Area legend Missildine dies at age 85
His column “Twice Over Lightly” – a graceful mix of humor, insight and anecdote – was a morning must for readers of The Spokesman-Review’s sports pages for 25 years.
But Harry Missildine’s influence on sports in the Inland Northwest stretched far beyond the printed page and continued nearly up until his death late Friday night at Good Samaritan Village in Moscow, Idaho.
The former sports editor of the Review, a member of both the Inland Northwest and State of Washington sports halls of fame, was 85.
A Northwest newspapering legend – both for his prodigious and literate output as a sports writer and columnist and for the stories that sprouted from his golf, fishing and after-hours adventures – Missildine had continued to file columns for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News after his S-R retirement in 1982. His last effort appeared just two months ago, as he continued to attend Washington State University football games at Martin Stadium despite the debilitating effects of a 2004 stroke.
Raconteur, golf champion, promoter, devoted fly fisherman, idea man, coaches’ confidant – Missildine was all of these, in addition to being the most widely read authority on sports on the Inland Northwest from the late-1950s into the ‘80s.
“He was a character who gravitated toward characters like Jim Sweeney, Dee Andros and George Raveling because they were so damned entertaining,” said Jeff Jordan, the S-R’s Valley editor who was hired as an intern by Missildine in 1972. “That was Harry’s job – to inform and entertain – and he did it better than anyone around here.”
And reader, subject and colleague alike were all taken with Missildine’s artful way with a sentence and a story.
“I grew up reading his column as a kid on a wheat farm outside Spokane,” said University of Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, who became a Missildine favorite as a lineman at Washington State. “To get a mention in just one of them was a huge thing. He was the real deal.”
Former S-R executive sports editor Bob Payne agreed that Missildine “was a wonderful writer.
“I think he set a high standard for literacy on the sports staff. Even though he wasn’t that much of a mentor in one sense, he wouldn’t let us get away with clichés very much, and we all became very conscious of trying to avoid being trite. He was well-read and intelligent, and actually in some ways his writing may have been more appreciated by other professionals than it was by Joe Six-Pack.”
His biggest audience tuned in for his viewpoint on WSU athletics – he was the beat reporter for football and basketball, in addition to his five-to-six-days-a-week column duties, and covered Cougars football through eras both rollicking and rocky. His writing voice was particularly resonant during the tenures of football coaches Jim Sutherland and Jim Sweeney, two outsized characters who played well in Missildine’s brand of storytelling.
“He loved the Cougars,” Moos acknowledged. “Harry could be a homer without making it sound like he was. He could make a six-touchdown loss sound like we had a chance.”
But Missildine also took his turns at covering Idaho and Gonzaga athletics, professional baseball and hockey and, of course, golf – a sport in which he was just adept as a player as he was as a writer.
He won a number of Spokane area tournaments – including two Spokane Municipal titles – and twice played in the National Public Links Championships. Before settling in on the Review sports staff, he briefly worked as a golf pro. At 72, playing at the Moscow Elks Golf Course, he won both the Sole Survivor and Seniors Sole Survivor events – and was still playing to a 7 handicap at age 83.
Beyond being a champion, he also championed the game. His columns were considered instrumental in the building of Esmeralda Golf Course, an Athletic Round Table project.
“But what Harry loved was the people and their stories,” said Dan McDougald, a Spokane Flyers hockey player who came to be a longtime friend. “He had a great memory – you’d be out having a beer with him and tell him a funny story or something, and months later it would show up in the newspaper. And he loved nicknaming people.”
That was part of the Missildine treatment. Cougars running back Keith Lincoln became “The Moose of the Palouse.” Flyers center Red Tilson’s short-stroke passes made him “The Dabber.” Oregon State football coach Dee Andros, in his orange windbreaker, became “The Great Pumpkin.”
He even nicknamed leagues. When Gonzaga and Idaho were throwing in with the Montana schools, Weber State and Idaho State in the 1960s, it was a Missildine column that suggested “Big Sky” – appropriated from A.B. Guthrie’s novel.
Harry Ewan Missildine was born in Parsons, Kan., and grew up in the Midwest – McDougald recalled that the writer was a classmate of the late actor Tony Randall at Tulsa Central High School – and graduated from the University of Missouri and Colorado College. This area was another source of material, particularly when he returned from summer fly fishing excursions with his mother, Helene Campbell – an adored subject of some of his most memorable columns.
He served in the Army Air Corps in Iceland during World War II and in Alaska with the Washington Air National Guard during the Korean War, sandwiched around a stint as news editor of the Spokane Chronicle. After Korea, Missildine landed in the sports department of the Review and launched his column in 1957, shortly after which he became sports editor. In 1965, he was honored as Washington’s sports writer of the year, an award he also won twice in Idaho following his move to Moscow after his 1979 marriage to Helen Elliott, who was at his side at his passing.
He had two children with his first wife, Joy – son Rob, who died in 1975, and daughter Jodi, who lives in Spokane with her husband Ron Rice. Also surviving him are two grandsons, Jason, of Phoenix, and Cory, a WSU student.
There will be no funeral. A memorial service is being planned for early next year in Moscow.