The last two years have been rough on me. At no time was I more reminded of my mortality than during the stretch from March of 2012 to last October. In those 20 months, I said goodbye to three of four mentors whom I considered pivotal to my growth and development as a writer. Fortunately, number four, my mother, is in great health and going strong. I am indeed blessed to have her and my dad still in my life.
Still, the loss of my other three mentors, Bert Randolph Sugar, Patricia Meador, and most recently Don Zaidle, shakes me and inspires a moment of reflection and, most important, resolution.
Many of you may know who Bert Sugar was. He was a boxing writer in the classic mold of Damon Runyon, Herb Goldman and Nat Fleischer. He was a past editor and publisher of boxing stalwarts Boxing Illustrated and The Ring. He was a fixture at every big fight dating back to 1968. I met him in October, 1993 at the famed Kronk Gym. I was writing for The Boxing Times, a small newsletter that paid me with bylines and press passes. I had found my way into the Kronk to watch Thomas Hearns as he trained for his fight with Andrew Maynard. I was interviewing Anthony Jones for a peripheral feature when I saw Sugar standing by a training table watching Hearns cool down after his workout. How could I resist? I walked up to him and introduced myself.
Without blinking, Sugar asked me around the Haupman Churchill he was chewing on, “You write for Boxing Times, don’t you?”
I was thrilled that he knew my byline and nodded. “That’s a quaint little magazine you’ve got there,” he said.
I was deflated by the adjectives he used to describe The Times. Yes, we were small, and I guess we were quaint, but jeez!
“You’re probably the only thing they have that’s worth a damn,” he offered, and then began discussing with me the merits of some points I had written about Oscar De La Hoya in an op-ed piece.
Just then, Manny Steward and Jackie Kallen, who had been negotiating a possible fight between Hearns and her fighter, James Toney, called out, “Hey, Bert, Jackie, Tommy and I are going to Giannapoli’s for dinner. Come with?”
Sugar put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Is it all right if my good friend Calixto goes with us?”
I spent the next four hours seated at the table with Steward, Hearns and Kallen, laughing and entranced as Sugar held court and told stories about the old days of the ring. At the end of the night, Bert gave me his card and told me to call him about some work covering some fights around the Midwest. What followed was two years of learning how to write a good sports feature. Those skills have carried me through my tenure with Texas Fish & Game.
I last saw Sugar at the Las Vegas Hotel in 2011. I was there for ICAST, and he was there covering some fight card. He was holding court as usual at the bar. He’d been sick, and you could tell he was frail, but those eyes still sparkled.
“Calixto! How’s shakes?” he asked when he saw me. He didn’t seem surprised that I was there on a writing assignment. He seemed quite pleased, in fact.
Sugar passed away from heart failure in March, 2012. I never got a chance to tell him how much his help meant to me.
Pat Meador was my high school journalism teacher. She was also one of the kindest, gentlest women I’ve ever known. She always had a smile on her face, and she put up with a Gifted and Talented, argyle and corduroy-wearing, metal heel protectors on his penny loafers preppy who thought he was the greatest high school newspaper editor ever. She also somehow got me to listen to her and trained and shaped me as a writer. In the four years she tutored me, Ms. Meador helped me refine my writing from the wordy and bellicose tripe that she had to edit before pasting into the school paper, into the tight, refined product that got me state honors in Feature Writing and a state championship in Editorial Writing.
She also nurtured my nascent love and passion for the written word. She gave me writing assignments that challenged me and compelled me to constantly work on my craft. The skills she taught me to refine and hone what I put on paper serve me today.
Pat Meador was ill for a long time, and passed away in a nursing home this past July. I never got the chance to tell her how much her help meant to me.
I don’t think I can add to the superlatives written in Don Zaidle’s memory over the last few months. I can reiterate that he was my friend, a mentor, and the man who, like Sugar in boxing, gave me my start in the industry. Thanks to him, I have been able continue to develop my voice as a writer. Through his guidance, patience, and counsel, I have learned more about the outdoors than I could have hoped, and I’ve also developed several meaningful and enriching friendships because of the opportunities Don provided me.
When magazine co-owner Ardia Neves called me to break the news of Don’s death, I was so stricken I sat in my office chair in the dark for some time. Another of my mentors—another of my teachers—was gone and, again, I never got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me.
The loss of these three giants in my life have moved me to make a resolution in their memories: I will work to take young people under my wing and mentor them and show them the paths these three showed me. I will offer them my counsel and help them along in their dreams as best I can. I will prepare them for a world that sets the achievement bar as high as it does, and I will encourage, cajole, inspire, and guide them so they can navigate the path as best they can.
And I will remind them to thank these three great, wonderful people who so enriched my life. It is in their honor I will do this.
I hope they don’t mind.
Contact Calixto Gonzales at