By Ed Odeven
During my brief stint at The Birmingham News, there was a constant, cool-under-pressure veteran journalist on the sports desk named Charles Hollis, working the night shift, playing a pivotal role in shaping the next day’s sports pages.
Hollis, who died on Monday at age 69, left a lasting impression on me. He was a friendly fellow, a stickler for details, endlessly creative, smart, witty and, well, darn good at his job.
As the night sports editor, his imprint on every page was evident. Hollis was a walking, talking encyclopedia of Alabama sports knowledge, especially the University of Alabama and Auburn University football teams, but not limited to two institutions that profoundly define the state. He also had an impressive working knowledge of the state’s pro athletes scattered across the United States and hundreds of high schools’ sports programs, too.
My interactions with Hollis were limited, because I only worked at the newspaper from September 1999 until the end of March 2000 in a post-graduate internship/reporting gig, and Hollis was the captain of the ship on many busy nights on the sports desk, stepping into the fray after early arrival Tom Arenberg, the department chief, left for the night. Their work hours overlapped, and the grand plan for the evening’s work to produce the next morning’s pages was often decided together. Tom and Charles had great synergy in projects big and small, and their mutual respect for one another elevated the overall operations of the sports department.
Whenever I showed up in the office in the afternoons or evenings, I frequently saw how Hollis embraced his role and had confidence in his ability to get it done, to delegate tasks and to work effectively with everyone in the department, including those filing stories from all corners of the state and beyond.
I saw Hollis juggle proofreading, headline writing, compiling roundups of seemingly every sport under the sun. I hear him fielding phone calls from stressed-out reporters (including me) to clear up a few questions about facts or to point out that their stories would be improved by altering X, Y or Z. He was a consummate professional, never belittling anyone, but offering sensible suggestions and making necessary changes in order so the next day’s sports pages would meet his high standards.
Even while hustling to make deadlines, he joked around at times and loved telling stories about something that reminded him of a player, coach, game, play, or anything else from 20, 30, 40 years ago. He stored many great anecdotes in his head and told or wrote them (in his popular football picks column) to connect the past to the present.
The newspaper business lost a terrific all-around sportswriter/editor this week. A tip of the cap to Charles Hollis is appropriate.
Remembering his work ethic and approach to newspaper work, common decency and ability to connect with people is appropriate, too.