The really big guy -- 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds (or more) -- we all called Heity. The big teddy bear always upbeat, with the great sense of humor, a prankster. The sports writer/editor whose standard greeting was "hey now."
I was reminded of him recently when Scott Ferrell -- the sports editor at The Shreveport Times much longer than Heity was or I was -- posted this on Facebook: "Hard to not think about Kent Heitholt when Nov. 1 hits the calendar. Great boss, mentor and friend. Rest in peace, Heity."
|Kent Heitholt (Columbia Tribune photo)|
Heity, 48 then, married to Deb for almost 20 years, father of two (Vince and Kali), a University of Missouri journalism grad (1975) who simply loved the newspaper business. Loved sports and loved people, and loved writing about both.
The news was stunning, sickening, and it hurt badly. Still does. His many friends across the country, I'm sure, share that feeling.
The murder case is a complex, convoluted one. I don't care to go into the details. In fact, I never read about the details until last week in preparing to write this piece. Couldn't bring myself to do it before. Too gruesome.
It is a case in which two young men from Columbia were convicted of the murder and are in prison for terms of 40 and 25 years. But one has recanted his confession and testimony; the other, accused by the first guy, has denied all along he was there.
So there is a lot of doubt, a lot of people who think they didn't do it. Accusations that one of Heity's co-workers -- supposedly not on good terms with Heity (pretty unbelievable) -- did it. It's been the subject of in-depth reports on CBS News' 48 Hours and several blogs. (See below for links on the case).
Just last week, on the day of the 11th anniversary of the murder, a judge refused a new trial for one of the young men. http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/topics/ryan-ferguson/
Heity liked to have his fun, a little too much at times. Without the sordid details, that's why he left a job with the Nashville Banner covering University of Tennessee athletics and, fortunately, soon found a job with The Shreveport Times as a sports columnist/writer.
His good fortune -- and ours.
We worked together for a year after I came back to The Times (after 12 years in other jobs) as sports editor in 1987. He was our lead writer, but no prima donna. He helped out with everything -- high schools, agate, talking to other writers, guiding younger people, whatever.
Gerry Robichaux, who preceded me as sports editor, posted this last week: "When Ken worked with me, he bailed me out hundreds of times, staying late to help. Never said a word, just chipped in. Super guy. One I won't forget."
Heity wasn't among the super writing talents I've worked with in 45 years. But he was very good, wrote some great people pieces. He was so dedicated, so supportive, just fun to be around.
He and Deb and the kids -- Vince was little, Kali a baby -- lived two blocks from my parents' house in South Broadmoor. So I'd visit the Heitholts occasionally on walks around the neighborhood.
He and I spent much time discussing stories, how to cover them, how to best use our staff and our space, both of us frustrated at times (but not with each other). Many late-night talks in the paper's parking lot ... not such a pleasant memory now.
You could tell by looking that Heity loved to eat. Not so obviously, so did I. We found a common cause: crawfish. Several times we took our dinner break to visit an all-you-can-eat crawfish special on West 70th Street, and see who could eat more. We had nothing stronger to drink than ice tea, and we'd spend a couple of hours, then come back to the office -- smelling like crawfish (yukky) -- and help get the section out.
Believe me, we both put in enough hours of work to make up for the long dinner breaks.
Eating crawfish was more fun than work.
Heity. The guy turning out the bathroom lights when he knew you were the only one in there and he was leaving.
Heity. The guy whose desk often looked like a hurricane had hit. Neatness was not a plus.
Heity. Sweet with his kids, and other people's kids.
(This is from Louise Pierce Dortch, the longtime Times administrative assistant who was good friends with Heity: "One of my favorite stories about Kent came from a sports writer. He and Kent were covering something and Kent ended up spending the night at the guy's house. The only bed was in the guy's small child's room. He got up early because he thought Kent might scare the child when it woke. He eased open the door to find Kent sitting on the floor playing a video game with the kid. The child looked up at him and said, 'I like your big friend, Daddy.' ")
Heity. He was a high school athlete at a private school in St. Louis, and his dad (from a family of great athletes) was a coach. They agreed that Kent wasn't much of an athlete; I remember him saying he played tackle in football and was the team's placekicker and he -- ruefully -- remembered missing a field-goal try that would have won a big game against an arch-rival team.
Heity. Laughing boisterously (with me) in the office.
We had one disagreement, in a staff meeting one day. One of us wanted to run three places in the results of the many area track meets, to save time and space; the other wanted to keep it a five places to get more names in the paper. We exchanged views, tersely, for about 20 seconds. No big deal.
When Times management decided they wanted to make a sports editor change, I was out and Heitholt succeeded me. The paper's editor -- not the one who hired me -- was from Nashville and was familiar with Heity.
Heity called me and said he wished the situation wasn't what it was, felt that maybe what he had told the editors contributed to the change. I assured him -- and I assure you now -- I had no problem with him, that I felt he had been supportive. I told him that I obviously didn't do a good enough job, that the job wasn't right for me and I wasn't right for the job, and I needed to move on.
Heity and I talked a few times over the years after I moved to Florida and then Tennessee. We talked about the situation at The Times, where Heity -- I'm sure -- was a better, kinder, more patient fit as sports editor. I remember him talking about covering the Shreveport Pirates in the Canadian Football League (yes, you read that right) in 1994-95.
By 1996, he was no longer sports editor, just a columnist. He moved to Columbia, Mo., home of his Missouri Tigers, as sports editor of the Tribune. He and Deb felt it would be a nice place for their kids. He seemed pretty happy anytime I talked to him.
One thing he always kidded me about, never let me forget.
On the first Sunday in May 1988, we ran a long centerpiece I'd written on "A Day with the Shreveport Captains," a behind-the-scenes look at the team and the activities at the ballpark, a story that started on Page 1 and jumped to a full page inside. It was also after Kentucky Derby day (a story at the bottom of the sports front).
But the photos on the two stories were identical size (huge mistake on my part). When the first edition came out, they were transposed -- the baseball photo with the Derby story, the winning Derby horse with the baseball story. Imagine the reaction when we saw that.
This, too: Heity, in editing, jokingly had changed my byline title from "Times Sports Editor" to "Times Epic Writer." And that also made the paper.
Lee Hiller remembers I got on Heity about the byline before I even noticed the photos.
It all got fixed for the city edition. But Heitholt and I had a story to exchange for years.
Another Heitholt story: Near the end of the baseball season in 1988, we ran a wire story from Arizona about a minor-league player from Shreveport in the Cleveland Indians' farm system being sent to a drug/alcohol rehab place.
That afternoon, I came in and Heitholt was on the phone trying to explain that it was a wire story and that, no, we weren't going to retract it. I asked Heity who he was talking to, and he wrote the name on a slip of paper. It was the player's father.
Obviously, Kent was having a tough time satisfying the caller. But he kept his cool.
I knew the dad; he had been a high school coach in Bossier for two decades. I knew the mom, a high school teacher in Shreveport who had called the papers several times over the years to complain about coverage of her son (and never to thank us). I knew the kid, who would go on to a great major-league career with Hall of Fame numbers and often a Hall of Shame attitude toward fans and media.
Finally, I told Heity to let me talk to the dad. He switched the call. I had no more luck with Dad, who had always been polite to me, than Heity. When I told him we would check it out but no correction was planned, he lost his cool and yelled, "I'm going to come up there and put you and Heitholt in a garbage can."
I couldn't help but laugh. "You'll have no trouble doing that with me," I replied. "But Heitholt might not be that easy. Thanks for the call."
After Heity's death, the Columbia Tribune ran a tribute to him, with contributions from all over the country. Read them http://archive.showmenews.com/2001/nov/20011104spor005.asp and you'll know how loved he was.
He was, as our friend and longtime Times columnist Teddy Allen has said many times, "a beautiful human being."
How true. If only we could have some more crawfish-eating sessions.