Missing a Friend

A culture war was raging full-tilt boogie when I took up the profession of sportswriter.

For that matter, when isn’t there a culture war raging full-tilt boogie?

But the one roiling us all way back then had so much to do with hair – long, beautiful hair – and beards and relaxed social mores and music and drugs and just what we thought this whole long and strange trip called life was all about.

The year was 1972, and I had long hair. I had a scraggly beard. I drove a Ford Econo Van with Cherokee-Bryson City Florists painted in the side, but only on the off-chance it happened to crank that morning. My mailing address – at least during the school year – was Chapel Hill. No doubt about it, I was a hippie.

And immediately, from my first venture into a working press room at an ACC football or basketball game, I could tell the majority of folks there were on the other side of that great cultural divide.

All these years later I remain so blown away by how everyone – and I’m talking about the old guard here, giants of the profession such as Smith Barrier of the Greensboro Daily News and Bob Quincy of the Charlotte Observer, and Dick Herbert and Joe Tiede of the Raleigh News and Observer – was so good to me back then. They may not have known who I was or what I was about, but they accepted me.

Which is why in all the years since I made such an effort to be kind and decent and accepting to any newbie entering our profession.

But there were characters back then – and I’m thinking today of one in particular – who didn’t just accept me. Instead they embraced me, put their hand on my shoulder, their arm around my neck and made sure that I knew there was a party going on and that if I wanted to be part of it, then jump the hell in.

The more the merrier. Expand the circle, and more fun for everybody.

Nobody I met in those wild days of newness and wonder was more accepting, more embracing, quicker to pull me into madcap merriment than a guy about five years my senior from East Carolina University via Angier, N.C. who, at the time, was working for the Raleigh Times.

His name was Caulton Tudor, though for most of my life I knew him simply as Toot.

As long as Toot was in the club — and rest assured, he was a ringleader — then I was in the club. He made me feel welcome. And I’ll love him forever for it.

Lest you get the idea that my new friend was just another hell-raiser bent on squeezing the last juices of a good time at the expense of his liver and other internal organs, let it be known that Caulton Tudor was a giant in our field, a great, great sportswriter. Nobody I knew knew more about ACC football and basketball. Nobody I knew knew how to write about it better.

See Toot knew the games, but most of all, he knew people. And people knew him. He let them know him. That’s why nobody in the business had more sources willing, if not anxious, to tell him what he wanted to know.

He cared deeply about being good at what he did. I like to think we all did back then. But when the last line was written and the phone call to the desk informed us we were done for the day, it was party time.

The times we had at the hospitality rooms of ACC Basketball Tournaments were legendary. National sportswriters would marvel at how close the ACC writers were, and much of that can be attributed to those wild and woolly, knock-down, drag-out, all-night sessions we had winding down together off the adrenaline high of an impossible deadline.

And right in the middle, invariably with a gin drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other and the ever-present twinkle in his eye was Caulton Tudor. You could tell just by looking at him the man was up to something – something fun, something crazy, something that hopefully included as many people as we could get aboard the train.

So many of us lost a fast friend, the kind of friend you don’t replace, when Toot passed away yesterday. So many of us are hurting.

But none of us will ever forget Caulton Tudor or all the good energy he spread around during his time among us.

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