Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Lessons in a friend's death: Meet Ed Knocke, newspaperman

Ed Knocke, newspaperman, at a reenactment of his re-crafting of Page 1 of The Dallas Morning News
the night  RFK was shot in Los Angeles in June 1968.
Make a donation to the Alzheimer's Association.

We laughed when my wife pronounced Ed Knocke’s last name “knock.” We Dallas Morning News employees, of course, knew him as KAH-No-KEE. The longtime newspaperman and rodeo writer also went by "Big Ed,” “Prince of the Pica Pole” and, most affectionately, “Doc.” On deadline, some us called him names that are not for public consumption. Big Ed, 79, died Monday from complications of a stroke and Alzheimer’s, that bastard of a disease. We who knew him mourn. For those who didn't know Ed, let me introduce you.

A lifelong Texan, Ed was a product of a bygone era of newspapering — an era of great, colorful characters. People like “Gator,” a printer who kept an alligator in his bathtub, an old cigar in his mouth and a thick wad of cash in his back pocket. And Augie, Billy, Marvin and the rest of the gang in the backshop, where the newspaper was pasted up on boards. They made us night sports editors laugh — and sometimes cry -- while we combined to put out a newspaper. And then there was another born-and-bred Texan, Harless Wade, the columnist, golf writer, Man About Town and Mickey Mantle’s buddy. He had a nickname for everyone. (“Sawed-off Mountain Yankee,” Harless called me.) The ringleader of it all was Dave Smith, the greatest newspaper sports editor of all time.

My brother-in-law Nels Jensen, another outstanding newspaperman,
with our friend Ed Knocke, "Big Ed," recently in Arizona.
Damn, we sure had fun back then, and Ed, in a way, was the center of attention. Layout man Knocke designed the morning paper in the era before pagination, drawing the lines that resulted in the daily miracle of The Dallas Morning News’ fabulous sports section. Oh, how the University of Texas grad loved the newspaper and newspapering. Open up his veins and we swear black ink would gush out.

Stories oozed out of Ed, too. Lord, the man could tell stories. Some of us heard the same ones repeatedly, but we never cared. When you were around Ed, he made you feel good.

True story: Ed was the only editor in The Dallas Morning News' newsroom super-early one June morning in 1968. The paper had been put to bed. Suddenly, the bells on the teletype machine — look it up, youngsters — sprang to life. Something massive was happening. Robert Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles. Ed, the sports guy, re-crafted Page 1, and the story made the final edition of The Miracle. A newspaper legend was born.

On deadline, Ed was a trip, a whirling-dervish of emotion and intensity. We winced as Doc spewed food from his mouth while he rushed to complete another sports section of the newspaper. Dang, I wish that were available on YouTube. After the paper was put to rest for the night, Ed would often say, "We're in the tub." Then he might go off to write a column about rodeo, another one of Ed's great loves.

My brother-in-law Nels Jensen — God bless him — visited with Knocke in Arizona recently. The effects of Doc's disease were apparent. Soon after Nels posted on Facebook last night about Ed’s death, tributes poured in.
How to donate
 to Alzheimer's Association

"What a consummate pro."

"It was an honor working alongside Ed."

"I am a better person for knowing Ed."

"I’m thankful Ed helped a guy from the Bronx figure out his first rodeo."

"Brady, LeBron, Serena ... greatest of all time? No, it was Ed."

"No matter the night or whatever we faced on the sports desk," read another, "Ed always had a moment with his infectious laugh that made you know it was all going to be OK."

As I was walking early this morning, I couldn’t get “Big Ed” off my mind. I had not seen him in years, and felt poorer for that. I planned to visit with him later this month during a family visit in Arizona for the holidays. There are lessons in Ed Knocke's life — and in his death — for all of us.

Stay in touch with those you love. Put your phone down. Observe. Be kind. Get to know your neighbor or co-worker. Listen. Embrace the characters in your life.

Enjoy the journey. 

You don't want an Ed Knocke to pass you by.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you John. I knew Ed for over 30 years, he was my step father and much more present than my biological dad. There will never be another Ed Knocke, I’m sure of that. The stories are bringing a smile to me and my siblings, niece and nephews. I’m thinking my mother was waiting for him with our old beloved dog Annie, whom would squeal with happiness when Ed got hope. He’s having barbecue and bluebell riding in a Buick listening to Willie.

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    1. Nicole: We all loved Big Ed, a one-of-a-kind character and an outstanding newspaperman. Fond memories of bygone days. We sure had fun back then.

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  2. Thanks for posting John. Those life lessons are words to live by, for sure.

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  3. When I came to TDMN from Abilene, I'd already won my fair share of awards for layout design, but I learned more from Ed in a short time than I'd learned in my previous two newspaper stops. He was indeed the Prince of the Pica Pole. And, yes, he could spin a yarn or two hundred. A kind and genial man, but a hard driver when deadline approached. I doubt we'll see his like again. Thanks for the lovely tribute.

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