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Sportswriting legend, SCNI columnist Furman Bisher dies

Furman Bisher covered every Kentucky Derby since 1950. Every Super Bowl but the first. The inaugural NASCAR race.

In between, his regular columns entertained readers throughout the nation, but especially in the Atlanta area where Bisher called home.

Those loyal readers locally are the ones who will miss Bisher the most. The legendary sports writer died of a massive heart attack Sunday. He was 93.

Bisher began his newspaper career in 1938 at the Lumberton Voice and remained active as a columnist until he passed away, writing two or more columns a week in recent years for Southern Community Newspapers Inc., the parent company of the Gwinnett Daily Post. His latest SCNI column, about Tommy John and his role in the surgery that bears his name, ran this past week.

"Furman was a giant among men," said Mike Gebhart, executive vice president of SCNI. "I just communicated with him Friday and he told me since he wasn't going to have back surgery this week he'd be filing some columns. I am shocked and saddened by this tragic news. I will miss him."

During his long journalism career, Bisher was the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's sports editor, a Sporting News columnist and a frequent contributor to Sports Illustrated and other national magazines. He also authored several books, most notably a biography of Braves legend Hank Aaron, and was named in 1961 by Time magazine as one of the nation's five best columnists.

Bisher also played a part in helping get the Braves to Atlanta, a process he chronicles in his second book, "Miracle in Atlanta," written in 1966.

Born Nov. 4, 1918 in Denton, N.C., Bisher graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and began work in Lumberton. He was hired in 1940 as an editor with the Charlotte News, where he worked for the entire decade except for when he served in the military in World War II.

In 1950, he was named sports editor of the Atlanta Constitution and seven years later joined the Atlanta Journal and the Sunday Journal-Constitution as sports editor and columnist. He retired from the Atlanta paper in 2009 and joined SCNI as a guest columnist early in 2010.

Among the noteworthy accomplishments in journalism was a 1949 interview with "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, who hadn't granted media interviews since 1919, the year he was ousted from baseball in the Black Sox scandal.

An avid golfer and golf fan, Bisher played rounds with legends like Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen and won the PGA Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Awards in 1996. He wrote recently that his basement is an "unofficial history of the PGA Tour in this country," because it houses every PGA media guide dating back to 1947. He kept them to look up facts, the way sports writers did in the days before the Internet.

Bisher's numerous honors include membership in the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame, the International Golf Writers Hall of Fame and the Naitonal Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He also won the Red Smith Award for his contributions to journalism. His work has appeared in "Best Sports Stories of the Year" a stunning 23 times.

"We are saddened by the news," Gwinnett Daily Post editor Todd Cline said. "It was a privilege to interact with Furman and have him write for our papers."