Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Remembering Mary Garber, the First (?) Woman Sports Writer

Mary Garber near the front end of her career as a sports writer.

Mary Garber’s name came up today during a conversation in Blacksburg with a young woman at Virginia Tech who wants to be a sports writer. I pulled Mary out of the air to give Brittany Keup, sports editor of Tech's student newspaper, a frame of reference for her chosen profession.

In 1946 (my birth year), Mary Garber began writing about sports full time, covering a swath of North Carolina around Winston-Salem. She is believed to be the first female staff sports reporter at a daily newspaper. I don't know that it's ever been proven, but I'll accept that as fact. 

Mary spent most of her 51 year career at the Winston-Salem Journal and the Sentinel before it was absorbed by the Journal. Mary, a tennis and softball player in high school and a football player as a child, covered all the male sports, as well as female athletes and black colleges and high schools in the area.

Born in New York in 1916, she moved to Winston in 1924 and graduated at Hollins College in 1938, intent on becoming a sports writer. She wound up at the Winston-Salem Twin City Sentinel in 1940 doing what women writers did then: working in the “society” (women’s) section. The Sentinel was much later bought by the Journal and Mary moved with the purchase. In the 1940s, the Sentinel had shifted her from news to sports as WWII pulled men from newspapers and she finally got to stay there.

Mary with the Winston-Salem Journal.
She became a strong advocate, not only for women in sports, but for coverage of black athletes in an area where that was not done. She covered the all-black high schools and Winston-Salem State University, the traditionally black college in Winston.

I was a North Carolina sports writing contemporary of Mary’s when I was a young reporter at the Asheville Citizen and the Asheville Times in the mid-late 1960s. I sat with her at a couple of basketball tournaments along the way. 

I found her tiny (she was five feet tall and weighed about  90 pounds), bright, chatty and knowledgeable, but I remember her most because she was the only woman I knew for years who wrote about sports for a living. And she did it well, finally making the Hall of Fame. Mary died in 2008, working nearly until the end of her life.

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