The team will miss its coach

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 6, 2013

Paris Goodnight, one of my former partners in crime at the Salisbury Post, emailed me a couple of weeks ago to tell me Ronnie Gallagher had experienced chest pains and tests were being conducted to determine the problem.
Ronnie was sports editor at the Post, a job he’d held since the late ’90s. I’d have never said this to his face, of course, but I liked Ronnie a lot. Ronnie loved his job, loved what he did.
And he was darn good at it, the best sports editor I’ve been around.
I worked on the news side the 10 years I was at the Post. But I also covered hundreds of football and basketball games for the paper. I got paid a pittance for doing so, instead, covering those games primarily because I liked Ronnie and high school athletics.
Ronnie almost never failed to send me an email after I covered a game.
“You’re part of the team!” he’d rave. “Thanks so much!”
(When he was in a particularly jovial mood he’d refer to me as his “main man!”)
I typically run in the opposite direction when someone sends me an email that includes an exclamation mark, much less two, but, for whatever reason, with Ronnie, it was different. He seemed genuinely appreciative and the exclamation marks fit.
I remember the day about five years I was driving and Ronnie called.
“Congratulations!” he almost screamed. “You won two press awards!”
Announcement of the awards from the N.C. Press Awards competition had just been received at the office. Those of us in the newspaper business don’t get a lot of thanks for the work we do, and winning a press award is about as big a deal as it gets. Ronnie said he wanted to be the first to tell me.
Before I worked for the Post, my father, who lived in Burlington, would exit the interstate when he traveled through Rowan County, solely for the purpose of purchasing a copy of the Post.
My father followed high school sports as closely as anyone.
“This,” he’d say, pointing toward the Post, “is a paper than knows how to put out a good sports section.”
My father has been dead several years, but I shared his story with Ronnie. Ronnie grinned before deciding, “Your father was a wise man.”
Ronnie died last Friday. I’m still reeling, still feeling guilt that I didn’t call him after Paris told me he was having medical problems.
Ronnie dead? You’re kidding. He was 57 and trim, way too early for this nonsense.
Ronnie and I were Facebook friends. After I learned of his passing, I went searching for messages he shared with me.
The last Ronnie sent was Feb. 6, which was National Signing Day. Ronnie wrote to tell me that Jack, his oldest, had signed a scholarship to play football for Methodist University in Fayetteville. Jack, Ronnie said, was 6-feet-1 and 226 pounds. He towered over his father.
“Tailgating?!” Ronnie wrote in that Facebook message. “Me, you and Paris, baby!”
In retrospect, even the exclamation marks seem OK.
Steve Huffman is a former Post staff writer.