Tuesday afternoon I attended the funeral service for Caulton Tudor. Tudor (or “Toot” or “Toots” or about half a dozen other nicknames I learned he answered to at the service) was a legendary sportswriter and life-of-the-press-box for decades in North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast Conference. His former colleagues at the News & Observer, Joe Giglio and Luke DeCock, have both eulogized him in writing about as well as could be done (except if maybe Tudor were here to write it).
With Joe and Luke setting the bar high, WRAL’s Jeff Gravley met the challenge with an equally Toot-worthy performance as the “sports media rep” speaking at the service. He told stories. He did the voice. In about 8 minutes, he gave the audience a full Jimmy V day (laugh/cry/think). Bookending Gravley’s talk were Tudor’s best friend and brother, both of whom gave personal, poignant perspectives of the guy they knew before we all knew him as the scribe of tobacco road’s sports conscience.
After the service and speaking to the family, a group of folks–mostly sports media and/or News & Observer colleagues of Tudor’s–gathered to raise a glass and share a few more stories. Some were the ones that can’t be told in church, or printed in obituaries. Some were even a wee bit less than flattering to their dearly departed subject–the kind of stories that, as long as you’re alive, you remind people not to share but, dammit, SOMEbody better be telling about you when you’re gone. And Tudor had some great ones. Luke and Joe, almost inconceivably, came close to topping their written work in bringing Tudor’s spirit to full view through the leading and telling of tales, prompting others when it was their turn to finish a story the right way. Observing it all made me want to go back to college and become a newspaper writer and work at the N&O, or maybe even better go back in time and work there in the 1980’s, following NC State to Alburquerque and taking bus tours with the ACC.
A Team NandO Sports dept. group shot. The alums (many) far outnumber the currents (five) … pic.twitter.com/4kaDWIO0Xw
— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) November 8, 2017
One line stood out to me the most from Tudor’s service: His brother pointed out that he had opportunities to leave North Carolina for other jobs, presumably ones with more pay and prestige. I don’t doubt that for a second. He said Tudor stayed because the place he lived, the people he worked with and the people he covered meant a lot to him, and wasn’t sure he’d find another place like that.
One thing I’ve always believed about North Carolina is that, more than other states, the people of North Carolina are connected to each other across their cities, especially those that run along 40 and 70 coming west from the coast and extending through 40 and 85 heading to the mountains and Charlotte. Many states focus around one or two majors cities, while NC’s population is large but dispersed. Many states have one or two schools they focus on, while North Carolina is dotted with numerous high-ranking, prestigious colleges and universities spread throughout the state, each with its own community, but in a way, all connected.
The same is true of the North Carolina sports media, and by extension, the ACC media (which, as we all know come preseason and award voting time, is really just the NC media). There’s a connection across outlets, across cities, across beats among NC sports media. It’s a work hard, play hard, help each other so we can all do our best work environment. Caulton Tudor didn’t invent that culture, but he sure as hell embodied it. It was a repeated theme Tuesday.
Toot and Valvano, during State’s run in 1983. Kind of reporter-subject moment that would be much rarer (if it’d even exist) today … pic.twitter.com/SDsWYhgNNb
— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) November 7, 2017
If you had walked in White Memorial Church in the middle of the service and not known who anyone was, you could have mistaken the 6 rows of people packed tightly together towards the front of the sanctuary as family, but they were sportswriters, members of the ACC league office and N&O personnel, past and present. Before the service began, in addition to friends and family, the church filled with more print, radio, and TV media folks, as well as staff from various local schools. If Duke, State and UNC had ever made it to the Final Four in the same year, the pews at Tudor’s service would have included basically all of the credentialed media, school and ACC representatives at those games. Down the pew from me I heard a former N.C. State team doctor talking to a former Wolfpack hoops player (and incidentally, a former mayor of Raleigh) about what recruits might be signing this week. The chatter was upbeat and rose to a low din before the service began–I’m betting based on the audience and the honoree a lot of it was sports talk.
Seeing those in attendance, hearing people speak, listening to the stories told, reading what’s been written about him…..I can’t help but think what a wise man he was to recognize the value of the people he worked with when weighing what he might stand to gain by going somewhere else. I’m lucky to work in sports in North Carolina. I hope that, like him, I can always be someone who works hard (I could be better), plays hard (I’m good, thanks) and helps others do the best work they can do.