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Bob Spear Retires from The State Newspaper After 44 Years

July 3, 2008

By Tim Bourret

I’ve never written a column about a columnist for, but then again I haven’t dealt with many people quite like Bob Spear.

Spear announced last week that Thursday, July 3 will be his final day in the office as Sports Editor for the The State newspaper in Columbia. Thursday will end a 44-year career with the paper. He is the last member of the active media who covered a football game coached by Frank Howard.

I don’t know how many awards Bob has won, but I am sure they have been considerable. He has been a beat writer, a columnist and sports editor and thus knows every aspect of the newspaper business.

One of the first events he covered involving Clemson was the 1965 NCAA District baseball tournament in Gastonia. Bill Wilhelm was the Clemson head coach and Bob Bradley, my predecessor, was Clemson’s sports information director.

Spear was just getting started and told me many times that Bradley and Wilhelm made him feel welcome. They would have breakfast together the morning after a night game and Spear got to know the ins and outs of Wilhelm’s program through those morning chats. Bradley was always helpful in his insight concerning players, allowing Spear to craft stories that related the personalities behind the box scores.

I remembered the story and have always tried to use that situation as an example of how important the personal touch is in this profession.

When I came to Clemson in 1978, Bob Spear wasn’t our beat writer but, he covered many of the football games home and away. We struck up a good relationship after he told me stories about Frank McGuire and some of the South Carolina games he had covered against Notre Dame.

My respect for him grew when he authored many features on Clemson student-athletes. Once in a while I sat in on the interviews. Whether it be a feature on Bobby Conrad in 1980, or Chansi Stuckey in 2006, Spear had an endearing interview style that told the student-athletes they could trust him.

That was the secret to Bob Spears’ success. He established years of trust and credibility and it carried on from generation to generation for student-athletes and coaches. Many times I would call Bob with a fresh story idea about a student-athlete who had not dealt with the media much. I wanted that young athlete to have a positive interview experience and knew Bob would treat the student-athlete fairly.

Don’t get me wrong, Bob could be critical of the Clemson program, especially of coaches who might have made a questionable decision in game management or team management off the field. But, somehow after you read the story you understood there was logic to his criticism.

In the recent passing of NBC’s Tim Russert we heard countless testimony from guests on Meet the Press on how Russert was tough, but he always treated his interview subjects fairly. We never realized his level of respect in the media and the political world until his untimely passing.

Bob Spear is in good health, and this is not an obituary. In fact, I bet The State or some publication or internet site will still send him to cover a Clemson game or two this year. But like Russert, Spear earned the respect of his subjects and his readers through accurate and fair reporting.

On July 1, 1994, Bill Wilhelm surprised us by announcing his retirement as Clemson baseball coach a year early. I hastily called a press conference for the next day and we held it in the Clemson home dugout. Wilhelm held a bat in his hand and his wife, Sara sat beside him. He answered all the questions with 100 percent frankness, just as he had for 36 years. It was the most appropriate setting for a press conference in my Clemson career.

Bob, of course, dropped what ever he was doing on this mid-summer day and came to the press conference, and authored a memorable column. At the end of the day, he came to me and said, “There won’t be another one come along like him.”

The same can be said for Bob Spear.