Thursday, Nov. 04, 2010
Morris: A fond farewell to my friend
Bob Fulton was a former ‘Voice of the Gamecocks,’ but this writer knew him more as family
I DO NOT REMEMBER how our friendship developed, but I am certain it had something to do with Bob Fulton wanting to set me straight on some matter to do with South Carolina athletics. Or maybe I was setting him straight about some other event regarding USC sports.
We had the strangest of relationships. We argued like politicians and sometimes fought like old hens. Then we would turn around, sit in his Lake Murray home and discuss sports or politics like we were old fraternity brothers.
I have attempted over the past couple of years to analyze our relationship, and I certainly do not pretend to be any kind of shrink or expert in psychology. But my best guess is that we hit it off because both of us had a deep-seated desire to ferret out the truth on any matter.
Bob’s broadcasting style, as he told me 30,000 or so times, was based primarily on objectivity. He came along in an era long before the “boo-yahs!” of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” and the unpardonable phrase “we” used by radio play-by-play announcers of today.
Did Bob want the USC teams to win the games he broadcast? You bet he did. Did he change the inflection in his voice to convey the excitement surrounding a USC victory? Of course he did.
Beneath that veneer in his play-by-play presentation was an announcer who prided himself on reporting an event, in describing its detail and nuances to an audience that could only hear him. Bob was a reporter, first and foremost, and darned proud of that.
He adhered to that good reporter’s sense of watching events with a critical eye. That is why he did not mind taking a stance on matters he was broadcasting. He occasionally would criticize USC coaches and administrators, and feuded over the years with parties from both.
He told me on occasion that was why he liked my writing. He said I was just like him in delving beneath the surface of a story, in not accepting the company or party line. It was the basis of our friendship, no doubt.
At first, when we met for an occasional lunch, I prodded Bob for any insider information he had on USC athletics. I saw him as the former “Voice of the Gamecocks,” who still had many contacts with athletics department officials and coaches, a valuable source if you will.
Then we became friends, and the only thing I needed from him was to be a sounding board for column ideas. Few days passed when we did not talk on the phone. When he lived by himself at Lake Murray, less than a mile from our home in Lexington, I visited Bob three or four times a week. The visits became less frequent once we got Bob situated in an assisted-living facility in Lexington.
I believe our friendship grew, perhaps because I never knew Bob as “The Voice”; I only knew him as an elderly man who — most days — was as sharp as any 30-year-old, and as someone who agreed with me on all things political. It was quite amazing how well Bob could hold his own when discussing politics and/or sports during our annual Thanksgiving gathering of friends in our home.
Bob took a particular liking to my son, Luke. He attended several of my son’s Dixie Youth baseball games and a couple of Lexington High “B” team basketball games.
At the outset of our friendship, Bob thought my son’s name was Lee. Finally, I informed Bob that his name was Luke.
Bob then began calling him “Lee slash Luke.”
Then it was shortened to “Slash,” and that was how he addressed my son until the day Fulton died.
One day recently, knowing Bob’s great affection for baseball and the history of that sport, we invited him to our home for a game of dice baseball. My son and I have whittled away far too many hours playing Strat-o-Matic baseball, but never have we enjoyed it like Bob did that night.
We pulled out the cards from the 1927 season so Bob could make out the lineup for his beloved Philadelphia A’s. Before he began sorting the cards for each player, Bob rattled off the starting lineup as if it was 1927.
“Mickey Cochrane was the catcher, Eddie Collins played second base, Al Simmons was in center field and, of course, Ty Cobb was in right field,” Bob announced … and I do mean announced, articulating each syllable of each name with his beautiful baritone voice. As we played, it was as if he was in the radio booth again, doing play-by-play of the game in front of us.
Bob was a surrogate member of our family. Sunday lunches at our home were part of his routine, and he bragged about the cooking of my wife, Kim. He loved the occasional Sunday-night drives through Sonic, where Bob invariably ordered whatever “Slash” was getting.
Midweek lunches were reserved for the two of us. Once inside the restaurant, and before he began critiquing my latest writings, Bob would flirt with the waitresses, most of whom were 65 to 70 years younger than him.
Then, from across the restaurant, someone would hear “The Voice” and drop by our table to chat. Bob always introduced me to the visitor as “my father, Ron.” It became a running joke, and I referred to him often as “My son, Bob.”
It seems the beginning of our friendship coincided with the death of my father. He, too, was a radio play-by-play announcer. Distance and the passing years prevented me from developing much of a friendship or relationship with my father.
I guess Bob filled that role for me.
Bob has two daughters, Nancy and Robin, who live in North Carolina and California, respectively. Robin called me Wednesday shortly after hearing of her father’s death. She said her father often told her I was the son he never had, but always wanted.
That Bob. All this time he had kiddingly called me his father.
Watch commentaries by Morris Mondays at 6 and 11 p.m. on ABC Columbia News (WOLO-TV)