fix it up so you can get in." And at the time, the Wake Forest dressing room was divided into two sections. And the boys dressed in one area and it was kind of like a meeting room in the other. And he said, "You can come in here on this side and the players know you're coming and they won't come walking in here without any clothes on."
So I went in there and he had his press conference. And I'll never forget the looks on faces when I came out with all the men writers from the dressing room because they thought I'd probably been in there with them but I really hadn't.
Gentry: So the only time you really got in was probably in the seventies, then, the time in the shower.
Garber: The time in the shower, of course. But one of the first times I got in was—I think it was '74, I'm not sure, but it was the year that State won the national championship. This was the finals of the ACC basketball tournament. State had won and there was a TV crew in the State dressing room taking some films. So of course the boys had to stay dressed. And Eddie Biedenbach, who was the assistant coach at State, came to me and said, "You've always wanted to get in the dressing room. Now you can." So I went in and he said, "Now, when the TV crew gets through, you're going to have to leave because the boys are going to be changing." And I said, "Just tap me on the shoulder and let me know when they get ready to go."
And I had plenty of time to talk to the players. When the TV crew was through, Eddie tapped me on the shoulder and I got up to leave. And Monty Towe was sitting by the door. And as I started out, he said, "I'm sure glad you got into the dressing room." And on the spur of the moment, I reached over and gave him a big hug and a kiss. And all of those State boys really laughed—Monty was so embarrassed. I didn't mean to embarrass him.
Gentry: And you had a few friends helping you. Didn't you have a door guard named John Baker?
Garber: Yes, that was at State. The guy on the State football dressing room door was a man named John Baker. He was built on the same lines as Bighouse. I was down there one time and he wanted to know who I was and I told him. And he said, "Little lady, you can have a bad time because you can't go in the dressing room." And I said, "That's right." He said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do for you. You come down early after every one of the State games and I'll slip you into the coach's room where they have the post-game conference and you won't have to go through the dressing room. If you want to talk to any players, you tell me and I'll see they don't get out the door till they talk to you."
So I would go down about two or three minutes before the game was over and we'd stand by the dressing room door and watch the end of the game. And then as soon as the game was over, he would unlock the dressing room door and let me go in the coach's room. It was really nice because in late November it gets cold and I was sitting there nice and warm and cozy and everybody else was standing outside waiting for the ten-minute cooling-off period to be over so they could come in. And then I would tell Mr. Baker what players I wanted. And every one of them would come by because he wouldn't let them out the door.
One time I was sitting in there waiting, Dave Buckey who was the quarterback had had a big game and everybody wanted to talk to him. Mr. Baker came to the door and says, "Have you seen everybody?" And I said, "Everybody but Dave Buckey." And he says, "Well, he hasn't gotten past me but I'm going to go get
him right now." And all of a sudden, the door flung open and here comes poor old Dave Buckey dragged in by his shirt practically by Mr. Baker. And poor old Dave's hair was still wet from the shower and he was trying to get all his clothes arranged so he didn't look too bad. Mr. Baker would not let him out of that place until he talked to me.
And then several weeks later, I hadn't been down to State for some time. And I went down and Mr. Baker said, "Oh, Miss Mary, I'm so glad to see you." And he threw both arms around me and picked me up. At the time, I felt sort of a sharp pain in my side but I didn't think too much about it. He put me down. And by Monday, I couldn't breathe, I was so uncomfortable. So I went to the doctor and he checked me over. And he said, "I can go send you to get an X-ray but I can tell you right now what's happened. You've either got bruised ribs or cracked ribs and there's nothing you can do about it, they'll heal." That man had cracked my ribs by hugging me.
Well, I went back to State and I told everybody at State about it. Everybody at North Carolina State University in the athletic department knew that story. They all laughed about it and they all had a good time with it but nobody ever told Mr. Baker because he would have been absolutely crushed if he had ever heard it. He died several years ago—
Gentry: And no one ever told him.
Garber: No one ever told him. I wrote the story after he was dead. And his son wrote me a note thanking me for not ever telling him.
Gentry: That's great. Let's see. Didn't you sometimes when you couldn't get to the players talk to some of the wives, the girl friends?
Garber: Not so much talked to the wives and girl friends as to stay with them. One of the problems I had was the players would leave. Well, I knew they weren't going to leave without Momma or the girl friend. And a lot of times I'd stay in there and talk to Ma and the girl friend—
Gentry: Knowing he'd be back.
Garber: Knowing that the boy would come back out there. And always the wife or girl friends would say, "Now you talk to Miss Garber before you leave." Usually the kids were really nice. I appreciated what they did.
Gentry: But did anybody ever go out of their way like John Baker? That was really special.
Garber: No. He was great.
Then I've forgotten what year it was but one time I was talking—I think everything seems to be around State but I just happened to spend a lot of time there. You know, I was talking to Norm Sloan who was then the basketball coach at State and telling him about the problems I had with the dressing room. And he said, "You know, that's really not fair." And he said, "Let me talk to the basketball coaches"—he was president of the ACC basketball coaches—"and see if we can't work out something."
So he talked to the coaches and the coaches agreed that the best thing to do was to close the dressing room to everybody and bring whatever players people wanted to an interview room. Well, of course, the men did not like that. And then I really did get some flak and so did Norm. So I called Norm and I said, "Forget it, I've been working around the dressing room for thirty years, it doesn't make that much difference." But Bill Brill, who was president of the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters at the time, said, "No, let's see if we can't work out something." So a committee of writers and coaches got together and what they agreed was that after the
cooling-off period, everybody would be admitted to the dressing room and the guys would take precautions to stay dressed or put towels around or something like that. And the women could be there for fifteen minutes and then they'd have to get out. And never in all the time that I covered basketball after that, never was I asked to leave, I always had plenty of time to do what I wanted to do. There was never any problem.
Here's something that I really don't understand. I don't see any reason why when a player goes into the shower he can't wrap a towel about himself or put on a bathrobe. He doesn't have to walk around without any clothes on. And just last year, I did the Winston-Salem State-North Carolina Central when Bighouse was shooting for his eight hundredth win. And he didn't get it but I went to the Winston-Salem State dressing room. I wasn't really working but I just wanted to see Bighouse. And when I got in there, I found that the players were getting undressed so I just backed out. And Buddy Taylor who's the trainer at Winston-Salem State saw me and he said, "Don't leave, we'll take care of that." And he spoke to the boys and they all put towels around themselves before they went to the shower. And I thought it was a very considerate thing for them to do because I know it was probably some trouble for them. But they don't have to go through all that sort of stuff. It can be worked out if people just try and work together and help each other.
Gentry: Did any other male sportswriters support you back in the days when you never could get in there and nothing was working?
Garber: Oh, yes. There was a sportswriter for the High Point Enterprise named Bill Currie. And when I got thrown out of the press box and from the sportswriter's association, he wrote a scathing column saying that this was utterly ridiculous and this was not 1850 or anything like that but it was time things were changed. And I appreciated it very much. He and Scoop McCrary, who worked for the Lexington paper and I had what we called the Evening Paper Aide Society in which we would pool information and try to help each other. We had a lot of fun doing that.
Gentry: Well, after like thirty or forty years of not getting into the locker rooms and working around them, how did you feel when you finally got in? It was no big deal or—
Garber: No, it has never been a big deal. I remember one of the first times I went into a locker room was during the NCAA playoffs and I think it was Temple. And the Connecticut sports information director was helping me, he was getting quotes. And finally he stuck his head out the door and he says, "Mary, everybody's dressed, come on in." So I went in. And there were crowds of people around them. I didn't know the Temple players. Once they got the uniforms off, I couldn't tell one from the other. And somebody up front would ask a question. I couldn't hear what he said and I couldn't hear the boy's answer. And I thought, "Golly, ding, to think I spent all my time wanting to get into this place. This is worse than waiting outside."
Gentry: You had it all worked out.
Gentry: I mean over the years.
Garber: The only problem was when you got on the morning paper you really didn't have time to wait and it really was a pressure situation then. And women have to have equal access. They just have to, that's all there is to it.
Gentry: Do you know what year equal access came about? When women got equal access to the locker room?
Garber: I don't remember. Seventy-something.
Garber: The Associated Press sports editors several years ago set up an equal access committee. And once they got those people behind it, the sports editors had a whole lot more clout because now it's set up that if a woman has any problem, you go to the equal access Associated Press sports editors. And the NFL and the Southeastern Conference and all, they listen to them because these are the people who run the sports departments in the biggest newspapers in the country.
Karen Rosen had some trouble at Vanderbilt just a couple of years ago. The Vanderbilt athletic director would not let her into the dressing room and they did not bring the players out in time for her to talk to them. She tried to go into the dressing room and they forcibly kept her out. And she got in touch with the Associated Press media—equal access, and they wrote to the Southeastern Conference and said, "We are not going to have this, this is against the law, we will prosecute if you don't straighten this situation out." And boy, Vanderbilt backed off in a hurry.
Another time a woman sportswriter, Joan Ryan, had some nasty suggestive remarks made to her in a professional football dressing room and she protested it. And they went to the NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle at the time, and the players wrote her an apology. So we do have some clout, we do have some ways to protect ourselves.
Gentry: Did the women's movement have any impact on that?
Garber: I don't think so. I think the only thing the women's movement did was to open up sports writing jobs—all of a sudden it became a big deal to have a woman sportswriter. And at the time, I think sometimes they hired people who really weren't competent to be sportswriters. And I think that hurt more than it helped.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Gentry: After decades of working outside the dressing rooms effectively in your own way, do you now feel comfortable interviewing inside the dressing rooms?
Garber: I was brought up that men and women didn't undress in front of each other in situations like that. And I have never been really comfortable in the dressing room. But the way the situation is now with men and women living together when they're not married and co-ed dormitories in college, I can't see that it's that big a deal for the younger generation coming up. They're used to it, they're used to situations like that. I'm an old lady and I'm just not real comfortable with it. I have found that a lot of the men are very considerate and do try to make it as easy as possible.
Gentry: Do you think the younger women sportswriters are comfortable with it? Have you ever talked to them?
Garber: I have never talked to them but I think they probably are. I don't know why they would be—
Gentry: They probably came from the co-ed dorms.
Garber: They probably grew up in co-ed dorms and, you know, it's just not that big a deal for men.
Gentry: Now in 1990 is there anyplace you can't go as a woman sportswriter getting a story?
* Mary Garber later wrote: I think it was actually 1978. Maybe '76 should be changed to '78.
Garber: I don't think so. I think I could probably go anyplace but as I say, you always run into the possibility that somebody is going to try to keep you out. Of course, there are certain rules and regulations that are set up for everybody. For instance, in covering tennis at the U.S. Open or at Wimbledon and places like that, writers are not permitted, not men or women are permitted in the dressing room. The players are brought to an interview room and the player's required to come but never are writers allowed down on the court or are they allowed in the dressing room in tennis at any time. And that's everybody. That's men and women.
Gentry: Do you think the young women sportswriters coming in during the last decade of equal access, have it much easier than you did getting their story?
Garber: They probably have it easier getting their stories but I think that they may have even more problems than I did because you get into this conflict of regulations being made for equal access and the interview rooms and people are not being allowed in the dressing room under certain situations. Unfortunately, a lot of the male sportswriters blame that on the women and they don't ever stop to think that they wouldn't like it if it happened to them. They think that the women are trying to start something and they've been very ugly to some of them. And I think sometimes the women have a really tough job.
For instance, Dale Murphy who used to be with the Atlanta Braves felt so strongly about women not being in the dressing room that he refused to talk to anybody if there were any women in the dressing room. Well, you know, that makes it awfully hard on the guys and it makes it awfully hard on the woman who's just in there trying to do her job.
Gentry: So how did they handle it?
Garber: That's just the way he does. He won't talk when there's a woman in there.
Gentry: So the women have to stand out.
Garber: So the women have to either get out or he won't talk. I mean, I respect it if that's the way he feels but—
Gentry: Is he the only one like that?
Garber: I'm sure there are others. Some of them have just been real nasty about it, they really have. But it's just a tough situation. And then, of course, there are so many women now. At least when I was doing it, I was the only one—if there was going to be anybody messing up, it was going to be me. And I had a chance to try to straighten it out if I did mess up. But now with so many women covering, some of them don't do a very good job. And it's unfortunate that whereas if John Jones is a big jerk and nobody likes him among the sportswriters, then John Jones is a big jerk. But if Mary Jones is a big jerk, then all women sportswriters are big jerks and that's just not fair.
Garber: Because Mary and John can be jerks by themselves and that doesn't have anything to do with—I remember right after John Lucas was coming back from his trouble with drugs and he thought that he'd like to get back to playing tennis. He came to Tanglewood which is a park near here and a tennis tournament we had. And it was the first time that he had come out in public since his drug rehabilitation. I'd known John since he was ten years old and I was and I am very fond of him. So I was looking forward to seeing him. And a young lady from one of the Washington papers came down. When John came in, he had his wife with him. We both walked up to her and I gave John a big hug and he introduced me to his wife. And the young lady from the Washington paper said, "John Lucas, the last time I saw you, you were in the Washington Bullets dressing room and you didn't have any clothes on." Well, of course, poor John was so embarrassed to have something
like that said in front of his wife. And I realize what the young lady was trying to do, she was trying to establish an identity. But she could have done it by saying, "John, I'm so-and-so and I used to cover the Washington Bullets. I remember I talked to you after one of the games." That would have given him the lead-in to who she was without being embarrassing to him or to his wife. And I have no idea why she said that the way she did. But I was embarrassed and John was embarrassed and his poor wife was just—she almost went through the floor.
Gentry: Do you think sometimes—maybe this is hard to answer—but the sports staffs are so anxious to have a woman on their staff just as they were anxious to have a token black at one point, that they may hire people who really don't have the experience and the tact?
Garber: I think they did that at one time, I don't think that's quite so prevalent now. I remember there's a very nice young lady who has been working on the Greensboro Daily News named Lisa Mickey. And she said when they hired her, they just asked her if she wanted to write sports and she said, "They never asked me whether I knew anything about it or had any background in it at all." They wanted a woman sportswriter at the time and so they hired her. And as it worked out, she does. She had competed in sports in high school and college and she was very knowledgeable. But as she said, at least they should have asked if she knew anything about it.
Gentry: But that's pretty much stopped now.
Gentry: You had a great deal of trouble getting into the sportswriting organizations for years, didn't you?
Garber: Yes, I did. I wanted very much to be in the Southern Conference Sportswriters Association and I was barred. But any boy who had five bucks, which was the dues charge at the time, and who had a job on a newspaper, even if he'd only worked a week, could get into the Southern Conference Sportswriters and I couldn't. And that really annoyed me. And then when the Atlantic Coast Conference was formed, the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters barred me also. But we had a policy that the paper paid our dues to these professional organizations and we had a new sports editor and he didn't realize that I couldn't join. So he sent my dues in along with the rest of the men. And the treasurer didn't realize that I couldn't belong so he cashed the check. And when they realized, oh-oh, we got problems!
Gentry: Did they put M. Garber—
Garber: No. Mal didn't know the difference so he put "Mary" on it and he sent it in. And then the board of directors got together and then I think they finally said, "Ah, come on, she might just as well be in, she's not going to go away." And then a few years later—
Gentry: When was that, do you know?
Garber: I don't remember.
Garber: No, it was earlier than that, it was back in the late fifties, sixties. And then several years later I served a couple of terms on the board of directors and then one year when they announced that the slate of offices, Bob Quincy from the Charlotte News was the head of the nominating committee and he went through all the new board of directors and everything. And then he said, "For president, we nominate the biggest jock of all, Mary Garber." I felt really accepted.
Gentry: You were elected president?
Garber: I was president and served a term. Just about everybody who stays in the organization gets to be president one time or another.
Gentry: Well, not if they don't like you.
Garber: Oh, I don't know. I think just about everybody gets to be president.
Gentry: It's a huge organization?
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: Are there many women in it?
Garber: Helen Ross is in it now. She's from the Greensboro Daily News and she's in. I don't know whether Lisa's in it or not.
Gentry: Just two or three women?
Garber: There are not that many women covering sports in our area, there're still just a few. I don't know how many women there are in it now since I have—in quote, unquote—"retired," I don't go to the meetings any more. Once you retire, you get to be a lifetime member. You don't have to pay any dues. I'm a lifetime member.
Gentry: Now the other big organization was the Football Writers?
Garber: The Football Writers. And they barred women. They were the ones that kept me out of the press box. They had a national rule that women aren't allowed to sit in the press box. But that sort of faded away and in 1965 I wrote and asked them if I could join and they said yes. And so I sent my dues and I've been a member ever since.
Gentry: It's a national organization?
Garber: It's a national organization. And I've served two terms on their board of directors. I never did anything but I served on the board of directors.
Gentry: Did that make you feel good when you finally broke in?
Garber: It sure did, it sure did because all of those things show that you have been accepted as a full-fledged sportswriter and that they're not concerned about whether you're a man or a woman.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: When we left off, we were talking about some of the problems you had getting into the dressing room and also getting into the sports organizations. But you had some real advantages breaking into sportswriting when you did, didn't you?
Garber: I certainly did and I don't think I could have broken in in a better way or at a better time because I was on a—I don't think it's right to call it a small paper, it's probably a medium-sized paper. But Carlton Byrd and I were the whole staff. So I had a great deal of freedom and a great deal of opportunity to do a lot of different things. The organization I'm on now—or rather I was on when I retired—was a bigger staff. We had definite assignments and things that we had to do. It was a much more structured setup. I think I'd have had a whole lot more trouble if I had broken in in a situation like that. Carlton and I just sort of had a low-key, loosely organized operation and all I did was tell him pretty much what I was going to do and then I just went ahead and did it.
The dressing rooms were not a problem because even when I covered a college football game, I didn't have to write a story until Monday morning when I wrote the roundup for the Monday evening paper. So deadlines were not a problem. I had plenty of time to wait around until the boys had showered and dressed. I had plenty of time to think about my questions and to go over the game and to see what I was going to write. I just didn't have to write under pressure until I got on the morning paper.
I remember one of the things I used to do on Sunday morning, I'd call Earle Edwards who was then the North Carolina State coach and talk with him. And to show the difference, I had his home phone. Today coaches rarely give you their home phone. I used to call Earle every Sunday morning at 11 o'clock. And very often his wife would answer the phone. And she'd say, "Earle, it's your girl friend, come talk to her." And then we'd sit and talk about football and the game and everything else.
I covered a great variety of sports and that made a big difference. That gave me experience in football, basketball, baseball, track, swimming, cross country, just about every sport our newspaper covered. Working with high school kids made it much easier than it would have been otherwise because I was dealing with young kids who were more tolerant of my mistakes and much more willing to accept me. Also I think it helped working with Winston-Salem State which was a black school. They were tolerant of whatever shortcomings I might have. All in all, it was a much, much better setup, much more low-key situation and a much easier way for a young girl to break in.
Gentry: What kind of hours did you work on the Sentinel?
Garber: We had to be to work at 6:30 in the morning and Carlton and I would do the makeup on the Sentinel. We used to finish—I think the deadline was around 10:30 or eleven o'clock. Then I usually had some free time to do pretty much whatever I wanted to. In the afternoons I would go to high school football practice and they usually started about three o'clock or a little later than that. When I started covering Wake Forest, I went to Wake Forest football practices. I'd get home for supper about six o'clock. Then in the evening, I'd phone high school coaches and talk to them.
Those were long hours but it wasn't really working all the time because I would call one of the high school coaches and we'd talk about the practice that day. Then we'd just talk about what was going on so you
really couldn't count on it working all the time. As I think I've said before, I usually covered a high school game on Thursday night and another one on Friday afternoon and another one on Friday night and sometimes on Saturday night. I just didn't worry too much about keeping strict hours of how much I worked. I loved what I was doing. When I started, Carlton was going to a college game on Saturday afternoon, and not coming in on Saturday morning. I'd work on Saturday morning and I got paid overtime for that. Most of the time, it was my decision to work longer, my pleasure to do it and so I just didn't worry about the hours or how much time was being put in.
I was fortunate in another way that we weren't a union paper. If we had belonged to the Newspaper Guild, I couldn't have done that because they're very strict on overtime and what you can do. And I think that would have really been a handicap to me, even though I think unions have done a great deal of good. But at that particular situation, it would have hurt me.
Gentry: Now, when you went to the morning paper, it was quite a different situation, a lot more deadlines and pressure, wasn't it?
Garber: A lot more deadlines and pressure. And fortunately I did it sort of gradually when we first were consolidated, that is we brought the evening paper and the morning paper under the same staff. I was working largely with the evening paper. Then gradually I did more and more on the morning paper.
You've got to realize that when we were consolidated and I started working for a morning paper, I had never (except for that one time with the Winston-Salem State) done what we called a spot news coverage, that is covering a game and sitting down and writing it right away. I had gone to the game and taken notes and talked to coaches and players and then gone back and done a roundup the next day. But I had never sat in the press box and written a game right there under the pressure of deadline knowing I had to get it done within a short time.
So Mal Mallette, who was our sports director at the time, knew I didn't have the experience and he wanted to give me a chance to do the coverage. So he sent me down to North Carolina and told me to sit in the press box and write the story of the game and do it just like I was really covering the game. But they weren't going to use it. He said, "Just bring the story home and I'll go over it with you and show you where you were right and where you were wrong."
Gentry: It was just a practice run, huh?
Garber: That's right. I went down there and I was the last person to leave the press box and it was dark and I was parked way away from everybody else. And I didn't like that too much. But it did give me the confidence to know I could do it.
Gentry: And then you started doing it?
Garber: Yes, on a regular basis. I did football first. I think probably because football was mostly played in the afternoon that gave me a little bit of leeway and time. I did have time to wait until the guys showered and dressed and came out to talk to me.
The first time I really ran into difficulty was when I started covering basketball. One of the first games I covered was—we had a professional team in the American Basketball Association called the Carolina Cougars. And the guy who was regularly covering the Cougars for us was working on a special story. So Mel Derrick said, "Why don't you go over with him and you cover the game and he'll be there to bail you out and help you if you run into any trouble. But I want you to cover the game."
So I went over there and one of the first things I had to do was what we call a first-half running which means that you rounded up what had happened in the first half and sent that back to the paper so they would have something to go with for the first edition. I had never done a first-half running in my life and I wasn't really sure how to do it. But I got through that okay. But what really ruined me was that the game went into triple overtime. And I was a basket case before it was finished. But I got it done and the big thing that that did for me was to let me know that I could work under pressure and I could handle situations like that.
Gentry: On those stories you did in the press box and under pressure like that, about how long would you have to write it at the end of the game?
Garber: It depended on when the game finished.
Gentry: Like an hour, often?
Garber: Well, sometimes you had an hour, sometimes you had more than that, sometimes you had less than that. It just all depended upon when the game finished. The thing that happened was that a lot of times you'd come back and all of a sudden your mind would go absolutely blank. You wouldn't have any idea of how to begin your lead or where to start or anything like that? And Mal was very helpful. He said, "It happens to everybody." He said, "When that happens and you can't think of something that really hits you to be a good lead, do what we call an AP lead and that's the straight news-type lead that such-and-such a team won and very, very routine. And he said, "Usually when you start that way, then you can relax and you know what to do and you can get your story done."
And it always worked with me. I found that it was sort of like when you took exams and you'd sit down and you'd look at the exam and you'd say, "Holy crow, I don't know anything in this!" But if you just skipped the ones you didn't know and went down until you hit something that you did know, then all of a sudden you're relaxed and you look back and you'll say, "Oh, yeah, I know the answer to that."
Gentry: So Mal helped you a lot—
Garber: Yes, he did.
Gentry: Wasn't he also quite critical of you?
Garber: He was terribly critical of me when he first came and I didn't like him at all and I felt sure he didn't like me. He was trying very hard to make the paper much better. So he used to write us notes and every morning when we came in, our mailboxes—at least mine would be stuffed with letters, notes from him that this was wrong and that was wrong and I didn't do this well and I didn't do that well. And I know he was trying to help me but newspaper people being what we are, we sort of turned our nose up at it. And we used to get together and I'd say, "I got six notes today, how many did you get?" And somebody else would say, "Well, I got seven, you aren't nearly as good as I am."
Gentry: That's unusual, isn't it?
Garber: Yes, it is, to get that close supervision. He used to sit down with me and go over every one of my stories, line by line. And I'd sit there and just listen to what he had to say. Maybe it's kind of like a parent sitting down and talking with a child, the child listens but he really doesn't hear. One day he was going over one of my stories and I don't know, I just had it. So finally I said, "Mal, I don't think I can please you no matter what happens." And he stopped and he looked at me and he said, "Don't you know why I'm doing this?" I said, "No." And he said, "Because I think you can be good." After that, gosh, I would have done anything for him. And he really, really did help me, he was one of my strongest supporters, he boosted me in
every way, he gave me good assignments, he gave me a chance to do a lot of things, and he really, really did help me.
Gentry: A lot of people helped you on that paper over the years, didn't they?
Garber: Yes, they sure did. Leon Dure who helped me get into the press box and Nady who gave me my job and Carlton who put up with me over the years when I just know he was getting a lot of "Why you got that old girl on the paper for?" And I know he really had a bad time. But he never griped to me, he never let me know if he was having a bad time.
Gentry: You never had any trouble with anyone on the paper, then?
Garber: No, they were all just as supportive as they could be. I think I remember telling you about Mamie Braddy who was a woman reporter who'd been around for a long time. She had a big in with the police department. She covered the police and they really did whatever she asked them to do. We had a big football game here for the benefit of the police department. And there were some stories breaking on that and I was having a hard time getting them. So I said something to Mamie. And she said, "Don't you worry about it, I'll take care of that. You'll get all the stories you want." And the next morning, I looked up and here were three police officers standing there. They had their hands full of pictures and papers and all kinds of stuff. And they said, "Here you are, take your choice, anything you want, you can have anything you want, and if this isn't enough, we'll go get more. Just please get Mamie off our backs."
Gentry: Now, when you went on the morning paper, this is a paper much bigger than the afternoon paper, wasn't it?
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: So you were really seen.
Garber: It was really—at the time, I wasn't sure whether it was a good thing to do but now I know it was because the circulation was so much more and the paper went all over the northwest area. So I got a much wider reputation than I would have if I'd stayed just on the evening paper.
Gentry: And you had your own column for a while, didn't you?
Garber: Yes, I did, on the evening paper. I had a column which we called "Skirt in Sports." Then we had a managing editor come in who said he didn't want anything like that, that he wanted the name connected with the sports. So it was always "Carlton Byrd on Sports" and "Mary Garber on Sports." But it was kind of fun to do.
Gentry: Did you have that also on the morning paper?
Garber: No. I had a tennis column in the morning paper and still do.
Gentry: You often have said that you worked twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year in your job. What do you mean by that?
Garber: I mean that I think that if you're going to be a newspaper reporter, you're available for duty and you're on duty and you're ready to come back to work any time, day or night, twenty-four hours a day. Because the world doesn't stop when you get off at five o'clock or at eleven o'clock or whatever time your actual day is supposed to end. You always have to be ready to come back and pitch in to do anything.
Even up until right before I retired, in fact, it's happened since I've been retired, they'll call me from the paper and say, "This has happened, we need your help." And I'll get in the car and go back to work and do whatever needs to be done. I think anybody who is a newspaper person is going to do that.
Gentry: Didn't you even work on a vacation sometimes?
Garber: Yes. When I went on vacation, I used to go up at a place called Hendersonville in North Carolina and I always would look ahead and try to think up stories that I could get in that area so that I'd have something when I came back, something to write. I'd go down to Furman and talk to people there. One year the Atlanta Falcons had a training camp at Blue Ridge Assembly and I went up there and spent a couple of days and did some stories on them. I just enjoy doing it because it gave me a whole new area, a whole new group of people to see.
Gentry: You just loved it so much you didn't care if you worked all day and all night.
Garber: It didn't make any difference to me. I liked what I was doing and I still do.
Gentry: On a big sports weekend, say when there were a lot of football games, what would be the typical hours you worked?
Garber: The thing is if you work on a morning paper, you are going to have some real problems. And the guys that are working there do it now. I'd cover a high school football game on Friday night and get in from covering the game maybe at 11:30 or 12 o'clock. Then I'd have to get up the next morning at 6:30 or 7 to drive to cover a college football game. When I was working the consolidated shift and working on the evening paper, Carlton and I still had to go in at 6:30 in the morning and put the Sentinel's page out before we went to a college football game. When I'd get back from the college football game, it was 7:30 or eight o'clock by the time I'd written my story. So it made for long days. The men who work on the staff now work long hours—and I did the same thing—I've seen those kids come in from a high school football game at 11:30 and 12 o'clock at night and discuss whether they were going to drive to Clemson starting then or whether they were going home and get a few hours sleep and then drive to Clemson.
Gentry: So it's not just the old timers that had that kind of loyalty, it's the young kids today—
Garber: It goes with the territory. If you're not willing to do it you shouldn't be there. I know we had one kid who came in and wanted to be in the sports department. We tried him for a couple of weeks and finally he said, "Look, when do I get a weekend off, I can't work every weekend." And we told him, "Hey, baby, if you're going to work in the sports department, you're going to work every weekend." So he quit. And he might just as well have because we would have fired him, anyhow.
Gentry: Are you all paid straight salaries or do you get overtime for those—
Garber: Yes. It sounds real bad but it isn't. It's sort of a you-help-me-and-I'll-help-you. Sure you work long weekends and sure it's hard when basketball games and football games pile up. But then I might go in Monday or Tuesday and work an hour.
Gentry: Oh, I see.
Garber: You see, you just sort of—
Gentry: You don't punch a time clock.
Garber: No. I don't have to be in at any special time. I have assignments—that is when I was working full-time, never did I have to be in at any special time. We had an assignment sheet and I knew what my assignment was and I did it. And if I could do it in an hour or two hours or half an hour, or any way, just so I got it done, that's all that mattered. And then I could go do anything I wanted to do.
Gentry: And you were pleased with your salary? Was it equal to the men's?
Garber: I don't have any idea because—this is something people always ask, were women paid the same as men? I don't have any idea.
Gentry: As long as you were satisfied.
Garber: I know that two of my friends, one was a woman who worked in the arts department and one of the guys that worked on the sports department got together one night and compared salaries and they found they were pretty much the same. I just never did that—I was satisfied with what I was getting so I didn't care what anybody else was getting. That's not my problem.
Gentry: As a woman, did you also find time with a schedule like this for social life and home and friends and family?
Garber: Very little.
Gentry: Very little, huh?
Garber: The problem was that I could not be sure when I was going to be free. And I lived with my sister and she'd say, "We've been invited out to dinner on next Thursday night. Can you go?" And I couldn't tell her because I wasn't sure whether something would come up that I'd have to cover. And I used to have a foursome I played tennis with in the morning. They were continually annoyed with me because I'd have to call them on the night before and say, "I'm sorry I can't be there tomorrow, I've got to go to Durham."
Gentry: So they never really understood?
Garber: They never understood, no. I think Neely understood and she'd just plain go ahead by herself if I didn't go.
Gentry: Then your parents lived with you and didn't your mother live to be quite old?
Garber: Yes. My father died when he was sixty-seven but my mother lived to be ninety-three. And for about the last eight years when she was home, she was an invalid and poor Neely had the responsibility of taking care of her and looking after her and it was really an awful lot on her because she couldn't count on me to help her out. And we would try to work it out when she had something she really wanted to do that I could be off and stay here with our mother. And then our mother was in a nursing home for five years after that. And I always worked out time to go see her every day and Neely did, too.
Gentry: So that was tough. Neely and you had a kind of a organization where she kept the house and you kept working—and it worked out.
Garber: She kept the house and I worked. I couldn't have done what I did if she hadn't done what she did.
Gentry: Right. And she didn't mind.
Garber: I don't know. I'm sure she did. I'm sure she got very annoyed at times but she went ahead and did it, anyhow.
Gentry: I've heard many people say that you've been married to the paper and that your colleagues were almost like family. I think you've said it yourself. Do you think that's a fair statement?
Garber: Yes, I think so. I know that the newspaper has been my life. I have loved it since I first went there and I just think about it all the time. I criticize it and get upset about it when it doesn't do what I think it should do. But I really, really love it and I'm just happy that I had the chance to be with it as long as I have. All the guys who work there and the gals, too, have been my friends.
Gentry: Looking back, do you ever regret working that hard for fifty years, now that it's the fiftieth year?
Garber: Not really. This was something I felt I had to do and I don't think I would have lasted as long as I have without spending this much time.
Gentry: Do you think now that sportswriting would be a tough juggling act for the modern women who wants everything—the home, the husband, the kids and the career? Could they do it?
Garber: I think they can do it but I think you've got to give up a lot and I think you've got to make a decision whether you think you can handle everything. You know the old story of supermom, can she work full-time and still raise a family? And the problem is that if you're working for a sports department, there are a lot of demands on you. Several years ago I met a young lady named Mary Flanagan who was covering the New York Islanders, I think it was, for the New York Daily News. And she was married and had a baby. And she said her husband was very understanding and they had good sitters to be with the little girl during the day and her husband was home at night. But she said that she realized that as the little girl got older and wanted Mommy to go and take part in PTA and make costumes for the Christmas play and do all the things that mothers usually do. She couldn't be on the road ten days a month with an ice hockey team.
And I think this is something that women have to choose. It's a tough decision to make. And I think it's awfully hard for a girl who's dating and interested in a young man to say, "Hey, I'm sorry but I can't go out with you tonight, I've got to go to a football game." That's fine for a while but, you know, the guy gets kind of tired of it after a while. It's a really, really tough decision for a woman to have to make—I think sports people have a lot of problems anyhow in their marriages because they're on the road so much. There are so many demands on them. And I think that probably the divorce rate is pretty high and I would think it would be even worse with the woman doing these things because our society today still doesn't understand that women's careers are important to them, too.
Gentry: Would you have any special advice to a woman wanting to start out in your field today?
Garber: You mean if they're going to try to juggle both?
Gentry: Right. Or any advice. Any warnings?
Garber: Warnings is that you're going to have to work awfully hard and you're going to have to be a whole lot better than the men are.
Gentry: You still have to be better?
Garber: Right. And you're going to have to give up an awful lot of things that other women do and enjoy and you're not going to be able to do them. And it's not just sports, we have a woman who has a six-year-old son. She's the city editor. And she's had to have him in day care ever since he was about three or four years old.
And you know, she doesn't like to have to do this because of course she wants to be home with him. And after she's worked all day, she's got to go home and feed him and read to him and put him to bed and bathe him and do all the things any other mother does. And it's tough.
Gentry: It sure is. During your long career, how many sports or what sports have you covered?
Garber: I think in the forty-five or more years that I've been in sports, I've covered every sport that our newspapers cover. I've covered football, basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis, golf, cross-country track, boxing, wrestling—
Garber: Right. Even down to soap box derbies and marbles tournaments and kite-flying things and the steeplechase. I've covered wheelchair tennis, international competition, really just about everything. I haven't done them all well because nobody knows that much about everything.
Gentry: Do you have any background, for instance, in the steeplechase?
Garber: Absolutely none and I'm absolutely terrified of horses.
Gentry: You are?
Garber: I don't like anything about them. My philosophy is that if horses will stay on their side of the world, I'll stay on mine, and I'll not bother them if they won't bother me. But I covered the steeplechase one year. And I went out a couple of days ahead and met some of the people.
And I was talking with the wife of one of the men who was going to be riding. And she told me about their horse—I've forgotten what his real name was but they called him Charlie Brown. Their little girl rode him. He was just a pet when he wasn't steeplechasing. Charlie Brown ran in the main races. By that time I kind of liked that horse. I was afraid he was going to get hurt. I hid my eyes every time he went over a jump. So when the race was over and Charlie Brown had won, I went to the girl and asked, "Can you tell me when Charlie Brown took the lead because I hid my eyes every time he jumped." She said, "I hid my eyes every time he jumped, too." Then she said, "We'll go ask my husband; he'll tell us." So we went over and asked him and he looked that pained look that men look when women make a dumb remark but he told us all about it.
Gentry: That's an interesting way of reporting something.
Garber: Right. I didn't see fit to mention that to the boss.
Gentry: You mentioned covering international competitions. What were they?
Garber: Well, one thing I covered was the Davis Cup. The Davis Cup, when the United States played Romania in Charlotte, at Olde Providence. That was one of the first international events I had covered. The Davis Cup is different from the regular tennis tournament. Usually when you go to a tennis tournament, it's John McEnroe leads one game to love or whatever. But in Davis Cup, it's everything by the country. And this year the United States was playing Romania. And Ili Nastase was just a young kid starting out, Ion Teriak was captain of the Romanian team. Stan Smith was in the army and he was playing for the United States.
The players march out and everybody was ini uniform. They played the national anthem of the two countries. So they started out with this horrible sounding thing. Everybody was standing at attention trying to look like they knew what was going on. And all of a sudden Teriak just went berserk. He started running around and going in front of the army band which was playing the anthem and waving his hands. The music
sort of trailed off. And we found out that the guy who was planning the program had made a mistake and we played the anthem that was the anthem for Romania when they were a monarchy and of course they were a Communist country now. And that was a horrible situation and everybody was very offended.
Later on that day I was in the press room and I was talking with a newspaperman from Romania. He spoke English so we could understand each other. He had been assigned to the United Nations. They had taken him off the United Nations that week and sent him to the Davis Cup because they said the Davis Cup was the important thing going on in the world that week. That was kind of weird for us because all the people covering the Davis Cup from North Carolina were second-stringers. Nobody who was a top sports person was there. They were all off covering football.
So this Romanian guy and I started talking about the mistake in the national anthem. And he said, "And how would you feel if you came to Romania and we played the wrong national anthem for the United States?" And I didn't dare tell him that I would think it was hilarious and we would all have a big laugh about it. But I told him that we were very sorry and that we meant no offense and we were just stupid. And he was equally nice back to me and he said, "You are not stupid. It was just a mistake." So then we went to the bar and had a beer and international relations were very well taken care of.
And then I thoroughly enjoyed international competition covering the track meets that Al Buehler and Leroy Walker put together down in Durham. We had the Pan-African team and we had the West Germans and we had the Russians and it was really a lot of fun because you got to know all the different kind of people. I was down the year the Russians were there, I was sitting down in the stadium and talking to this man. He spoke perfect English. We talked about track and we talked about Durham and he wanted to know where was a good place to eat and all the questions that you ask like that. And then later we had a press conference and this guy got up and spoke through an interpreter. He was the Russian coach and he acted like he couldn't speak English. He spoke English every bit as well as I did and we got along just fine.
And then I met a Russian lady shot-putter and I interviewed her through an interpreter. And I know she understood what I was saying because she would react to the question before the lady got through translating it. It was really weird because they'd make a real long answer and then the translator would say, "He says yes." So you knew you weren't really getting the full story of what went on.
Gentry: That must have been very hard.
Garber: It was hard. But you know, it's amazing how much you can talk to each other, between sign language and a little bit of English and if you ever knew any French or other language. It's amazing how much you can talk to each other if you really want to.
Then in tennis, I met a Russian lady who was playing with one of the teams when they had team tennis, she came to Greensboro. She was telling me all about how the junior tennis program was set up in Russia and how she learned and how good it was. She spoke excellent English and we got along just fine. And she said, "The thing, though, is I just hate to practice. I do everything I can to get out of practice." So I said, "Well, you're not alone in that."
And I told her about Brian Piccolo who was just a horrible person in practice and he goofed off all the time. And then there was a Davidson basketball player who told me that when he got up in the morning and thought about practice, it ruined his whole day. So we were laughing and carrying on. All of a sudden she just froze. And she went back and started telling me about the junior tennis program and what it was like, going right over the things she had been over just a few minutes before. I looked over my shoulder and the chaperone on the Russian team had pulled up a chair behind us and was listening. And that girl was frightened. She was afraid that she was saying something she shouldn't.
And it wasn't as if we had been talking anything political or she'd been saying the Russians did not have a good system or it was a bad place to live or she wanted to defect, she wasn't saying anything like that. We were just talking about hating to practice which is sort of a universal thing. But she was scared and it told me something about democracy because goodness knows, I wouldn't have been afraid of anything like that. But she was.
And one of the most moving things that I had was when the West Germans and Pan-Africans came to Durham. When you have a track meet, the countries come in by teams when the meet begins. They're all dressed up in their uniforms and very formal and very well organized. But when it's all over, they come in all together and the Germans and the Pan-Africans and the Americans are all mixed up together. And they'd swapped uniforms so much that you couldn't tell who was on which team. The band was playing and they were marching around and a couple of kids came down out of the stands.
One of them—I don't know whether it was West German or a Pan-African or an American, I really don't remember, but somebody reached a hand out and took one of the kids into the line of march. And somebody else reached out and took another kid in. And the announcer was really on the ball. And he said, "All right. All you kids, come on down." And about two thousand North Carolina kids came pouring out of the stands. They joined the march. I remember a great big Pan-African guy picked up a little girl and put her on his shoulders and she had her arms around his neck. A West German took the hand of a little boy and he was skipping along. And they were just wonderful. All of a sudden all of us were united in something that we all cared about which was track. It was really a wonderful experience.
Gentry: Did you get down on the field, too?
Garber: I didn't get in the march but I was standing down on the field.
Gentry: I want to talk about some of the different sports you covered in detail and how you learn them—for instance, you mentioned baseball. How did you learn that game like an insider?
Garber: Well, I didn't really learn it like an insider. But I got a lot of help. As I think I've said in one of the earlier interviews, a photographer named Frank McMillan helped me to learn how to score. He used to play professional in the minor leagues. And that first year when I was covering baseball, George Ferrell took over the management of the team about halfway through the season when Pappy Smith gave up. And George was an awfully big help to me. Right after the season, Frank Spencer who was the sports editor of the Journal and I went to a Hot Stove League meeting in High Point. And as soon as we got over there, Frank left me. And I looked around the room and there were about 250 men and I didn't know any of them. And I was the only woman there.
Gentry: What is the Hot Stove League?
Garber: Hot Stove League is an organization where baseball people get together to talk about baseball during the off-season. It goes back to the days when they used to have hot stoves in the country stores and everybody gathered around them to talk. But I looked around and the only person I could see that I knew was George Ferrell and he was talking with a whole bunch of guys. So I went over there and stood beside him and he looked around and saw me. And he put his arm around me and pulled me into the group and said, "This is Mary Garber. She's a friend of mine." And he introduced me to all the scouts. And from then on, because he had sponsored me, every scout was always willing to be friendly with me and nice to me.
Whenever I went to baseball games, I always sat with them. And I learned so much from talking with them because I'd listen to them talk. I remember Mace Brown, for instance, used to scout for the Boston Red Sox. He had such a colorful way of talking about people. When a prospect was slow, he'd say, "He runs too
long in the same place." And when a guy couldn't hit, he'd say, "He couldn't hit me if I was to run across the plate." I just enjoyed listening to them so much.
Gentry: Did you quote them a lot?
Garber: Right. And the men used to take turns buying the popcorn and the cold drinks that we ate while we were watching the game. And somehow it was never my turn. I would always say, "Well, this is my turn." They'd say, "No, no, Bill's going to buy them this week. He's so cheap, he never pays." So one afternoon I was in Elkin at a baseball game and George Ferrell was the only scout there. So George said, "C'mon, let's go get a Coke." And I said, "Now, George, it is my turn to buy. You have always bought and you won't ever let me buy." So he said, "Okay." But he said, "I'm not going to let you buy. We're going to have a contest. We're going to throw rocks at that tree and whoever hits it first, the other one has to buy the drinks."
So we started throwing rocks and I couldn't get anywherewith the near the tree and we kept moving closer and closer and George kept missing on purpose. So finally I realized, after we'd been throwing for two or three minutes, that he was never going to hit the tree until I did. So finally I hit the tree and he said, "A-a-ah, shaw, now I've got to buy the drinks again." And I never asked again to have somebody let me buy the drinks because I knew they weren't going to let me.
It was an interesting relationship. They accepted me, they liked to have me around, they looked after me, but I wasn't really one of them. I was a lady and they were gentlemen and they knew that. And it was a very interesting relationship.
And then when we had the minor league baseball team here, Jim Wommack who was a baseball nut—we used to go out and play baseball with the Cardinal players. I think I've told that story about how we used to go out and play. And they always threw the ball so I could hit. Even the fast-ball pitchers would lob it in there so I could hit it.
And another thing I did was to work very closely with the wives because after I made friends with them, then I knew that I wouldn't ever have trouble with the manager —and that was true. I remember one wife we had, the manager then was sort of a hard nut to crack and he wasn't real enthusiastic about me. And one day his wife said to me, "Mary, is he treating you right?" And I said, "Well, I have had a little trouble with him." And she said, "Well, you won't any more." And I didn't. I don't know what she did but all of a sudden he started being real nice. I think she told him in no uncertain terms, you'd better be nice to her or else.
What I used to do is when they came to town, I'd always take the wives out to lunch—
Gentry: Oh, that was smart!
Garber:—and we'd sit around and talk. There are more ways to get around things than you think there are.
One of the interesting things I had from baseball was—this was happening just a few years before I retired, I was covering a game and I went down to the dugout to get the lineup. And the visiting manager said, "What would you want with the lineup?" I told him that I was a sportswriter from the paper and I was covering the game. And he sneered and laughed and said, "Ho, ho, ho, so you're a sportswriter." And before I could think of a good answer—and I don't know what the answer would have been—Bill Haywood, who was a pitcher on the team and who had been at Carolina, came over and he said, "Yes, she is a sportswriter and she's a damn good one and don't you ever forget it." Boy, that man's whole attitude changed. He went and got the lineup for me and I never had any more trouble with him. But I don't know what would have happened if Bill hadn't been there.
Gentry: You've had a lot of allies.
Garber: I have. That's the thing. You just never know when somebody's going to come in and put their arm around you and say, "Hey, you'd better be nice to this girl."
Gentry: Glad there's people like that.
You often hear the criticism that women can't report on sports that they've never played. How do you answer that?
Garber: I answer that because all you need to do is look around the press box or press conference and look at some of the men. Do you think any of them ever played anything? A lot of them are fat and out of shape. I know on our own staff, we've got one guy who played baseball in college, we have a couple who played high school football, but I don't think some of them played any competitive sport at all.
Gentry: You have.
Garber: Right. Another thing, in the forty years that I've covered sports, every sport has changed so that even if I had played them in high school, even in college, everything has changed. You take football. When I was in high school and college, almost everything was the single wing,—passing was a minor part of the game. Now everything is wide receivers and the offense is spread all over the field which spreads the defense all over the field.
I remember when the lonesome end first came in. Army, I think, was one of the first to start it. They called him the lonesome end and he stayed out on the sideline the whole time, he never came into the huddle. And when Paul Amen came to Wake Forest, he had what he called two lonesome ends. So we got together and we went through a real crazy feature story of how do you get the signals out to the two lonesome ends. And we had wireless receivers and hand signals and holding up signs and all kinds of silly stuff like that. And it made a real crazy sort of feature.
And basketball. Basketball used to take the ball back after every basket and jump center. Women's basketball is completely changed. It used to be one dribble, and now they play the same rules as men. Baseball has the designated hitter, which is brand-new. So even if I had played when I was in high school and college, there have been so many changes in the games and the things are so different that I would still have to learn.
I did several things to learn and I think that any woman that wants to learn can do so. Bill Hildebrand who was the coach at Wake Forest was a very big help. He gave me books to read on it. He let me sit in on his coach's meetings so that I could learn how their offense and defense was set up. I went to officials' clinics in football and basketball and baseball. And once you learn the rules, you learned a whole lot.
One of the most interesting things I did was to go to a baseball game with an umpire. He had taught the umpires' clinic. He and I went to the game together and went out to eat. It was really interesting to sit in the stands and hear him say, "Oh, you dumb, stupid thing," and he is your date. You felt like saying, "No, he's a real nice guy." And it really made a big difference. I think that you can learn.
I covered a swimming meet when I didn't know anything in the world about it. And when I went down there, I just told the swimming coaches, "Look, I don't know, I want to learn." And they said, "If you have any problems, come to us and we'll explain it to you." And the first day, one of the men who swam the butterfly was disqualified and I didn't know why. I went to the coach and he explained it to me, exactly why. And it was very simple. People are always willing to help you.
Right after the spread offenses came in, the split ends and the wide receivers, a lot of schools were experimenting and doing it in different ways. And Warren Geise at South Carolina had a very innovative spread offense and I wanted to do a story on it. So I called Paul Amen who had since resigned as coach at Wake Forest and was working for the bank. And he sat down with me and went over and explained to me how South Carolina's spread was different from anyone else's and what they were doing and told me all about it. So I called Geise and told him I wanted to talk to him about it. He wasn't too enthusiastic because he figured I didn't know anything. And then when I started asking the questions that Paul told me to ask, he was really impressed and he said, "What did you say your name was?" Then he was really nice. But I didn't tell him that Paul had to spend about two hours trying to teach me all this.
Gentry: And you had him in your hip pocket from then on, I imagine.
Gentry: Did you actually go to a baseball umpire's clinic?
Garber: Yes. I went to—the city recreation department had an umpires' clinic. And that was like the football and basketball clinics. But the umpires' was a little bit more interesting because you actually went out on the field. And I remember one night we were out on the field and one of the umpires was supposed to be a player and another umpire was an umpire. The umpire acting the role of the player was supposed to use a whole lot of profanity so you'd know when to throw the player out of the game. And he started off. And he wasn't doing a very good job. He wasn't being very convincing, wasn't being very threatening to the umpire. So the guy that was running it said, "Hey, you can do better than that." And the man said, "Well, I could do better than that, but Mary's here and I don't want to offend her."
Once I graduated from the umpires' clinic, the umpires used to invite me to their picnic. And they always had a softball game and let me be the umpire. And I stood behind the plate. It was very interesting because when I'd start to dust off the plate, they'd take the whisk broom out of my hand and dust the plate off for me.
But one of the things that happened was a player got a hit and he was rounding third base and he missed the bag. I didn't do anything. He came on in and scored. The other team protested and threw the ball to third base and I called the player out, which was what I should have done. And the umpires all crowded around and they said, "How did you know that? We didn't think you saw it when he missed third base but you did and why didn't you call him out when he missed third base?" And I said, "Because I went to umpire school and I know what I'm supposed to do."
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: You've seen a lot of great changes, I'm sure. One you mentioned was you once had a real easy and friendly relationship with a coach and you could call him any time of the day or night and always had their home phone and that's quite different now.
Garber: Yes. If I wanted to talk to a coach at Wake Forest, I'd stick my head in the office. And if they were busy or if they had something they had to do, they'd say, "Go on, mess around somewhere for about ten or fifteen minutes and come on back." I had their home phones, I would go to their homes, they came to my house, we just had a very close, easy working relationship.
As I said, Bill Hildebrand was always very, very nice to me. He lost his job because the team wasn't doing well. I knew it was going to happen. And I went out there that day and he was over talking with the president. When he came back, I could look at his face and I knew that he had been fired. And I asked him about it. And he said, "I really can't tell you but, you know what has happened as well as I do."
And he said, "Just remember that I like you and I wouldn't let you write anything that would hurt you. I can't tell you that I've been fired but you know, don't you?"
So I went over to Dr. Tribble, the president, and said that I knew that they had had to let Coach Hildebrand go. And he gave me the story and I went back to the office and wrote the story about Bill Hildebrand being fired and the change that had been made.
Gentry: You got that before anybody else—
Garber: Yes. We had it before anybody else. And after I had written the story, I'd done the job I had to do, I'd been a sportswriter, then Bill was my friend and I went out to his house. And he came to the door and I gave him a hug and I went into the living room. His wife Cubie was there and she took one look at me and burst into tears. Well, you know how men are when women start crying, he just didn't know what to do, he was worse off with her crying than he had been when he was fired. So finally I said, "Bill, just go out. I don't care where you go but get out of here and leave us alone."
And Cubie and I sat down on the sofa and I put my arm around her and she put her head on my shoulder and she cried and cried and cried and cried. And I said, "Just go ahead and cry and get it out." She said, "I've been through so much. I've been trying to be strong for Bill but I can't be strong any more." And I said, "I understand, go ahead and cry." And in about fifteen minutes, she was okay. And by the time Bill came back, we were sitting there talking and she went and got cokes and we all sat around and talked.
But things like that don't happen with coaches now. Now if I want to talk to a coach, I call him up and have to go through a secretary and the secretary says, "Well, you can't talk to Coach so-and-so now. May I have him return your call?" Maybe he'll call back and maybe he won't. Or if I do want to talk to him, then it has to be, "Well, now how long will this take?" and "What is this all about?" I never did any of that with—
Gentry: Even though you've been in the business that long?
Garber: Terry Holland who used to be the coach at Virginia and I go way back. I used to know him when he played at Davidson. We're the kind of friends that you can sit down and talk to each other and gripe about each other and get along just fine. One time I was talking with him and I said, "Terry, I've known you all these years and yet I feel like I can get through to the president of the United States better than I can get through to you."
And he said, "Well, you've got to understand that things have changed. In those days when you used to walk down the hall and stick your head in my office door and I could see you at any time. There weren't as many reporters and there weren't as many radio and TV people covering college sports as there are now. It used to be that when I went to a basketball game, I knew every person who covered the game. I would be coming out of the dressing room after the game was over and I'd see some poor soul dragging a typewriter or telecopier or whatever and we'd all go out and get a beer together. Now, we play a game and we have a press conference. I don't know about a third of the people there. I never saw them before. We just can't possibly handle all the requests that we get for interviews and talk sessions. So we have to make these restrictions. I have to have some time to be by myself and to do the things I need to do. I just can't stop every minute as I used to be able to do." And I can understand that.
Gentry: But something is lost for you and for them.
Garber: Something is lost, for both of us because in the old days, we would talk about mutual problems and if the coach was upset with me about something, we'd talk about it. Or if I was upset with him about something, we could talk about it because, as I say, we were friends, we knew each other well enough to be frank and honest with each other. I think a lot's been lost.
Gentry: The stories have suffered because of that, too. You don't have that insight—
Garber: I'm sure of it. You don't have the insight as in the old days. In the old days, we went to Wake Forest football practice every day, we wrote what was called practice briefs. So I was out there every day. Nobody had to explain to me about the horror of two-a-days. In case you don't know what they are, before school starts, the teams practice once early in the morning and again in the afternoon and then they have meetings all day long. And I can tell you, there's nothing worse since the Lord made the world than getting up at 5 o'clock in the morning and going out to practice at 6:30. The grass is wet, your shoes are wet, it's just yucky all the way around. And yet I did that—I went to the first practice of Wake Forest football every year for about nine or ten years. And I know full well how bad two-a-days are. Well, we don't cover things like that, we don't cover first practice any more.
Gentry: When did those changes come in the coaches—
Garber: I think television had a lot to do with it, when all the TV people started coming in and more radio stations and more newspapers started covering college football. As Terry said, there were just so many more people. We've cut back because there's just so much, so much more. We've got an ice hockey team, we never had one of those before. Football runs into basketball, basketball runs into baseball, baseball runs into the football season. You just never get done and we've had to cut a lot of things out that we used to do.
Gentry: Another great change you've seen is the change in technology, I'm sure. Like when you were first working in the press boxes, how would you send out a story?
Garber: It used to be when I first started covering, you took a typewriter and you wrote your story on a typewriter. And then you took the typewritten copy and gave it to a Western Union lady who was sitting on the back row. And she would send it back to your newspaper by Western Union. Those Western Union ladies saved our necks many, many times because they'd come down and they'd say, "Now, you didn't really mean this, did you?" And of course, you didn't. They were a real help.
Gentry: What was that, forties and fifties?
Garber: Yes, I guess it was. I don't remember the years of when we changed. And then we got into telecopiers where you typed your story and put it on a telecopier and sent it back to the office.
Gentry: What's a telecopier?
Garber: Well, you typed your story out and put it on a round cylinder and then sent it by telephone. Now, of course, we're all into computers. And even the computer's been changed. When we first started carrying computers, they must have weighed fifteen or twenty pounds and now they have them weighing eight or nine pounds. Everything is so much better and so much faster. The only problem is that sometimes computers get contrary and they don't send and then you really are in trouble.
Gentry: Didn't you have one blow out on you?
Garber: Yes, I went to—I think it was Duke, I can't remember which school it was, and they shot fireworks afterward. And for some reason, the fireworks did something to my computer, I don't know what. But I couldn't send and I had to dictate the story.
Gentry: Oh, no. So you use a little laptop now.
Gentry: Take that to the press box.
Garber: I take it with me.
Gentry: How can newspapers compete with TV on sports coverage now? They have the instant replay, all the interviews and everything is media.
Garber: It really is hard. When I began my coverage of the game, for most of our readers, this was the first report they had of the game. So I went into a lot more detail then. Now we have to come up with new angles and different ways of doing it and try to get something that the TV people don't get. And it's hard.
Gentry: Which I'm sure is very hard.
Gentry: I'd like to talk to you about your philosophy of sportswriting and your style over the years. It sounds like you feel every sport at every level is important to cover, is that correct?
Garber: Well, yes and no. I think that every sport is—every level is important to cover. But I do think also you've got to realize that obviously more people are interested in the ACC basketball tournament than they are interested in what's going on in Little League baseball. Even though I say that you need to cover all those and keep up with those and do something on them, you obviously can't cover everything at the same level because if you did, you wouldn't have room to get it all in the paper.
But I think that a lot of papers miss something when they concentrate too much on the major sports or concentrate too much on the college and professional level because, as I think I've said before, high school sports are of interest. There are a lot of what I don't like to call minor sports because I don't think there's any such thing as a minor sport to the people who play them. But what we would call nonrevenue sports, that is track and swimming and cross-country and sports where maybe they don't have a lot of spectator interest. But there are good stories everywhere if you just open your eyes and see them. And I think that people can be interested in something that happens to an athlete in a nonrevenue sport in very much the same way they are in something that happens to a player in football and basketball, if you just look for them.
Gentry: Many people I've talked to say you have a unique way of writing about the whole person in an athlete, not just the jock part of him. How did you manage to get so many interesting stories of what the players did off the field?
Garber: Well, I got a lot of help. For several years, I covered Duke University and I used to go down there every Monday. And I got to know everybody down there. And I talked to the secretaries and I talked with the coaches and I talked with the janitors. And you'd be amazed at how much all those people who are connected with the program but not in big-shot situations know.
And I had a basketball interview to do with a player at Duke named Willie Hodge. And Willie was an excellent player but he was not a great conversationalist. And you'd ask him a question and he'd say, "Uh-huh." And you'd ask him another question and he'd say, "I don't know." And he was really a hard interview. But I was talking with Vera Autrey who was then the basketball secretary. And she told me that Willie was very much interested in flowers, that he had taken botany as an elective and made an A. And she said he came to her one time before Christmas and asked her if she'd keep his flowers over the holiday. And she'd thought he might bring in a couple of kind of sick looking African violets and that would be it. But instead he brought in two tray loads of flowers and everything had its botanical name and exactly how it should be cared for and everything about it.
So she suggested that I talk to him about flowers. So after basketball bogged down which didn't take very long, I said, "Willie, how did you get interested in flowers?" He told me that his father had been a landscape specialist and that when he was a little boy, he had followed his daddy around while he worked on the gardens in the community where they lived. And then his eyes just lit up and he said, "One of these companies has offered a thousand dollars to anybody who could grow a black rose." And I said, "Willie, how would you grow a black rose?" Well, then he started into the cross-pollinization of what you would do to get a black rose. And that kid just lost me completely. I didn't know what he was even talking about. And Bill Foster who was the basketball coach at the time stuck his head in the door and he said, "Willie, will you shut up? You have been talking for twenty minutes. Give somebody else a chance." And poor Willie, he was so excited about what he was talking about and so interested, he'd forgotten all about saying uh-huh and huh-uh and I don't know.
Gentry: Did you write a story about him?
Garber: I couldn't do the cross-pollinization because I didn't know what that kid was talking about.
Gentry: I'll bet not many people wrote about basketball players that were growing roses.
Garber: No, I know they didn't.
Gentry: Another thing that I have learned from your writing is that you often are most of the time writing the positive. And in fact, Lib Byrd, Carlton Byrd's widow, told me that she thought your life was almost dedicated to making people feel good about themselves which I thought was a wonderful comment. Is positive writing, finding the positive in a situation, a philosophy of yours?
Garber: Well, as I said, when I started it was. I had to be positive because I didn't want to risk losing my job. But once I got into it, I realized that no matter how big and tough these kids seem, they're really very, very sensitive. You can hurt them very easily. I remember Bob Grant who I think I have mentioned before. He went down to play at Clemson and someone wrote about how he had missed his assignment and he hadn't done well. And he was really upset about it because, as he explained to me, he had done the job he was assigned to do and the play had gone where it had gone, not because he hadn't done his job but because someone else hadn't done their job. He was really hurt by what had happened. And the writer had been inaccurate. He'd been critical when he didn't know what he was talking about. I don't mean that you always have to say everything is great, everything is perfect, but I think that you can present what happened. And if you're going to criticize somebody, show what they did wrong, don't just stick a knife in him. You don't need to do that.
Gentry: But isn't sportswriting today pretty negative and critical of—
Garber: Very much so and I think it's a bad thing to do. At one time, sportswriters were cheerleaders and that's wrong, too. You don't have to say "Go Deacs" or "Go Blue Devils" or "Go Tarheels" or "Go Wolfpack" or "Go" any other team. I see my role as a person who has access to a certain bit of information that you don't have as a fan. And I need to tell you about that. I need to tell you the things you need to know, whether it's good or whether it's bad. But this business of going out and trying to find something that is wrong just to find something that is wrong is not a good thing. That doesn't mean that if there's a bad situation, if something is wrong in a sports program or in a college program, get down to the bottom of it and dig it up. You should do that. But just don't knock to be knocking.
Gentry: Another trend that I see in some of your stories is that you write about people who are not always the stars of the game or the stars of the team. And maybe you would call them the benchwarmers.
Garber: Well, I think that's true. Right. I remember one story that I did that I enjoyed doing so much. I was checking through some of the college football brochures. And in every brochure, I found kids who had been out four years and who had played little or in some cases not at all. And those kids interested me. I wanted to know why anybody would stay out four years and go through practice and never have the fun of playing in a game.
So I went through Duke, Carolina State and Wake Forest and I picked out one kid in each one of those schools who had been out four years and who had played practically none at all. And it was interesting to talk to them about why they stayed out there, what they got out of it that would make them go through the heat and torture of practice, knowing they were never going to play. And all of them told the same story. They loved football, they wanted to play, they wanted to be a part of the team, and they were willing to do it. And I thought it made a very unusual story.
Gentry: It certainly would. It's not one you would see very often.
Gentry: When I talked to your publisher, Joe Doster, he said that another great strength you have as a sportswriter is your ability to obtain and all kinds of different sources and to deal with them. Can you tell me something about how you've done that?
Garber: Well, I think that's just because I've been around a long time and when you've been around a long time, you know a lot of people. I think it's helped me a lot because I know the secretaries of the coaches and they'll get somebody to help me. It's a question of developing contacts over a long period of time. People know and I hope trust me and I think they realize that I'll be fair and that when I ask him the question, it's going to be a perfectly legitimate question. And I think this is something that is developed over the years. You just don't go right out and all of a sudden have people trust you. You've got to earn their respect.
Gentry: How do you make these good contacts and keep them?
Garber: You do it by, as I say, being fair with the people and being with them. I remember one time when I was covering high school sports, this was an Atkins high school team, which you remember was a black school. And it was one of those days when I was going around and visiting the different practices and I went down to Atkins and I watched them scrimmage. And the kids were having such a good time. They were laughing and kidding with each other and everybody was having so much fun. I got in my car and went home.
The next morning I saw in the paper that one of the Atkins players had been injured in practice and had died. And the morning paper had tried to get in touch with the coach and couldn't get in touch with him. So I didn't even go into the Sentinel. I called Carlton and told him where I was going. I went over to Atkins. And I met the coach in the hall. I said, "Tell me what happened." And he took me into the faculty lounge and he said, "It happened right after you left. You probably had not even gotten to your car. Somebody made a tackle and the boy was hurt. We didn't realize how badly he was hurt and so we tried to get him to the hospital. We put him in a car and took him. What we should have done was to wait for the ambulance." But the boy died.
And so I talked to the coach and he told me what had happened and we ran the story. I think the reason he talked to me was because he knew I was interested and he knew I had been fair to him. He knew that I was interested in the program. And I was able to help him because that day Mr. John Watson Moore who was the superintendent of schools and this man's boss called me and said he had heard that I'd been out at the practice and he said the only thing he was interested in was whether there was anything bad going on out there, whether the boys had gotten too rough or whether there'd been any ill feeling. And I told him that I had been there minutes before it happened and that I was thinking what a good time the players had and how well everything was going. He said, "That's all I want to know." So I was able to help the coach.
Carl Eller I knew when he was in high school and then he went on to Minnesota. And I didn't realize this but he told me that he came back right after he had been made All-American at Minnesota and came by to see me. And I was busy and I said, "Carl, sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." And he said he couldn't understand. In Minnesota everybody could hardly wait to talk to him and here he comes back to his home town and this little slip of a girl says, "Sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." But as I say, Carl and I went back a long way.
He went on and played with the Minnesota Vikings and when they were in the Super Bowl, I wanted to talk to him to do a story and so I called him and he did not call back. Everything, of course, had to go through their publicity department. When he hadn't called back, I called the publicity department again and I said, "Would you give Mr. Eller a message?" And the man said very icily, "Oh, yes." And I said, "You tell Carl that he's ruining my reputation." And Carl called back in about five minutes and said, "I don't want to ruin your reputation. What do you want?"
After Doug Moe was made coach of the Denver Nuggets, I called him and wanted to talk to him and of course he had a million interviews and he didn't have time, either. Doug had come to a basketball clinic and Larry Brown and he and I had gone someplace to eat. We sent Larry up to the salad bar to get us salads and when he came back, he had tomatoes on Doug's salad. And Doug said, "Larry, don't you know I don't like tomatoes. Don't ever put tomatoes on my salad." So we scraped them off of his and Larry and I split them up. So when I couldn't get through to Doug, I asked his secretary to deliver a message and she said she would. And I said, "You tell Doug that I'm going to put tomatoes all over his salad if he doesn't call me back." And he called me back in about a few minutes. And it's that touch of knowing these people and sort of knowing where to kid them a little bit, that helps.
Gentry: So you can go through and get to the coaches when some people can't.
Garber: Yes. I hope I can.
Gentry: I know your publisher was telling me that sometimes when there was a real sensitive story that a number of people needed to get for the paper, or a scandal or something, the men would choose you to go in and get the interview because they were afraid they wouldn't get it.
Garber: I don't know why they wouldn't get it. I remember one time we were down at Duke. And I was covering a track meet, I don't remember what it was. But that was when the story first broke about one of the State point-fixing scandals. And Vic Bubas who had been at State when these events occurred was then the basketball coach at Duke. So as I say, we were all down covering the track meet and we looked at each other. And one of the guys said, "Well, one of us has got to go up and talk to Vic Bubas." And everybody said, "Not me, not me, not me, I'm not going up there." So finally they all agreed that Vic would be much less likely to punch me in the nose than to punch any of them. So I was unanimously elected to go up and talk to Vic. And I went in there and asked him the questions. He looked at me and he said, "Aren't there a lot of other writers down there?" And I said, "Yes, there are." He said, "And you're the only one who had the guts to come up and talk to me?" So I told him that I had been elected to come.
Gentry: Did you tell him why?
Gentry: You talk a lot about fairness being important in sportswriting. What's your philosophy on that?
Garber: My philosophy on that is that you have a responsibility. What you say goes to a lot of people, and people—believe it or not, I know they say the newspapers don't do anything, but people believe if they see it in a newspaper, it's true. And so you have to be very, very careful what you say, that you're accurate in what
you say, that you are fair in what you say, that if it's negative, that's fine. But be sure that you know what you're talking about and that you're not making unfair charges or that you're not doing anything that is not right and true because really the person who you write about has no way to get back at you. So you have a big advantage over him and you have got to be very careful in using your power.
Gentry: You seem to have a real respect for the power of the written word and a sensitivity toward the people you're writing about. Can you think of any situations where that has come up?
Garber: Yes, I think this is very true. I think that a lot of young writers don't realize—maybe they realize it and they're carried away with their power—but power is something you've got to use very wisely, you've got to be sure that what you say is right and fair. I know one of the things that woke me up was several years ago Wake Forest had a horrible football team and most of the writers were very critical in what they said and they wrote all kinds of bad things about the players. I got an absolutely lovely letter from the mother of one of the players. She said, "Don't you realize that these are young kids. They're doing the best they can and they hate to lose as much as you hate to see them lose. They don't want to mess up, they don't want to make these mistakes." It was an absolutely beautiful letter. So I called her and asked her her permission to run it. And I did. And I think it made a big impression because I think a lot of times you don't realize how much you could hurt a kid.
And I remember another kid at Wake Forest who was kicked out of school for cheating on an exam. I ran into him at a basketball game that night and I went over to him and put my hand on his shoulder and told him I was sorry he'd gotten into so much trouble. He said he was sorry he'd made the mistake. I looked up and the tears were in his eyes. I think a lot of us don't realize that kids get themselves into a mess and they make terrible mistakes and they do things that they shouldn't do and you just don't need to be that harsh. You have to report what happens, of course, but you don't have to make it such a big deal.
And just a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about a tennis player. He's a teaching pro, a guy that you would think wouldn't care one way or the other about a lot of sentimental things. But he was playing on a city tournament and the man he was playing got a cramp. And under tennis rules, you have, I think it's three minutes to treat a cramp, and you can't leave the court. But this guy didn't do that. He said to his opponent, "You're having trouble? Let's stop the match for a few minutes and you can go and get ice on your cramp. Take as long as you want to come back and play." And it was a very sportsmanlike gesture. He didn't have to do that. He could have demanded a default right away. But he didn't and they must have taken ten or fifteen minutes. And the man came back and tried to play and couldn't and finally had to default. And so I wrote that this tennis professional had been a very sportsmanlike person. And I saw him about two weeks later and he said, "Thank you for saying that." In other words, this was important to him even though he's a thirty-five or forty-year-old man. It was important that somebody recognize that he did something decent.
And then there was a baseball player, played for Carolina, and he got into a fight in the NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] playoffs and had his team penalized. And I just wrote the story and said that the fight had happened and this was the penalty and this was the boy involved. I didn't make a big deal out of it, I just told what had happened. And he wrote me thanking me for not overplaying it. He said that he wanted to apologize to me for getting into the fight, he said, "because I know you don't approve of things like that." And that meant a lot to me that he knew that I had that kind of a reputation.
And we used to have a high school coach who asked me to come to his games as much as I could because, he said, "the kids behave themselves so much better when you're there." I don't think that's true but it's nice to have people think things like that.
Gentry: Do you think women sportswriters generally write differently than men? It sounds like you're doing things that aren't generally done.
Garber: No, I don't think women write any differently than men. Several years ago I spoke on women sportswriters at an American press institute, sports editors seminar. And that was one of the questions they asked. So I went through the state newspapers, including ours, and I clipped stories, some that were written by me and there were a couple of other women writers at the time. And some of them were written by men. I cut the by-lines off of them and I must have gotten fifteen or twenty stories. Then I said, "Okay, here are these stories. You guys go through and tell me which ones were written by men and which ones were written by women." And they couldn't—a lot of the times when they thought they were written by women, they were written by men, and the other way around. And the only one that really caught on was Mal because, as he said, "I recognized your hand, your style, right away. I knew which ones were yours even though I hadn't read them."
Gentry: Do you think the players have told you things over the years that they probably wouldn't tell a male reporter?
Garber: I don't know. I don't know whether they would have told a male reporter. I think that in a lot of cases they knew I was interested in them and, as I say, I spent a lot of time with the players so they knew me and I knew them. And they were more likely to talk to me. I remember one young man at Wake Forest, he was a basketball player and I asked him what he was going to do, he was going to graduate that spring. And he said that he would have to go into the army—that was when there was draft and you had to go into the service after college. He said that he didn't mind doing that, he didn't mind going into the army, but he thought he was probably going to be sent to Vietnam and he was afraid he was going to be a coward.
Well, I knew I had to say something to that young man and I really didn't know, I've never been a combat, I don't know about being under fire. But I knew he needed help, he wanted somebody to tell him something. So finally I said, "I've never been under combat and I really don't know but I would think that"—I said, "Aren't you always nervous before you go into a game?" And he said, "Yes, I always am." And I said, "But once you get into it, you forget about being nervous, you forget about being scared and you just play." And he said, "That's right." And I said, "I think that probably combat's pretty much the same way, that everybody's scared before they go into combat and then when you get in there, you sort of do the things you're trained to do." And I hope it comforted him. I think it did.
Gentry: Did he come back from Vietnam?
Garber: I don't know. He left and I never saw him again. I don't know.
And then there was a Wake Forest football player, he was one of the first black players at Wake Forest. And in those days, freshmen weren't eligible so your first chance you got to play was when you were a sophomore. And this guy got a chance to start. His name was Butch Henry. And he was going to be a starting wide receiver on one of the first Wake Forest games. So I heard about that and I went up to him after practice and I said, "Butch, aren't you excited about playing and starting." And he said yes, he was, but he said, "Mary, I am so afraid because Coach"—and that was Bill Tate then—"says that sophomores make enough mistakes to cost a team the victory. I just don't want to get in there and mess up and cost Wake Forest the victory." And he looked—this great big old six-foot-three, two-hundred pound player—he looked so sad and so upset. I said, "Well, Butch, I'll tell you. I'll promise you that you are not going to mess up, you're going to have a great game." Well, of course, that made him laugh and we both stood out there and giggled and laughed at it.
They played in Roanoke and he went up and played against Virginia Tech. And he had an absolutely great game. He caught more passes than any Wake Forest college player had ever caught up to that time and when he left, they gave him a standing ovation. So I couldn't wait to talk to him on Monday. And on Monday after practice, I went to see him. And I said, "Tell me about it, Butch." And he was talking about the game and he said, "You know, when we were riding to the game on the bus," he said, "I was so nervous I was just
about to be sick." And he said, "I remembered what you said and it made me laugh, it helped me to relax." And I said, "Butch, what was it like to have a standing ovation?" He said, "You know, I've seen other people do things like this but I just never dreamed it would happen to me."
And then there was another young man who was going to travel across the country. He had the idea his parents didn't care about him. And maybe they didn't because they certainly never took any interest in what he did. So he told me that when he traveled he was not going to ever tell them where he was. Well, I knew that was wrong so I said to him, "Don't do that because if something should happen to you, you'd never forgive yourself." So I persuaded him to check in with his parents once a week. And I said, "Go to one of the hostels or someplace where they can send a message back to your parents." And he said that he would.
And then another time I was in Washington airport and I had an attache case which had something about one of the international track meets that I'd covered. And this young man came up to me and he asked me if I had been in the track meet. I told him no. He told me that his sister ran in it. I asked him his sister's name and he told me. I knew her. So we got to talking about track and his sister. And he said, "Do you know my parents?" I said, "I know your father." He was a coach at this particular school. And he said, "Do you ever see him?" And I said, "Once in a while." He said, "Would you call him and tell him you saw me in the Washington airport?" And then I realized that he had left home, so I said, "I'll be glad to call him but why don't you call him?" And he said, "Well, I'm going to do it but I'm going to Charlotte next week and I will call him."
So as soon as I got back home, I called the coach and told him I'd seen the boy and that he looked fine and that he was all right and that he was going to Charlotte and that he was going to call. And the coach said, "Bless you!" He said the boy had been gone six months, "and we didn't have any idea where he was." And he said, "My wife and I have been frantic. As soon as I hang up from talking to you, I'm going to call her and I know we'll get the first good night's sleep we've had in months."
Gentry: Are women sportswriters fully accepted now or do you think they're still going to have to prove themselves?
Garber: I think they're always going to have to prove themselves. I think that men still don't fully accept women sportswriters. Now, they accept individuals. I think once you learn, once you prove yourself, once you get to the point where they like you and they know what you do—they accept individuals. But I think that it's a long, long way from acceptance. I remember this girl named Susan Fornoff who covered the Oakland Athletics. And one of the players sent her a white rat.
Gentry: A live white rat?
Garber: A live white rat all wrapped up in a box with a ribbon on it and everything else like that. And she handled it real well. She didn't scream or faint or cry or do any of the things that he had hoped she would do. And before she could do anything to protest about it or do anything, the guys who were on the Oakland beat surrounded her and they told that guy in no uncertain terms that he had better not ever do that, they'd protest it to the Oakland management. She said it was just marvelous that the guys rallied around her and they were as offended about it as she was. And she said, "I didn't have to fight the battle, they fought it for me." I think that's a great thing and I think you can do that once an individual proves herself.
Helen Ross who works for the Greensboro Daily News has paid her dues and men thoroughly and completely accept her. But the problem is that we are still in the situation whereas if a man makes a mistake, it's an individual man whereas if a woman makes a mistake, isn't that just like a woman. And I think that women are still going to have to work harder than men.
Gentry: One woman making a mistake ruins the group?
Garber: Women are always going to have to prove themselves.
Gentry: Disappointing. You probably think that you had some real advantages coming into the business when you did in the 1940s, then. It's even rougher now in some ways.
Garber: I think it is. I think it's a lot rougher for women breaking in now because there's so many more of you, things are a lot more structured. When I started out, I'd go to a press conference and I'd be the only woman in twenty-five or thirty men. So the new coach or whoever was holding the press conference would spot me right away and they'd ask, "What are you doing there?" So it was a whole lot easier for me to get known.
And another thing, when I covered sports, the rules were definite. I knew I couldn't go into the dressing room, there wasn't any question about it, so I knew I had to work around it. But now even though women are supposed to have equal access and a lot of progress has been made, you still sometimes run into the problem if you go down to the dressing room and some yahoo says, "We don't allow women in the dressing room." And then you've got to make adjustments that you didn't realize you were going to have to make. And it's a whole lot harder to do it at the spur of the moment than to know when you went down there that you had to make the adjustments. When everybody was barred and you knew you couldn't go in and you were the only one there. Sports information directors and coaches and people were much more likely to help you. Now they're much more likely to say, "Well, you want to be a woman sportswriter, that's your problem." It's a whole lot harder.
Gentry: So the role of the woman sportswriter has really changed quite a bit in those years.
Garber: Yes, I think it has. As I say, there are some really good ones. I think a lot of them have earned acceptance. But it's still a rocky road and I think it's going to be a rocky road and it's going to be a long time before there is really equality all the way. And maybe it will never be, I don't know.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: We've talked about women in sports. What advice would you have to young women sportswriters starting out?
Garber: I remember when I was getting ready to go into newspaper work and well-meaning adults would always get me to meet with people who were in the newspaper business and have them give me advice and I always listened very politely and it went in one ear and out the other. And I'm sure anything I'm going to say now is going to go in one ear and out the other with young people listening to this tape. hat I have to say applies to women, of course, but if there happen to be any men sneaking in and listening to this, it applies to them just as much.
First of all, obviously you have to have a good education. And the debate with any person who goes into newspaper work is should I go to a strict liberal arts college or should I go to a journalism school. I've heard that debated over the years and I've debated it with myself. I went to a liberal arts college, never went to journalism school. I think it's really a matter of personal opinion, whatever you want to do. If you do go to a liberal arts college, you need to get as broad an education as possible. Even if you go into sportswriting, you need to have knowledge of a great many subjects and possibly it might be a good idea to major in something like sports management or something to that event if you are definitely going into sportswriting. But I would suggest that you don't paint yourself into a corner like that because you might decide at the last minute you don't want to go into sports.
Journalism school, of course, can give you a good background in practical journalism and how to write and how to make up pages and all the other things that you get in a journalism school. And it's a very good thing to have. The thing that you have to remember, though, is that when you go to work, you are going to have to follow whatever trends or whatever regulations or whatever ways that your particular paper covers what they're doing. And it may not be the same way that you were taught in journalism school. There's nothing that makes an editor madder than for you to come in and say, "Well, that's not the way we did it at such-and-such journalism school." If you want to lose your job in a hurry, that's a good way to do it.
And it's never too early to start if you are interested in newspaper work. You can start when you're in grammar school, as far as that goes, if anyone that young is listening to this. And you can certainly start in high school. One of the things that I suggest young writers doing, particularly if they go into sports, is to pretend you're covering the game. Go to it and watch it or listen to it on television or radio and keep a play-by-play. Then sit down when the game's over and write your story just as if you're a newspaper reporter at the game. Then compare your story with the story that is in your local paper or in the various local papers. Go to the library and see how different writers cover the same game. Do they all emphasize the same thing, do they all pick out the same highlight, how do they handle the play-by-play, how do they handle the highlights of the game? And just judge for yourself which story you found the most readable. It will help you a whole lot in learning how to write.
Gentry: Have you ever taught? You know, you'd be a good teacher, having listened to you.
Garber: No. No, I have never taught. That's one thing I don't want to do. Another thing, in both high school and college, work on your student newspaper. That's very good experience. And if your local newspaper will let high school students work, take a job with them. Go ahead and take what little pay they will
give you. Answer the phone or do anything you can to be around the atmosphere of the newspaper because then you can get a better feel whether you like it. In college, of course, work on your college newspaper. If your school has a sports information office, which most of them do, see if you can get on there. You'll learn how to keep statistics, you'll learn how to write stories, you'll learn how to handle a variety of things. It's very good experience.
Or you can be what they call a stringer for a local newspaper. That is, your responsibility is to cover things on your campus and send them in to the local newspaper. During the summer try to get a job somewhere on a newspaper. And wherever you go, don't just let them take your stuff. Ask them for criticism. If they leave something out, ask them why and ask them to help you. Try to get as much criticism and critique of your work as you possibly can. Once you get out of school, it's going to be tough to get a job. There are ten times more people—maybe that's an exaggeration but a whole lot more people trying to get newspaper jobs than there are newspaper jobs available.
So don't be too careful—don't be too critical in what you want, don't say I've got to have a certain kind of newspaper and I've got to have a certain kind of job and I've got to get a certain amount of pay. Get your foot in the door anywhere you can get it in because it's a whole lot easier to get a job if you have one than if you're knocking on the door and you don't have one.
Be willing to pay your dues. You're not going to start out covering the World Series and going to the Olympics and covering all the big events. You've got to be willing to begin with the less glamorous events and do a good job on those. If you can do a good job of covering a Little League baseball tournament or if you can do a good job on a high school cross-country meet or something that most people consider unglamorous, then you're going to get a chance to do other things. You can make yourself very valuable to the newspaper by being able to do a lot of different things. Some writers are very good at baseball, for example, but they're lost when they get in cross-country or track or swimming or football or something else. So be able to do a whole lot of different things and it will help you.
If you like make-up, if you like to lay out pages and decide where stories go and write headlines and read copy and you can do it well, I guarantee that you can get a job at any place, any time you want, and you can pretty well write your own ticket. Desk men are really, really hard to get because most people want to go to the games. And if you can do sports desk work well, you really have a future.
And never stop learning. Take time to read other papers, to look at what other people are doing and see what you can learn from them. There's always something new to learn as all of sports are constantly changing. And you keep up with them.
And don't be a clubhouse lawyer. If you're on a staff, there's always somebody there who's griping about everything. Don't get yourself involved with them. If you've got a complaint, go to whoever you've got the complaint with and sit down and talk about it. One of the first things you're probably going to run into is when a desk man takes one of your lovely stories that you have worked so hard on and changes the very catchy lead that you wrote, that you thought was so good and makes it a whole lot worse in your opinion, and then chops about twenty inches off the story. And you're going to get upset. But don't gripe and bitch around the office about it. Sit down with the guy and ask him why he had to make the changes and why he thought what he did was better than what you did. And even if you don't agree with him, listen, because you just might learn. If you have trouble with your boss, do the same thing. Make an appointment and sit down and talk to him. And talk out your problems. Tell him how you feel and why you feel the way you do.
And don't be a clock watcher. Sports take a lot of time. If you're not willing to put that time in, if you're not willing to work weekends, if you're not willing to be up late at night and come in early the next morning, you're in the wrong business, babe, and you'd better do something else.
Also, be willing to pitch in and work overtime and do extra things and give up something you might want to do when a big story breaks because when a big story is breaking, a sports department needs every hand it can get. And anybody that can help needs to be there.
If you're a woman and you're working in the sports department, don't look for discrimination. You can find it so you don't need to look for it. Your biggest asset is a sense of humor. Yes, the guys are going to tell stories around you that may embarrass you. Yes, they're going to tease you. Yes, they're going to pick on you. But you laugh at them and show them that you can take anything they can dish out, you're going to get along. If you're a man, you have to do the same sort of thing. You have to ride with the waves and realize that because you're new there, you're going to get kidded around and you're going to get some bad breaks. But don't let them get you down. As I said before, the sense of humor will pull you through a whole lot of times.
Be professional in everything you do: In your writing, in your conduct and the way you talk with people or the way your approach them. Accuracy is your most important asset. You can write the best story in the world but if it's wrong, it's not going to do any good. Don't be careless in your grammar and punctuation and your choice of words. You use a word incorrectly and you look like an idiot. Never, never quote anything, even "Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do" without going to look it up, because you may think that's the way the quote was and you're wrong. I guarantee if you run it wrong, you're going to get forty calls the next day correcting it for you.
Your integrity is your most important asset. You must be a person that people can trust. And if you're not, you're just not going to last in the newspaper business.
Be able to admit you're wrong if you are and don't make a lot of excuses. Yes, you're going to make mistakes. Yes, you're going to screw up. Yes, you're going to get beaten on a story. But you just have to realize that this is part of the game. Learn from your mistakes. Accept criticism even if it's unfair. If your situation is intolerant, if you get on a paper, you don't approve of the way they do things, you don't like anything about them, then go look for another job but don't stab your paper in the back. Don't criticize it. Just get out of there. That's the best thing to do.
Gentry: This is the voice of experience speaking—
Garber: Indeed it is.
Gentry:—from fifty years of working on a newspaper. We've talked a lot about your positive writing over the years and your positive approach to a story but there's a downside of sports, a dark side—drugs, scandals. Have you ever covered anything like that?
Garber: Yes, there is a dark side of sports. And it's a side that right now in 1990 is getting a whole lot darker than it used to be. One of the biggest problems is gambling. Now, I know that probably everybody that's listening to me—and maybe everybody in the whole world—has gambled at some time. There are office pools and you and I bet on a game. And I really don't see anything that is all that bad about things like that. Gambling is illegal in most states in the United States but it hasn't stopped it, it is still going on. There are bookie sheets for college games, there are bookie sheets for pro games, I've even seen bookie sheets for high school games. And once you get into big-time gambling, the next step is point-shaving. I've covered a couple of point-shaving scandals and I am—
Gentry: Explain point-shaving.
Garber: Point-shaving is—if I'm a gambler and I come to you and I say, "Diane, you're playing for Podunk University and Podunk is supposed to beat Sucker City by twenty points. And I'm not asking you to lose the
game, all I'm asking you to do is to see to it that Podunk wins by less than that. So you just miss a few baskets and you throw the ball away a couple of times and I'll give you a thousand dollars."
Well, to a kid who doesn't have any money at all, a thousand dollars is a lot of money. Sometimes it's more than that, sometimes it's less. What the player does is to see to it that the team wins by a smaller margin than the bookie sheet has it. And it's very hard to detect because who am I to say that you didn't just miss those shots or who am I to say that it just wasn't a bad day for you? It's very, very hard to detect.
Gentry: And it's likely very common.
Garber: And it makes the bookie sure to win. I remember several years, North Carolina State was involved in one. And I went down to North Carolina State. For obvious reasons, I couldn't talk to the players who were involved because they had been arrested and they were afraid to talk to anybody because of legal advice. But I did talk to Everett Case who was the coach of the team. And he was just crushed by it. I asked him if during the season he had had any inkling that there was anything wrong and he said yes, he did. And that he had called in both the FBI and the state bureau of investigation to talk with the players. He had talked with agents from both groups, trying to find out what was going on and who were the ones that were involved. And I asked him if he had suspected certain players and he said yes. And I asked was he right, and he said he was right in some and wrong in others. I think there were three or four players who were arrested for this.
And one of the interesting things about it was that the contact for it was a reserve player on the team whose father was an executive secretary in a Tennessee YMCA. And I did get a chance to talk to his father. And the father was just crushed. And as he said, he had spent his whole life working with young people and trying to straighten them out and while he was so busy with other young people, his son had gotten into all this trouble. It was a really very, very sad situation.
Gentry: Well, how did you end up covering that story?
Garber: Well, all I did was just do that one story that day and then it went over to someone else, I didn't cover it all the way through. But we had another situation in baseball. When the Cardinals had a farm club here, a man came into the sports department one morning and said that the game the Cardinals had won the night before had been fixed. The Cardinals had been playing Reidsville. And the manager of the team was a man named Barney DeForge. And he said that Barney DeForge had thrown the game. Barney DeForge had gone in to pitch—and I have forgotten, anyway, it was late in the game when Reidsville was winning and Winston-Salem was starting to make a comeback. It was a logical move—the manager was a pitcher and it was a logical move for him to come in. But instead of being able to get the Winston-Salem players out, Barney was wilder than the pitchers that had been in there and he walked a lot of players and gave up some hits and Reidsville lost the game and Winston-Salem won. I was there and I didn't see anything wrong, it happens all the time, a pitcher can't get the ball over the plate and the hitters hit it.
But the man was right and Barney had been approached by gamblers and he had agreed to throw the game and he had done it. And one of the sad things about it was that the police officer who was assigned to the case was a very good friend of Barney's and they had been together in the service and played ball together in the service and the officer said it was one of the hardest things he had to do, go arrest a friend for something like that. But Barney was brought to trial and he was, of course, thrown out of baseball forever. And the man who Barney said was the one who had approached him of course denied it and it couldn't be proved in court. They had to dismiss the case. But there was never any question in my mind that Barney was telling the truth. That was a very sad situation, too.
Another big problem is drugs. A lot of people don't consider steroids a drug. And I had a trainer of a college tell me that even though they did everything to keep their athletes from taking steroids that kids would come to them from high school and their parents would put them on steroids so that they would be built up and
strong enough to get college scholarships. And the man said parents don't realize what they're doing to these kids. They're just killing them and it's a really, really dangerous thing.
One of the things about drugs is that it's so easy to get on them and it's so hard to get off. Carl Eller whom I knew very well got involved with drugs. When he had straightened himself out, he went on the road talking about drugs and the dangers of them. And I asked him—because he was a fine—he is a fine man, I asked him how he ever got involved. He said he just tried it one time and he just couldn't feel any effect. He felt that he could stop any time he wanted. And then he realized after he had gotten involved that he couldn't stop. And he didn't know where to turn, he didn't know what to do. He was spending all his money getting drugs. And I asked him, "Why didn't you go to some of your friends on the team and tell them what had happened and ask for their help?" He said, "You don't do that because you're so ashamed that you've been such a fool and gotten yourself in such a mess that you don't do it." He came down and talked to the Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State teams. They said he was really, really good at what he had to say because he'd been through it and he knew what it was like. And when you consider the number of really fine people—John Lucas is one, David Thompson is one,—who have gotten into drugs, it's scary. Most of them have been strong enough to get out. But it's really a really dangerous thing.
Gentry: Have you ever written about that?
Garber: Oh, yes, we've written a great deal about it. We wrote a story about the ACC players and the NBA. I called them and talked to them and one of the players I talked to said, "No, I'm never going to get involved with drugs because, I've got a good education and when everybody else is out running around, I go back to my room at night and read." And a year later he was on drugs. So it's an insidious thing.
Another thing is kiddie sports. When I say kiddie sports, I mean the involvement of eight, nine, ten—very young children in highly competitive sports. I remember one time I covered a tennis tournament. There was a little girl ten years old—by the way, her name was Diane. She was playing in the finals and she was losing and she started to cry. And, of course, the poor little girl playing on the other side didn't know what in the world to do. She kept looking at her, not knowing what to do. And finally Diane's father came to the side of the court and said, "Diane, do you want to stop?" And she sniffled and said, "No." And so he said, "Well, stop being so stupid, then."
So she finished the match and she lost and she shook the other little girl's hand. And then she sat down by the side of the court and just burst into tears and sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Neither her mother nor her father, who were both there, made any move toward her. I just couldn't stand seeing it—she was just a little girl. So sad. So I went over and sat down beside her and I put my arm around her and I said, "Diane, everybody loses." And she looked at me and she said, "But Daddy said that if I lost this match, I could never play in another tournament again." I said, "Oh, come on, Diane, Daddy was just kidding." And she looked at me and she said, "No-o-o, he wasn't." So after she stopped crying and went off, I spoke to her father. I told him what Diane had said. And he said, "She's absolutely right." He said, "I'm going to take her out of tennis. She's not mentally tough." And I ask you, how can anybody at ten years old be mentally tough?
And then there was the little boy who lost in the boys' twelves and sat on the sidelines and cried and cried. And his parents didn't pay any attention to him. I went to him. He said, "I'm no good. I might just as well give up. I can't do anything right." Well, now, it's terrible for a child to have a self-image like that. And when sports do that to a child, there's something very, very wrong that their parents are doing.
And then there was a Wake Forest student who came out for the tennis team—I think he was about a junior when he came out. And he sort of lackadaisically played. I talked with him. He said he played as a junior, as a child growing up. "They put me through so much when I was ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, that as soon as I got old enough to express myself, I vowed I'd never play tennis again." And he didn't come back for about five or six years. I hope he's playing now.
I remember I talked to a parent one time who had her kid at the twelves, clay courts, and she was telling me the rigorous schedule the child went through. He got up in the morning before school and went to tennis practice and he went to school and studied all day and as soon as school was out, he practiced until eight o'clock at night and then he did his homework and went to bed. He did this five days a week during school and then he worked on tennis all day Saturday and all day Sunday. I said, "Isn't this too much? When does he have a chance to be a normal little boy?" She said, "He's a normal little boy all the time. Of course, when the other kids go to Disney World, he can never go." How can you be normal if you don't go to Disney World when all the other kids are going?
But the flip side of that, there are a lot of good things about competitive sports for kids. I remember one little boy who came here to play in the USA Boys 12 clay courts. And when the kids came in, I didn't know one from another so what I would do on Saturday before the tournament came on Sunday would be go out to Hanes Park where the tournament was held and just pick up a kid. I just did it absolutely blind. I didn't care who he was or where he came from or anything about it.
I went out there this afternoon and the little boy and his coach were practicing. When they started to change courts, I stopped them and I said, "When you get through practicing, I would like to talk to the young man." And the coach said, "Well, we're hot and tired right now, we were just getting ready to go in and get a cold drink. We can talk then." So the three of us went into the tennis shop and they got cokes and we sat down and talked. The little boy's name was Tyler Jay and he was from Texas. And he had won some tournament so he got into the national championship. And I said, "Tyler, tell me something about yourself. What do you think your chances are?" And Tyler laughed and he said, "They're poor—none!" And he was absolutely right. But he said, "I'm so excited about being in a national tournament because I never thought I'd get a chance to play in a national tournament. I've never been to North Carolina before, never even been to the East Coast before."
So Tyler had a very accurate estimate of his abilities, he lost on the first round of singles, and then he played in the consolations and he lost in the first round of consolations and he played in the doubles and he lost in the first round of doubles. But instead of going home, as a lot of kids do when that happens to them, Tyler and his coach spent the whole week here in Winston-Salem. They came out and watched the matches and they went to the picnic at Tanglewood. They played golf, went to the movies, went to Old Salem—they just had an absolutely marvelous time.
And the last day of the tournament, Tyler and his coach came over to say goodbye to me and they asked me if I'd have my picture taken with them. And Tyler was just as radiant then as he was when he came. He said, "This has been the greatest week of my life. I will never forget it. I have had such a good time." I would guess that Tyler will play tennis all his life. He will always enjoy it, he'll always have fun. And I'm afraid that Diane will never play tennis and never have the joys of playing a sport that is a lot of fun.
I think one of the problems is that everything now, even when you start playing baseball in Little League and Little League Pop Warner Football, everything is based on what I'm going to get out of it. I'm going to be a pro star, I'm going to get a college scholarship, there's going to be a pay-back for this. And I think this is one of the big problems. College scholarships are fine, they've given kids an opportunity to go to school who couldn't have gone before. But it's not the end of the world and you've got to realize that sports are supposed to be fun. And if you don't enjoy them, it's sad. That's the whole purpose of playing, whether you're playing football or basketball or baseball or whatever it is. If it's not fun, don't do it.
I remember a college football player who quit the Wake Forest team when—I think he was a junior. And they asked him why. He said, "Because football isn't fun any more." They gave him a terrible time. I went out to talk to him. He said, "Please don't give me any more of a hard time, I've had all I can take." And I said, "David, I'm not going to give you any more of a hard time because I agree with you wholeheartedly. You are absolutely right. If football isn't fun, don't play it." And he looked at me and he said, "I do wish
you'd go talk to my parents." And he said, "All the other players and the coaches have given me such a horrible time. I wish somebody would say, sports are supposed to be fun." I said, "Well, I'm sure saying it."
Gentry: Did you write about Tyler and Diane?
Gentry: As examples?
Garber: Yes. And then another big problems is with all the emphasis on winning, colleges are recruiting kids who are not academically qualified. And this just isn't right. Now, I know that some of the coaches, John Thompson for one, have been very much opposed to this Proposition 48 which forces a college to sign athletes who have at least made seven hundred on the college boards and have got a "C" average in a core curriculum. Now, when you get four hundred for writing your name on the sheet and showing up at the test, seven hundred really isn't all that much. And these kids who are competing in athletics are competing against students who are not doing anything but studying. And they spend about forty hours a week on football or basketball or whatever their sport is. So they have got to be academically qualified to do it. And it's just not fair to throw a kid into an academic situation where he's in over his head. But it's being done. I remember one young man who I knew here in town, his name was Willie. Willie signed a basketball scholarship and he played four years but he didn't finish his college work. And there was no way for him to go to school and get his degree. It took him seven years. He worked and he finally graduated from Winston-Salem State. And it seems to me there should be some means whereby a young person who doesn't finish his work would have access to some sort of funds where he could maybe work or borrow the money or something that he could finish his education.
Now, I realize that college board tests are not really fair because with a lot of youngsters from poorer backgrounds, the tests really aren't an accurate measure of their intelligence. We had a young man here named Herman. At the time he graduated from Atkins High School, the Atlantic Coast Conference had a rule that a college athlete who's on scholarship had to make eight hundred on the college board. And of course, there's considerable difference between eight hundred and seven hundred. And Herman took the test over and over again and he missed it—I think finally he missed it by four points. But there was no question that he was a very intelligent young man. He was a very good student, a good academic risk. The school admissions board was more than willing to accept him as a student. But he couldn't have a scholarship.
It had been arranged in advance, when there was some question that he would get into the school, that he would go to Purdue if he couldn't qualify for the ACC school. So he went to Purdue. He played four years of basketball there. He majored in psychology. He graduated in four years with a "B" average. He had the highest academic average of any of the athletes at Purdue. So he wasn't stupid. And he went on and played professional basketball and is doing very, very well now.
And then some kids are not motivated. There's a kid named Charlie. Charlie was just as smart and sharp as he could be, an excellent basketball player. But school was totally and completely not his main interest. The basketball coach got in touch with one of the deans and said, "Let's put Charlie on academic probation. Then if he doesn't go to class, he can't play basketball." So they put Charlie on academic probation. Charlie got out of bed and he went to class. And in about three or four weeks, the dean called the coach back and said, "We can't do this because Charlie's going to make the dean's list this semester." So they took Charlie off academic probation and Charlie went back to bed. He was in trouble again. He played four years there and he never graduated.
Charlie played professional basketball for a while and then he came back here and went to work. He married and had two little girls. And I saw him one day and I said, "How about your little girls, do they play basketball?"
And he looked at me and he said, "My two girls have got good sense." He said, "They're excellent students and they're not going to waste their time doing nothing but concentrating on athletics." Charlie got a job at the college and they arranged for him to go back to school and he graduated this spring and got his degree. I think it was something like thirteen years after he had finished his career. And when he got his degree, the president was shaking hands with every senior who got his degree and when Charlie came up, the faculty on the platform stood up and applauded and the president gave him a big hug. And we wrote a big story about that in the newspaper.
And I think one of the cruelest myths of all is so many kids think that well, if I concentrate on sports, then I'm going to be a professional athlete and I'm going to make a whole lot of money. I covered high school sports here in Winston-Salem for twenty-five or thirty years and I would guess during that time it would be a fair estimate that I dealt with about a thousand students a year. So you're talking about twenty-five to thirty thousand students that I dealt with in the years I covered high school sports here. And of those twenty-five or thirty thousand students, I think they're twelve who ever made it professionally in football, basketball, baseball, tennis, any sport at all. Now, I don't believe there are very many people who would give away odds like that. They're just astronomical.
And I think another thing that is bad is the tremendous emphasis on winning where winning has such a big pay-off, with bowl games. Now, the NCAA just this year in 1990 is setting up a new means of distributing the monies from the basketball tournament. It used to be that the more you won, the more money you got. And now it's based more on your participation and your basketball history, how you've done in the past and how many sports you offer and how many students are involved. It's a much better way of doing it. I think it's going to help a whole lot. We've got an awful lot of problems still. And I just hope by the time people are listening to this tape that at least some of them will have been solved.
Gentry: In the 1970s, as we spoke before, it suddenly got hot to hire women in sportswriting and so you had a tremendous amount of national publicity when all the networks found you and found you were doing sportswriting since the forties. So you were on the "Today" show and on "Good Morning, America," and CBS, and written about in Time, Newsweek, Parade, USA Today. How did you feel about all that national attention when you'd been working quietly all those years? And can you tell me some stories around that?
Garber: I don't know. When it first started, it was real exciting. I remember the "Today" show was the first one and I was real excited when they called because I just couldn't envision myself doing anything like that. The only problem I had with the "Today" show was that I went up during the Christmas holiday and you don't get the real VIP treatment when you go during the Christmas holidays. When I went with "Good Morning, America," I've never been such a celebrity, it was really marvelous. Of course, they pay everything. And they flew me up there. When I heard they were going to land me in Newark, I started to dig my heels in. And they said, "Oh, but we'll have a limousine and driver meet you." So, you know, that was fine.
And I got off the plane and here was a guy standing holding up a sign, "Mary Garber." And so I went over and introduced myself. I had a little overnight bag because you just spend one night. He took that out of my hand and then he took off across the Newark airport. And I couldn't keep up with him, he went so fast. I was running behind him. But he drove me into town and let me out right in front of the hotel. And the next morning he met me at the hotel in time to take me over to the studio.
And after we were on the program, Mary Flanagan, who was from the New York Daily News, was on it with me. And when we got ready to leave, I asked the director of the show could we go out and eat breakfast and she said, "Oh, by all means!" So we went back to the hotel and had breakfast together and talked about women in sports and all the mutual problems we had and everything. We had a perfectly great time and sent the bill to "Good Morning, America."
But it was real interesting how they did it because you'd go there, then they'd take you up to the make-up person and they'd make you up and try to make your hair look like it was fairly decent and try to make you look like you didn't look like a fright or something like that.
Gentry: Did you have to take off your jogging shoes?
Garber: Oh, goodness, yes. Neely carefully supervised what I wore when I went up there. There was no jogging suit and there were no sneakers. I had to be very careful in what I did. But it was amazing the number of people who watch those things. Gosh, I got letters from all over the country from people. And CBS came down here and spent three days. And they came out here to the house where we're talking now and rearranged the furniture and Dismas—who's asleep on the floor now and I'll poke her if she snores—was just a puppy then. I'd just gotten her. And she came in. She loves everybody in the world, and has always loved everybody in the world. The CBS people were absolutely enchanted with her and they left me sitting in here while they took Dismas outside. And every one of them, the photographers, the interviewers, the editor, everybody had their pictures taken with Dismas.
Gentry: Dismas is named after the patron saint of sports.
Garber: Yes, Dismas is named after the good thief who was crucified with Christ and he's the patron saint of sports. That's the reason for her name. And I can't explain why when she's a female, she's got a male's name, but I guess most people don't know what Dismas is, anyhow.
Then one of the things they wanted to do was follow me around on a typical workday. And what I had to do when they came was to talk to a Wake Forest player. They were sort of interested in that but they said, "Aren't you going to do something more glamorous than that?" Jesse Owens happened to be in town at the time. So I called Wake Forest and asked them if I could work out an interview with Jesse Owens. And they said, "Well, Mr. Owens was going to be here only a very short time and he was tired and he didn't want to grant any interviews." So I explained the situation to the man—and he sort of owed me one because I'd done something for him several months ago. And he said, "Well, let me see what I can do." And he called back in about thirty minutes. I think the real magic of it all was he mentioned those very nice call letters, C - B - S. And I think that had a great deal to do with Jesse Owens agreeing to let me interview him. He was staying at one of the motels and it was all set up. I was to walk down the aisle and knock on his door and then he was to fling open the door and welcome me. And it was hilarious because he didn't know me and I didn't know him and we fell on each other's necks like we'd known each other for a million years. We went through the interview and everything went just fine. But half way through the interview, he got a coughing spell and so he waved for the photographers, to stop the cameras. He went and got a drink of water and he was all right. And we didn't think too much about it at the time but of course as you know, he died of lung cancer just a few months after that. So I think that probably was the big problem.
But after the interview was over and we were standing around talking, he said to me, "Miss Garber, you're a very rich lady." Well, I had told the man at Wake Forest to, you know, really lay it on about how good I was, trying to get him to do it. But I didn't think that he should lie about my financial situation and make me a millionaire to influence Jesse Owens. And so I said that I really wasn't rich. And he said, "Yes, you are." He said, "You're rich because you're doing something you love and you've earned the love and respect of so many people." And I thought it was a very nice touch for someone who really didn't know me at all to say something like that.
When CBS was here, one of the other things I had to do was to cover a Wake Forest-Carolina basketball game. And I knew that they were going to want to go in the dressing room and at that time women were not allowed in the dressing room. And I just didn't want Carolina to be embarrassed. They were good to me and Rick Brewer, who was the sports information direction, was always so nice about fishing players out of
the dressing room for me. And Dean Smith was always helpful and the Carolina players were always nice to me. So I just didn't want anything bad to happen.
So I called Rick and told him that they were coming. And I said, "Would it be possible for me to get into the dressing room this one time?" He said, "Don't worry about it, we'll arrange it." CBS, again! So we went down to the dressing room and I went in with the cameras going after me and talked to the players and everybody acted like this was something that went on all the time. But it worked out real well.
And one of the funny things about it was when I was being interviewed I told them about how I was always running into high school kids whom I had written about and they would stop and want to talk about their high school game that had occurred many, many years before. They looked sort of skeptical. And when we went out to eat and we walked into the restaurant this young man came up who I don't ever remember seeing before and started talking about a high school basketball game that he'd played and I'd written about some ten or fifteen years before. And I looked around and all those CBS people were standing there sort of shocked—well, I guess it really did happen!
You can't imagine what it's like to be wired all the time. I was sitting at the basketball game and all of the sudden I felt this man's hand in my pocket. And it was one of the engineers straightening up the microphone wire. Evidently it had gotten twisted or something else like that.
The national publicity, of course, was nice to have but you just felt "Why are they doing this to me?" And it got to that point. I think the reason I went through it—I know the reason I went through it was because I felt that it was good public relations for my newspaper and that's very important to me.
Gentry: This was a flurry of publicity in the '70s. These things were pretty close together, weren't they?
Garber: Yes. They came all on top of each other. And most of the guys in the office were real nice about it and they'd tease me and say, "Well, how many people have called you today," and all that kind. But there were a couple of them who just couldn't understand it and one of them said to me one day, "The only reason you're getting all this publicity is because you've been in it a long time." I said, "That's right, that's the only reason." And he never bothered me again after that.
Gentry: Just jealous, huh?
Garber: I don't know what it was. I'd try to think about it from how I'd feel if I were in a reverse situation. And I just don't think I would have had any resentment toward somebody that got that kind of recognition because I'd understand why.
Gentry: Well, a lot of people helped you through your career. With all that national publicity, did you sort of become a mentor for a lot of other women? Did you get a lot of correspondence?
Garber: Yes, I heard from a lot of people I hadn't heard from in a long time—friends from school and friends from camp and all of that was very nice. And of course, I heard from old sports friends, baseball and football and basketball, people like that. That was one of the real plus sides of it. Then I did get letters from young people who were interested in going into journalism. And whenever I get anything like that, I'm always very careful to answer it because I would want them to do that for me. I'm always going to do that for them.
Garber: Are there any women sportswriters whose work you particularly admire?
Garber: Oh, there are a lot of good ones. I don't think I could pick out any one particular one. I think that the level of women's sportswriting now is really, really excellent. And there are so very many good ones, if I started listing them, I'd leave somebody out and that wouldn't be right.
Gentry: Back to CBS for a minute. When they came here and filmed you for three days, did you ever get to see that and how did it run?
Garber: No, I didn't. I never got to see it. We asked them when it was going to run and they said that they wouldn't know until the day it was used and that they would call us, I think it was 5:30 in the morning or something like that. Now I don't have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and I can't think of any reason to get up at 5:30, certainly not to look at Mary Garber. And so we told them, forget it. What my sister and I did was to look at the CBS Morning News every day and hope maybe we'dpick it up. And then one day, we got in a telephone conversation with one of our friends and we forgot to watch. And of course, that was the day it was on. So we didn't see it. My brother-in-law who lives in Denver called that morning and said that he'd seen it. And I said, "How was it?" And he said, "Oh, it was okay but I thought it would never be over." That's the only comment I ever got on it.
Gentry: Not a very nice comment.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: What is the story in your career you really are most proud of and why?
Garber: Well, I think the story I'm most proud of was the story I did on Everett Case, who was the North Carolina State basketball coach. And after he died, they established an Everett Case award which goes to the most outstanding player in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament each year. And after it had been given several years it occurred to me that some of the kids that were getting it didn't have any idea who Everett Case was—I mean I think they knew he was the coach at State but they didn't know anything about him.
And he was a man who had been very, very kind to me and we had been close friends. So I wrote a reminiscence of him. And I really put my heart and soul into the story. One of the things that I won on it was the state press writing contest. And I remember the comment that the judge made that this was a good story. And he said about half-way through this story, the writer stopped writing with her head and started writing with her heart. And I thought that was a very, very good comment. That story won the state sportswriting contest and it also won the basketball writers feature contest, which was a national contest. It's nice to win a national contest.
Gentry: And he had died by that time?
Garber: Oh, he'd been dead several years by then. Then I won first place in the college baseball writers, college baseball coaches feature writing contest. That was when I was still on the Sentinel, back in the fifties, I think. I was just really getting started. And that was an important one to me. And then one year the state sportswriting contest was based on overall performance—you have to submit three different stories. And I won second place in that. My boss won first so you know that wouldn't have been fitting, for me to win and beat him. But I was pleased at that because I felt that that was a much better way to judge sportswriting than to just base it on one story. And I won a couple of seconds and thirds in sportswriting and I've won women's contests—but I really don't keep up with all that. And I've been the tennis writer of the year in North Carolina at least three times.
And one of the most interesting ones I ever won was the baseball writer of the year which was kind of funny because I hadn't written baseball in a couple of years and I won it. When I came back home with the award, Chuck Mills, who was football coach at Wake Forest at the time said that what I ought to do was to get out of sportswriting altogether and I might win the Pulitzer Prize for sportswriting.
Gentry: How did you happen to win it, when you hadn't written about it?
Garber: I don't know. Then there's another one that meant a lot to me, the Associated Press sports editors give the Red Smith award for the most outstanding sportswriter in the country. I did not win it but I was nominated one year. And that meant a lot to me.
And I think I've told you that the local Sportsman's Club has made me sportswriter of the year not once but several times. I'm a charter member of the Winston-Salem-Forsyth County high school sports hall of fame which the Sportsmen sponsor. And Carl Eller and Happy Hairston and I were inducted at the same time. And being on the board of directors and president of the Atlantic Coast Sportwriters of course meant a great deal since I hadn't been in before.
Gentry: You were barred from it originally—
Garber: Right. For several years they had an Atlantic Coast Conference men's athlete of the year and then when women started competing, they opened it up to women, too. And Julie Shea of State won it one year. But then they decided year before last that they ought to have one just for women and they named it after me. That really did mean a whole lot because it was an indication that they really accepted me. It meant a whole lot.
I've been on the board of directors of the Football Writers Association twice. Remember, I was originally barred from that. And I was on the All-American nomination committee for the Southern Conference—that was for football. And then another year, I ranked small college football teams for the Associated Press. I enjoyed both of those, they were really nice. I've had quite a number of things named after me and gotten awards from organizations. The CIAA which is an organization of black schools.
Gentry: What does that mean?
Garber: Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They call themselves fourteen of the finest and indeed they are. They are small black schools and they are really lovely, lovely people. They have been very, very good to me and I really enjoyed my relationship with them. And they invited me up to their basketball tournament and gave me an award right before I retired for all I had done. It was a very nice thing to do. I really appreciate all that they've done.
Then Appalachian (State University, Boone, N.C.) had a day for me at one of their football games. The only catch to that was that I got sick before it and had the flu and couldn't go. One of the guys on the staff went up there and he came back with the award and all the things that I got. He said that he didn't mind doing that but he said, "When they walked me out on the field and gave me a damned armful of roses, that was the last straw."
Gentry: Did you get them back?
Garber: No, the roses were dead by the time he got back. But they didn't know I couldn't come. It was supposed to be a surprise. Terry was in on it and he had assigned me to cover the Appalachian game. And I wasn't supposed to know anything about it until I got up there and saw the program, "This Is Mary Garber Day."
Gentry: That would have been great!
Garber: It would have been really nice.
Gentry: I bet they were disappointed.
Garber: I was disappointed but in a way, I don't know what I would have done if I'd gotten up there and found it was Mary Garber Day. I probably would have—
Garber: I probably would have blown so high I would never have been able to cover the game. But it was very nice. And the things that are named after you always mean a lot to you because it's something that is a recognition and a tribute. We have a boys basketball award for Frank Spencer. Just several years—I think it's about twelve or thirteen years ago they established a similar one for girl basketball players in West North Carolina high schools. That's named after me. And of course that means a lot because this comes from the people who are very important to me at the Journal.
And Winston-Salem tennis had a sportsmanship award that they gave at the USTA clay courts and that was important to me because I believe that sportsmanship is extremely important. And there are some mighty good kids on that trophy. Of course it had to be stopped when the USTA [United States Tennis Association] stopped national competition for twelve-year-olds which was, I think, a very good move. And so then I was inducted into the tennis hall of fame here last year. When you're inducted, you have to give something, and most of them give trophies that they've won. I've never won a trophy in my life, so I didn't have anything to give. I was just desperate, I didn't know what I was going to give. And Neely suggested that I give them some old dirty notebooks filled with illegible notes. So finally the Winston-Salem tennis said that I could give the USTA award since it couldn't be given any more. So it's in the tennis hall of fame. I thought it was a very good thing to give.
The private high schools here have an organization. And they give an all-sports award to the school that does the best in county all-sports—volleyball and girls basketball and swimming and track and everything counts the same as soccer or any of their big sports. And that's named after me. And I have two tennis tournaments named after me. One is with Dave Lash which is sponsored by the Sportsmen. And having it with him means a whole lot because he's a very old and very dear friend. And then Wake Forest women have a tennis tournament in the fall which is named after me and all the college kids come.
Gentry: With all these awards that you've won and recognition of all kinds, what's the greatest compliment you can remember ever receiving about your work?
Garber: The greatest compliment I ever received I really didn't hear first-hand. I got it second-hand from Mamie Braddy who is a friend of mine. And I was covering the soap-box derby out at Bowman Gray Stadium. I was down on the field talking to some of the kids. And Mamie was up in the stands. And there were two little black boys; she said they looked like they were about ten or eleven years old. And they were up in the stands. And one of them said to the other, "Do you see that lady down on the field there?" And the other kid said, "Yeah." And the first kid said, "That's Miss Mary Garber. And she don't care who you are, if you do something, she'll write about you." And to me that's the greatest compliment that anyone could possibly make for me.
Gentry: That's great. Many times you have referred in these series of tapes about your retirement. You don't look very retired to me. At seventy-four you're working full-time, covering tennis tournaments and press conferences. Would full retirement be depressing to you at this stage?
Garber: It would. I think I'm better prepared for it now than I would have been when I officially retired in 1986. But I hope I never have to really just completely get out because the newspaper's been so much a part of my life and it's meant so much to me. It would be hard for me to think of life without it. I know that maybe sometime it's going to come and I'll have to adjust to it but I hope it won't come any time soon.
Gentry: How was the question of retirement handled?
Garber: Joe Doster handled it for me and he handled it in a very, very kind and very considerate way. At the time, they were changing the tax laws and he pointed out to me that the money I had in the retirement fund might be affected by the changes in the tax law and he suggested that I look into it with a lawyer and see if it wouldn't be advisable for me to take my retirement in 1986 rather than risk running into the tax law changes that might come. And I did check, not only with a lawyer but I checked with my nephew who is an expert on taxes. And they both agreed that that was very, very good advice.
And I also realized that I was slowing down. It was hard for me to do the things that I needed to do as a full-time staff member. And it wasn't fair to ask the guys on the staff to do things because I wasn't able to do them. So we agreed that I would retire officially but Joe Doster offered me an opportunity to stay on. I cover tennis full-time from the 1st of April until the 1st of September. And then in the fall, I cover coaches' conferences and do a column on small-college football and do a column on the college football games that are coming up on a particular Saturday. And then during the winter I do a column on small-college basketball and one on women's basketball. And then I'm there in case they need somebody to fill in and do some kind of stories. I'm going to cover a couple of cross-country meets this fall. I'm sort of an extra pair of hands around there, but I'm not under any obligation to come in when the weather's bad. I'm not under any obligation to come in if I don't feel well. It's a good arrangement for me and I hope it's a good arrangement for them.
Gentry: You're not covering the major basketball and football games any more?
Garber: No, I don't.
Gentry: But you're still working pretty much full time. As a freelancer, is that how it's handled?
Garber: Yes. I am a freelancer. I have a contract with them.
Gentry: Didn't they have a great big retirement party for you?
Garber: Oh, they had a great big retirement party. First the brass had a retirement dinner for me down at the Twin City Club. And Neely made me buy a dress for that. And that caused more of a sensation than anything—
Gentry: One of two dresses you own?
Garber: One of two dresses that I own. Then they had a retirement reception for me in which I went around and solicited people coming and offered them all kinds of prizes if they'd come so I wouldn't be there by myself. But it was really amazing the people that turned out. There was a mob of people there. And television came and covered it. It was a really exciting time. I didn't realize you got presents when you retired. But I did. I got a number of nice gifts.
Gentry: Didn't you get a letter jacket?
Garber: Oh, yes. One of my friends who I went to school with retired from the Richmond papers at the same time that I retired from the Winston-Salem paper. And they gave her a ride around the park in a horse-drawn surrey, and did all kinds of nice things like that. And what my guys gave me was a letterman's jacket. Lenox Rawlings who was our columnist came up to me at the reception. He said, "We've got a present for you. Do you want me to make a big deal of it or just give it to you?" And I said, "Just give it to me." And so he handed me a sack. And in the sack was a Reynolds High School letterman's jacket and there were two letters with it, one was the "R" for Reynolds and the other was the "WS" for Winston-Salem when I went there. And Bocock Stroud called me and wanted to know how I wanted them placed. I made a mistake. What I should have done was put the Winston-Salem on the front and the Reynolds on the back. But I told them it didn't make any difference and they put the Reynolds on the front which means, of course, that I can't wear it
whenever I go to a high school game. But it's in black and gold and it's got my name on it and it's one of my pride and joys. And that's another thing, Neely won't let me wear that certain places, too, when I'm going out, she'll say, "Now you can't wear that letterman's jacket because that looks awful."
Gentry: On a seventy-four-year-old, huh? Is Neely your fashion coordinator?
Garber: Yes, she's my fashion coordinator. She tells me when my clothes don't do as they should. I'm always one of these people that says, "Well, I'm getting ready to go out. Any of your clothes that want to go, come on."
Gentry: When I talked to your publisher, Joe Doster, he said that you were a real living legend in the area and a valuable member of the staff. He said as far as he was concerned, he hoped you'd never retire. If you wanted to die in the newsroom, that was fine with him. There's always been that kind of mutual loyalty and respect with you and the paper, hasn't there?
Garber: Yes, there has. It's been a very important part of my life and I hope I've been a very important part of it. Joe Doster and I have a very interesting relationship. I understand that he's my boss, there's no question about that. He's the man in charge, I have no question about that. But we have a very warm and friendly relationship with each other and he calls me "Girl" and I call him "Boy." And I realize that I get away with a lot with him that a lot of the young people can't do. But he's been very tolerant of me.
And just the other day we were in talking about renewing the contract for this year. Joe Doster said something about retiring and I said, "Don't you retire, 'cause if you retire, then I won't have anybody to look after me." And he said, "Well, if I did, I might make you a living legend and pass you on as a legacy to whoever takes my place." So I hope he does that.
Gentry: I'm sure he will. I'm sure he will. Let's look back on your career of fifty years and just talk in retrospect about some of the things that you've done. Have you pretty much met all your goals that you had as a sportswriter over those years?
Garber: I don't think anybody ever meets all the goals they have in anything they're doing. I know that there are always things that I wish I had done. I can't be specific but I don't think any of us do everything we want to do. But I've done pretty well—I'm certainly happy with what I've done. I'm pleased with what I've done and I just wish I'd done it a little better.
Gentry: As you look back, what were some of the most fulfilling times for you during your career?
Garber: Again, no particularly fulfilling times. I think I've been over the different things I've talked about and the incidents that have happened to me. And all of these are important. All of them have been fun. But it's kind of like when I used to cover high school sports and there'd be a real good class and the kids would graduate and I'd say, "There will never be anybody as nice as those kids." Then another group would come along and those kids would be just as nice as the ones that had gone before.
And sports keep changing and you think, well, gosh, things aren't going to be as they were. They just get better. I think the saddest thing is living in the past. I know I have several elderly friends who are always looking back. They're always saying, "Well, things were so much better. I'm so glad that I worked at a time when things were so good and I've retired now and things are not as good as they used to be." I think that's crazy. The world is getting better every day that it exists. Sure there are problems. People today are just as good as they were when I began. And there're good people everywhere. I never want to look back. I never want to live in the past.
Gentry: That's great. That's a great attitude. Were there any really bad times that you can remember?
Garber: I think the bad times are like the good times. During the times you go through them, you just think that "I'll never survive this," but you do. I'll admit I've shed a few tears and I've been unhappy at times. I've been frustrated; I've been tired. This happens in any profession. I don't think that the newspaper business is any different. I've been disappointed when I didn't get stories assignments I thought I ought to get and that I wanted very much. And for a long time, I told myself that this was because I was a woman. Then one day I was talking with a friend of mine who is a male sportswriter. And I told him about how disappointing it was not to get assignments because I was a woman. And he said, "Well, you've got an advantage over me. When I don't get an assignment, I don't have any excuse." And that helped me a whole lot. I never griped again after that.
But I think the little things annoy you more than anything else. As I've told you before, having your credentials checked when no one else's credentials are checked. And just little things that really aren't important, you know they're not important but they do annoy you. And I think the thing that annoys me more than anything else is that whenever I'm introduced now, people say, "Mary's the one that broke the barrier—went into the men's dressing room." And that just annoys me so much because I didn't go into the dressing room until it was legally cleared and everything was okay. I never went into a dressing room when the guys were dressing and just barged my way in. I never was comfortable when I was in the dressing room.
Gentry: Then they all giggle, I'm sure.
Garber: Then they all giggle, yes. That's supposed to be so funny. It gets a little tiresome after a while.
Gentry: Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
Garber: I don't know. Sometimes I think I would have done better if I'd spent a little less time on the job and developed other interests. But then I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing so why stop doing something you like doing to go do something you don't want to do. So, I guess not.
Gentry: How would you like people to remember you?
Garber: Oh, goodness, I don't know. I think that all the things I've said on this tape pretty well indicate what kind of a person I am. I guess if I had to be remembered, I think the main thing I'd like to have known is that I'm accurate and fair. I'm someone who when a reader reads my story, they can be sure that what I have had to say and what I've put into the article was accurate so far as I could get it, was fair so far as I could do it, and was as complete as it was possible for me to do it. And that I wrote it without any fear or favor or allegiance to any individual or any person or any school or any group. I think that's the most important thing of all.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
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.