Randy Starkman: One of the true greats is gone
It takes a large measure of passion to do this job, or at least do it well; you need to care about the people and games you’re writing about, not whether teams or individuals win or lose, but you need to care about finding good stories and telling them well.
It truly is a craft and one that’s hard to master, we’re all guilty too often of mailing it in, writing because we have to write, getting something done because it had to be done.
You all know the sad, terrible, shocking news by now, we lost a dear friend, a trusted colleague and one of the true giants of Canadian sports journalism on Monday when Randy Starkman passed away at the far too young age of 51.
The tributes have poured in since the news first broke, from writers and athletes and administrators and just regular folk whose lives Randy touched in a career and life many of us only wish we could have led.
It is the measure of the man that the stories abound detailing his graciousness, his humour, his willingness to help, his ability to reach people he was writing about on a level far above the ordinary.
It has been my pleasure and my honour to work with hundreds of gifted, dedicated journalists over the years but I honestly cannot think of more than a couple who covered their sports and the athletes with the passion, and compassion that Randy did in his award-winning career.
We used to bust on him every now and then in the way that reporters do with each other, ragging on him about only wanting to advance the cause of starving Olympic athletes who lived in Scarborough basement apartments eating Kraft Dinner and Raman Noodles before hitting the public consciousness once every four years. Randy’d laugh along with us, all the time, but that’s what he did: He brought life to athletes too few people knew about, he got to know his subjects as people and as friends and he bled a little bit with every story he wrote. He advanced the causes because he cared. He knew that the tales he was telling were important, they touched on a level of dedication and commitment from athletes who truly were competing for personal glory rather than financial gain and public adoration and needed to be told.
More than so many of us do.
I had the privilege of covering five Olympics alongside Randy, working hand in glove with a reporter who knew his beat better than almost anyone in Canada knows his or hers. We’d sit down before each of those Games, usually just the two of us across the table, and we’d talk about the stories that were about come up.
Randy could be a bit proprietary about his athletes – and who could blame him after the time he put in learning about them? – but he unfailingly shared insight and information with an interloper and allowed me to do a far better job than I would have if I’d been left to my own devices.
It wasn’t a month ago when he and I and the Tallest Of Foreheads sat around one afternoon talking about London and the stories to do and the angles to pursue and how we would go about preparing for the 2012 Games. We had a few laughs, told a few tales, came up with something of a game plan and I was more looking forward to these Olympics than any I’ve done.
Randy always made it easier for me. His passion shone through and I came to try to share it; he cared so much, you had to care along with him.
A personal note, and a telling one.
One of the very first significant assignments I covered with Randy were the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, he for The Star and me for Canadian Press. We didn’t know each all that well but had a common bond, his equally-talented and gifted wife Mary and Super Wife were due to give birth any day. With both had beepers to keep us in touch during the Games – I lost mine on the bus ride in from the airport before I even got settled – and when Randy’s went off, so did he.
He bailed on the Games because it was the right thing to do, he missed a handful of exceptional stories but he was where he needed to be when he needed be there.
Ella’s a teenager now, about two weeks older than Super Son, and Mary is now a single parent.
Life sometimes sucks.
And Canadian journalism is far poorer now than it was a day ago.
Rest in peace, my friend.