Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bill Brill Dies in Durham; Former Roanoke Times Sports Editor

Brill when I worked with him in the 1970s.
Bill Brill's death today in Durham following an intense illness (cancer of the esophagus) brought back quite a few memories of a man who defined sports writing for me for years. He was one of the best I ever knew, a thoughtful, opinionated, unafraid journalist who would likely have been uncomfortable with the current crop if he were still working.

Brill, 79, was one of a number of journalists I've worked with over the years that I would classify as fearless. They were the people who made me think "hero" whenever I heard the word "journalist." I don't think that way much any more. On occasion there's a Rex Bowman or a Mary Bishop and a few others I know, but there aren't many still working. (Here is the announcement of him being inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. It'll give you some background.)

Brill with author John Feinstein
Brill was the guy who brought Virginia Tech's athletic program to academic accountability. Tech has among the stiffest academic requirements around these days because of Brill's embarrassing reporting about 25 years ago. Tech had brought in basketball player from N.C. State named Russell Pierre, a guy who had flunked out of school there. He got into all kinds of trouble at Tech and I don't think he ever actually played a game, but he got Brill interested and Brill took action. He discovered Tech hadn't graduated a basketball player in 10 years and the crap hit the fan.

People will talk about Brill's golf game (he tended to fudge), his astonishing mind (one of the sharpest I've ever known), his cigar and a lot of other things that made him what he was. It was his old-style crusty journalistic streak that I'll remember because there's not much of it left, I fear.

Funeral services will be held Friday at his beloved Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, where Duke played basketball.

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