WHEELING - Oh, the sights the eyes of Richard 'Hoot' Gibson must have seen. Far more than any other Ohio Valley journalist I can think of, past or present.
What he undoubtedly saw early Wednesday morning at Wheeling Hospital trumps it all, though. After nearly a year of battling cancer, Hoot, 60, received a call up to the biggest of the big leagues and is now a member of God's team.
''I grew up reading Hoot's columns and articles, and I remember always thinking that if Hoot was covering the game, it had to be one of the biggest on the card that night,'' Times Leader Sports Editor Seth Staskey said. "Rich had the opportunity to cover things that many only dream of in this profession. His passing not only leaves a void at this paper, but certainly in the realm of Ohio Valley sports journalism.
"I know Rich will be missed greatly by all those who knew him, but he'll never be forgotten."
Hoot, who attended St. Clairsville and Harding University and was a member of the T-L staff for 32 years, will be partially remembered as the small-town journalist that covered big-time events. Gibson had 10 Super Bowls, 18 College football bowl games, several men's Final Fours and a number of World Series and Major League Baseball All-Star Games on his resume and could be regularly found in the press boxes of Mountaineer Field and Ohio Stadium.
"He loved traveling across the country for sporting events,'' retired Wheeling Newspapers Executive Sports Editor Nick Bedway recalled Wednesday. "He was just pretty knowledgeable and a very capable writer.
"He treated everyone so well and was a very likeable guy."
Attending those major events is what Hoot did for fun, often in his spare time - a sports lifer, he certainly was. The thing is, Gibson was just as at home heading out those windy roads to Beallsville to cover a prep showdown. Everyone knew he enjoyed spotlighting our Ohio Valley kids, so much so that he is scheduled to be inducted into the OVAC Hall of Fame this summer.
Sadly, Hoot won't get a chance to receive the award, but a measure of comfort comes from knowing he was aware of just how high of regard he was held in by his contemporaries.
"When he was in the service, if I remember correctly he was stationed in Italy, he wrote me a letter and told me he was a St. Clairsville guy who enjoyed reading about sports,'' said Doug Huff, retired sports editor of The Intelligencer. "He said that when he returned he wanted to come back and get into the media and that is what he did. That was the first time I had ever heard of Richard "Hoot" Gibson.
"He knew everybody and made friends with everyone. There was never an event that was too big or too small for him to cover."
Many people don't know this, but Hoot was a huge hockey fan. As the beat writer for the Wheeling Nailers, I had the fortune of spending a fair amount of time with him in that arena during the course of the last seven years. It was impossible not to smile when you saw Hoot walking down the WesBanco Arena concourse, heading for the press box. I knew I would be hearing a night's worth of stories about his latest cross-country adventures.
Sure enough, he would talk about being in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl and stopping to catch a Coyotes game. The man loved what he did perhaps more than any person I've met.
"He was a sports-a-holic. That is the best way I can describe him,'' Huff said. "It was his life.
"It's a shame that we have lost a guy who was so vibrant and so mobile, so soon. He should have had many more years."
What impressed me the most about Hoot Gibson was his ability to tell it like it is without making enemies. He tackled some of the toughest stories out there, didn't pull any punches and yet you could search far and wide without being able to find someone with a bad thing to say about the man.
That's the mark of a good, genuine person. The Ohio Valley lost a good writer Wednesday, but an even better person went with him.
Shawn Rine can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org