I have been honored to work with a great many outstanding journalists during my three decades at The Berkshire Eagle. But when I joined the band in the 1980s, I was the Fifth Beatle. That's because the sports staff was made up of rock stars.
Unfortunately, we lost one of those rock stars last week, when word filtered down that Ray Lamont had passed away. Lamont was 67 when he passed on Thursday.
That Berkshire Eagle sports department was my North Star. They helped make me what I am professionally.
I have worked with some Eagle legends in the sports department and I am better for having known and worked with them. Sullivan, Gentile, Carlson, Glaspie are just a few of those legends. It is not to slight my current teammates Geoff Smith, Mike Walsh and Jake Mendel, but my first set of teammates set a bar so high that I'm not sure that after a long time at my desk here I could clear.
There is much more competition these days, but the Eagle sports section is, to this day, the go-to place for local sports. There is no place around where you can get the depth of local coverage you find here. Back then, the competition was far less.
At the radio station, we would broadcast football, basketball and hockey games, and also broadcast scores the next day. Soccer? Track and Field? Wrestling? Forget about it.
Sports editor Bob McDonough led this merry band that included current Eagle editorial page editor Bill Everhart and Carol Sliwa along with Ray. They knew all the coaches, all the athletes, and what they wrote was the gold standard.
Imagine the pressure I felt when Ray moved over to the news side, and I inherited his high school hockey beat. Fortunately, I had broadcast high school hockey games in a prior life, so I knew the players, so to speak. It helped me ease into the beat, but Ray was missed every day of the three years I covered hockey.
I also knew Ray long before I joined the Eagle.
For the first three years of the Pittsfield Cubs existence, I covered the team for the Associated Press. You read that right.
Today, when there are minor league game reports on the AP wire, they are often rewritten from a press release or written by a computer program. Back in the mid-1980s, AP sports editor Dave O'Hara had asked me, as a news and sports director of an AP-affiliated radio station, to cover the games. That meant going and writing about 400 words to be dictated back to Boston.
Ray and Everhart split the coverage of home games. April to September is a long haul. So one of them sat in the downstairs press box at Wahconah Park, usually joined by yours truly. When Ray was covering a game, it was a particular treat.
Among Ray Lamont's many talents was a dead-on impression of New York Yankees broadcaster, and Baseball Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto. The Scooter had a way to describe things, and Ray nailed the impression.
So, there would be many nights that while the Cubs were playing, say the Albany-Colonie Yankees, that Ray and I would lapse into thinking we were broadcasting the game. Glenn Conticello may have been the real broadcaster sitting in the roof box, but those of us downstairs thought we were Rizzuto and Bill White. My Bill White impression may have stunk, or was virtually non-existent. But I was nothing more than the straight man for Rizzuto sitting next to me. That was no different than watching a Yankees game on WPIX.
Once word circulated, I was inundated with emails and social media postings. McDonough recalled a number of funny stories involving Lamont. I cite one here.
"And the Grand Daddy of all shenanigans...springing Max from the pen. It was when Ray was rooming with a couple of guys off Tyler Street, and they had a black mutt named Max. Seems Max got pinched by the dog catcher, and was dispatched to Dorothy Waterman's kennel in Cheshire, where Pittsfield strays were kept in the pre-Sonsini shelter days. Well, Ray and his pals would have none of that, and in a daring midnight raid, they breached kennel security and freed Max from his captors. No legal consequences followed, to my knowledge."
Greg Sukiennik, Engagement and Opinion Editor in Vermont for our papers in Bennington, Brattleboro and Manchester, wrote me that were it not for Ray Lamont, his career might have been different.
"Somewhere in the boxes of stuff that I've lugged through five New England states over 25 years is a 'while you were out' phone message slip with Ray's name and the Eagle's newsroom phone number. It was late summer of 1995. I was in my 20s, working too hard for too little money at a tiny daily newspaper in northern New Hampshire, and anxious to find the exit.
"Ray had taken the time to call and let me know there might be openings at the Eagle that fall, and advised that I should send a resume.
"He had already left for a job in Virginia by the time I arrived at The Eagle, so we never got to work together. But I was able to tell him how much I appreciated what he'd done for me. And I appreciate it still."
Practically everyone who reached out to me referenced Ray Lamont's good humor and laugh. Which leads me into a story that I always think of when I think of Ray.
After the aforementioned time in Virginia, Lamont became the editor of the Gloucester Times north of Boston. It was right after a Sept. 11 ceremony on the North Shore. The Times ran a photo of several firefighters from Manchester-by-the-Sea saluting during a ceremony. Front and center was my son.
So I called Ray in Gloucester. After about 15 minutes of chit-chat, I asked him to look at his front page and tell me what he saw. After a lengthy silence, the Ray Lamont guffaw we all knew echoed in my cell phone.
That's the way I wish to remember my friend.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.