It was clear to me that Al Ludwick was an optimist from a line he’d always use before writing a game story for The Augusta Chronicle about the Augusta College basketball team.
This was back in the 1980s, after the Jaguars made an ill-advised move into NCAA Division I basketball. The results were horrendous. Not only were they losing most of their games, but by large margins.
Yet here’s what he would say when people in the newsroom asked him about those blowout game he’d covered: “I saw a lot of good things.”
Ludwick, who worked for The Augusta Chronicle from 1961-91, mainly as the executive sports editor, died last Wednesday at age 84.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church’s Storey Chapel, 3500 Walton Way Extension. There will be an open reception afterward.
Al was not only my boss, hiring me out of college, but became a great friend. We once went on a golf trip to Pinehurst, staying in the famed Pinecrest Inn. We were so excited to go that we didn’t check the weather forecast. We spent most of the three days watching rain fall, but it was fun to be in his company.
As a writer, Al was old school, but with a creative flair. It came out when he’d write his Major Hoople column for Friday’s paper during college football season. Al would inhabit the persona of Major Hoople for the column and pick the games against an imaginary foe. He’d use phrases such as “Harumph” and “Kaff Kaff.” The columns were hilarious.
It was covering golf that Al loved the most, especially the Masters Tournament. It was fitting that he died the day before the annual Local Media Day tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, an event that Al helped start and enjoyed immensely.
In my early years at the Chronicle, I’d go with Al to a couple of tournaments in Florida in March to gather information for stories we’d write for our pre-Masters section. It was amazing how at ease the great players, such as Arnold Palmer, were with him. I never saw Al interact with Ben Hogan, but I do know Hogan sent Al a personal letter, praising an article he’d written about him.
Al did all the hard work on that pre-Masters section, which was known as the Masters Edition in those days. I’d contribute a few articles, but Al wrote most of them and designed every page, too. The section, which wins awards every year, was Al’s baby. I know he was proud of it.
It was always fun to
travel with Al on those Florida trips. The conversation seldom strayed from golf, so I heard all his great stories.
There were two drawbacks to sharing a room with Al, though. First, he played trombone in the Augusta Symphony, and he’d bring his mouthpiece with him on the road and practice.
Then there were the times I’d wake up to the clacking of his typewriter (there were no laptops back then) as he wrote an early-morning Masters Edition story.
Al was such a pleasant guy. He’d walk up to you, and before a word was spoken, he’d already be smiling. He always had a funny line. For a while, I worked with him on The Augusta Herald, the old afternoon paper owned by The Chronicle. We had to be at work by 6:30 a.m. to get the paper on the street by 11 for the lunch crowd.
Al was in charge of the desk. He was late sometimes, but we knew he’d be along shortly. He was often caught by a downtown train on his way to work from south Augusta.
Like clockwork, when he walked in we’d say “Where you been Al?” and he’d say “I’ve been counting boxcars.” I think of Al every time I’m stuck behind a train, counting boxcars.
It’s been 22 years since I worked for Al, but I remember that phrase and several others to this day. The one that meant the most to me was a personal one and this time, it wasn’t light-hearted.
Al had assigned me to cover a Little League baseball tournament. Being 22 and knowing everything, as most young reporters do, I complained about it, thinking I was too good to cover such a minor event.
“Be a professional and go do a good job,” was all Al said.
He would know.