Ed Dupree: Man of many endeavors was one of a kind

Published 9:17 pm Wednesday, November 22, 2017

By Mike London

Everybody probably remembers their first meeting with Edwin N. Dupree, who died from leukemia at age 76 on Tuesday night at Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House.

It was 1978 when I encountered Ed at a fish camp, Lyerly’s Fish Camp to be specific. It was my grandfather’s place, out on Highway 152 between Rockwell and China Grove. I hadn’t been out of college long, and I’d drop by every Sunday for a free meal and to handle cash register duties during the frantic, after-church rush.

Ed was a Sunday regular, always picking up a to-go order that had been called in. He’d tap his foot impatiently in the doorway, as waitresses scrambled to locate his flounder.

He was short, his dark hair thinning, his eyes intense.  He looked like a tougher version of comedian Bob Newhart.

I recognized his head, of course, from his column picture on the Salisbury Post sports pages. I was a sports fan, and I read the paper. The first time I dared to engage Ed in conversation I said something like,”How about those Yankees?” His response was, “Young man, would you mind checking on my food?”

Fortunately, our conversations gradually expanded from that inauspicious beginning, and in 1981, as we discovered a shared passion for baseball cards, we became close friends. We stayed friends through a lot of card shows, through a lot of years at the Salisbury Post, through a lot of fantasy baseball drafts, through a lot of Wednesday lunches.

To say Ed was unique is understating things. When he got interested in something, he was never half-way. He was passionate. He was all-in. He pursued whatever it was, even if it was a a scavenger-hunt radio promotion, with record-setting fervor.

When he got head over heels into baseball cards, Ed set an impossible goal for himself — completing the 1952 Topps set. Even in 1982, the Mickey Mantle card from that set was pushing $1,000, and Ed wasn’t a millionaire. About 100 of the 407 cards in the set are rare. Ed finally admitted defeat on that one.

Ed became obsessed with golf after retiring from the Post in 2001 and played around 500 North Carolina courses.  He wanted to play every course in the state, but it’s a quest he didn’t quite finish. About 30 courses eluded him, but he’s believed to hold the record for most courses played. It will be hard for the next generation to top him. He played many courses that no longer exist.

Ed was best known in recent years for his daily running streak, with a minimum requirement of one mile. His streak ranked 82nd in the nation when it finally ended, and, yes, there’s a society that keeps track of such things. Ed was a member. For the record, a hamstring injury finally halted his streak on Sept.12 of this year, not leukemia.

Ed started that streak on June 23, 1993. He realized after about a month that he had a good thing going, and so he kept at it every day for 24 years, plus 82 days. That’s 8,847 straight days.  He logged 21,957 miles during the streak. He ran every day regardless of the weather or his health or his mood or his workload. When necessary, he moved furniture and ran in hotel rooms.  There were nights, with the clock approaching midnight, that he jogged around the newsroom at the Post to keep the streak alive. He had a mile course mapped out, precise down to the inch. We all chuckled about it, but deep down, we admired his dedication, his determined doggedness. It’s who he was.

He recorded every mile he ever put behind him and ran at least one in all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. All told, he ran 41,093.5 miles. He completed 13 marathons.

Ed grew up in China Grove as a Cleveland Indians fan. His father, Edwin H. Dupree, instilled the love of sports.

Ed wanted ran track for coach Lope Linder, but his last two years of high school were spent in Frankfurt, Germany, where his father, a sergeant and a career military man, was stationed. Ed’s father was a veteran of World War II and Korea, but he told Ed that if he had it all to do over again he would’ve become a sportswriter. Ed would live out that dream for him.

Ed went to the University of North Carolina, joined the indoor track team and became the sports editor of the Daily Tar Heel.

He worked at the Winston-Salem Journal and was hired as sports editor of the Morganton News Herald. From there, he became sports editor of the Thomasville Times.

Ed married Jessie “Bitsy” Andrew, a schoolteacher, on  April 10, 1964, in Gaffney, S.C. It was a marriage that lasted more than 53 years.

Early in 1966, the Salisbury Post was in the market for an assistant sports editor.  Ed was hired to fill that role. Jimmy Hurley, George Raynor and sports editor Horace Billings were the ones who brought him to Salisbury. Officially, Ed’s first day on the job was Feb.5, 1966.

He attended a basketball game that night, covered the Boyden High boys squandering a fourth-quarter lead and losing to Lexington, 48-46. His byline appeared for the first time in the Post the following afternoon. He told it like it was, and that would be his style for the next 35 years. There probably have been writers who turned phrases more cleverly than Ed or who had broader vocabularies, but he was unmatched as far as accuracy and detail. He kept staggering volumes of stats, not just points, but rebounds, steals, assists and shooting percentages — for both teams.

He would win statewide writing awards in four different decades.

Ed’s son, Brett, was born six months after he started at the Post, and the Duprees officially became part of the Faith community.

Ed was in his early 30s when his life took a rewarding turn. He was a weekend athlete, a YMCA basketball player, but as a smoker and as a sportswriter who ate a lot of fast food on the road, he was getting chubby and he was experiencing shortness of breath.

His solution was to give up smoking and to challenge himself to start running. He figured out the number of  laps it took to run a mile on the YMCA track. After about six months on the track, he started running outside, and he felt like a new person.

In 1974, Ed was covering a basketball event in Raleigh. While he was there he checked out Raleigh’s local youth track program, one of the first in the state. On the drive home, Ed made up his mind that the same thing could be accomplished in Salisbury.

Ed started that local track program with five kids who played on the basketball team he coached at the Salisbury YMCA.  They would be known as the Faith Flyers, based in the small town where he lived. Ed was all-in. He bought uniforms, started getting them entered in competitions. After starting with five members in March of 1974, the Flyers had expanded to 25 athletes two months later. Ed kept meticulous records for every one of them, not just for the competitions, but for each workout. He hauled the athletes around in his station wagon, with maybe a dozen kids stuffed in there, from Faith Elementary School to East Rowan High for practice. Flyers were sitting on laps. Flyers were everywhere.

“I think Ed knew that many of us would not have been able to participate without those daily rides,” Benjy Hamm, now the editorial page editor for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, wrote in an email to the Post. “So he sacrificed his own time to help us. I don’t know anyone who would have done what he did. I have never known anyone who gave as much of himself and changed as many lives as he did.”

The Flyers would begin producing annual state champions. Ed would drive them to Nebraska, to Texas, to Pennsylvania and Florida. Winning races mattered to him, but improvement mattered more. Ed convinced even the slowest of the Flyers that every time they ran a PR, they were winners. He told his best athletes that they could win if they did their best, but he never told anyone they had to win.

Lu Holshouser Gamewell was a Flyer. She was the first female athlete to receive a scholarship to UNC. Jeff Hutchinson, who set a 3A state record in the 1600 meters in 1980 that still stands, was a Flyer. So was Kim Fisher Shuping, who was ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. in the marathon and held the county record for women for 31 years. Pat Poole, another Flyer, soared to high jump records, and went to Appalachian State on a track scholarship.

And there were dozens more success stories. Hundreds of grown-ups in Rowan County still refer to Ed simply as “Coach.”

Ed coached the Flyers from 1974-86. He was named Faith’s Citizen of the Year in 1980 and he was named Citizen of the Year by the Eastern Rowan Ladies Civitan Club in 1981.

When Ed was inducted into the Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, it probably was as much for what he did with the Flyers as for his sportswriting career.

Having said that, his sportswriting career was incredible. We still have stacks of hand-written stats in manila folders at the Post, and not just for football, basketball and baseball. Ed’s endless love for statistics and records left us with a substantial base for records in cross country, track and field, golf and tennis.

I needed to check on Mount Ulla High’s 1952 basketball season for a story recently. It wasn’t all that hard. Ed had done the research long ago. Every game, every score, every point scored by every player was documented.

On Jan.10, 1988, Billings stepped down as the Post’s sports editor. He had become sports editor, the state’s youngest, when he was 19 years old in 1948. When Billings finally decided to slow down a bit, 40 years later, he was the dean of the state’s sports editors. Ed replaced him. Those were big shoes to fill, but Horace worked for Ed just as easily as Ed worked for Horace. Both of them realized it wasn’t about them. It was about the athletes and the coaches, and their job was to tell their story.

When he was promoted, Ed said, “The Post has gained a reputation as a newspaper which gives balanced coverage of local, state and national sports — with a local emphasis — and that tradition will continue.” For the five years he was sports editor, he was as good as his word.

He became senior sportswriter after that, churning out more columns and fewer game stories.

Ed’s farewell column appeared in the Post on June 24, 2001. He retired on July 6. Maybe the biggest thrills he had during all his years at the Post came from watching his son compete in golf in the 1980s and watching his daughter, Allison Dupree Adams, compete in a lot of sports in the 1990s. Allison was an All-State runner and East Rowan’s Senior Female Athlete of the Year. She also was Senior Female Athlete of the Year at Catawba College and is a perennial winner in the Labor Day Four-Ball Golf Tournament.

In his first few years after retiring from the Post, Ed still covered games  for the Independent Tribune and still wrote award-winning stories for golf magazines.

Finally, he pulled himself away from writing for good, focusing on golf, running and serving as an assistant coach for his daughter’s Erwin Middle School basketball teams. Allison coached Erwin’s seventh and eighth-grade girls teams from 2001-13, and Ed didn’t miss a minute of practice. He helped Eagles with their shooting forms and defensive stances. He kept complete stats for each game, stats that he eagerly emailed to the paper. That’s why we had as much information about the Erwin girls as we did the rest of the league put together. Together, Ed and Allison coached 350 games and won 279 times.

The first time my own byline appeared in the Post, it was because of Ed. That was in 1987. I’d won a national fantasy baseball contest and was in Minnesota for the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Twins. Every morning at the hotel, I’d get a call from Ed, wanting my impressions of the previous night’s game. He wrote the stories, but he generously put my name on them.

I owe Ed more than anyone for the decades I’ve been able to spend as a sportswriter. I wrote my first story for the Post when I was almost 40, and I had a lot to learn. Ed was the one who taught me.  “Red Sox is two words, not one,” Ed told me gently after my first attempt to do a baseball boxscore.

Every day we worked together, he taught me something.

And while I’d won a national fantasy contest, I was still no match for Ed. We both had franchises in three local leagues, all of which got started back in the mid-1980s. Ed became obsessed with it, and he was great at it. He studied players and draft strategies longer and harder than anyone else, traded more shrewdly than anyone else, and he won more than anyone else. He had rookie sensation Aaron Judge on his team in our American League this season, and he just pounded us. I’m glad Ed won his last pennant race.

Ed was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome a number of years ago. He came to our Wednesday lunch gathering one day, casually told us about it and explained that MDS was often the precursor to leukemia.

But he carried on with a normal life for a long time, playing golf, loving his family, spoiling his two grandchildren, and running, always running.

We all hoped he could go on forever. He won’t be forgotten by anyone who knew him.

At East Rowan’s 35th reunion last month there was a lot of talk about Ed.

“All of us who ran for the Faith Flyers had many coaches throughout our school years, but even 35 years later we all understand that ‘Coach’ means Ed Dupree,”Hamm wrote in his email. “He was one of a kind. He meant a lot to the whole county, but it’s impossible to overestimate what he meant to the eastern Rowan community, and especially Faith.”


There’s a full obituary in today’s paper.

Visitation is at Powles-Staton Funeral Home, Rockwell, from 6-8 p.m. on Saturday.

The funeral service is at Shiloh United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. on Sunday.