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Food, laughter, apostrophes and great writing.

That’s what I think of when I remember my former co-worker David McCollum, longtime sports editor and reporter for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway.

McCollum, 68, died Monday after heart surgery, and he had recently been diagnosed as a diabetic, his wife, Beverly, posted on Facebook. He got out of the hospital on the Friday before he died, and Beverly said he thought he should go to a church meeting on Sunday. Dependable David. Always.

When I think of him, I think of his love of food, especially free food. He was the first in line at a potluck or at the break table at the newspaper.

One of his favorite stories to reminisce about with my husband and me was when we were at Toad Suck Daze, and our then 1 1/2-year-old,

John, was eating a corn dog. My husband, also David, said, “Tammy, did you buy John a corn dog?”

Nope. Our son had picked up a half-eaten corn dog off the ground and was munching on it. McCollum thought that was hilarious.

McCollum loved to relive funny stories and incidents that happened in the newsroom or out covering an event. He never bragged on himself — ever. And he could have. Even though he had been a reporter for more than 50 years and covered sports for 36 years at the Log Cabin Democrat, he didn’t talk about his many, many awards and accolades.

The Log Cabin Democrat’s former publisher and owner Frank Robins picked McCollum to cover Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993. My husband, who was McCollum’s editor for 12 of my husband’s 15 years at the paper, said other reporters were disappointed they weren’t getting to go. But Frank’s reasoning was that McCollum was used to covering stories on the road, and nobody could deny McCollum was a talented writer, my husband said.

I only learned since McCollum died that he covered the iconic tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. How I wish I’d known so I could have asked him about it and heard him tell the story.

I asked my husband, when we were reminiscing about David: “Did you ever see David McCollum get mad?”

My husband furrowed his brow in thought. “Not mad, but he’d get frustrated sometimes on deadline.”

I saw McCollum annoyed once in a blue moon, when we were both working on deadline at night. It wasn’t scary at all. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body, so it was out of character when he got upset. And it didn’t last long.

One thing McCollum brought up often was the incorrect use of apostrophes. Drove him crazy. I can’t count the times he said, “We just need to do away with apostrophes because nobody knows how to use them. We ought to just get rid of them.” We had that conversation many times.

My husband and I sat with McCollum at many awards ceremonies, and he always racked up in the sports categories, and that was when there was a lot more competition than today.

I loved McCollum’s Column and his recurring David’s Citations “for the interesting, weird and just plain zany in sports,” he wrote once.

He was an encyclopedia. He knew the history of the coaches, the teams, the players. He knew people in many communities and at colleges.

Reporters usually have some amount of ego, but David had none, despite the awards, and despite the fact that he was, a la Will Ferrell in Anchorman, “a really big deal” in the journalism world. You’d never know it. David wasn’t a fashionista by any means, and he was never going to be the tallest guy in the room.

He wasn’t a threat; he was a nice guy who loved and understood sports, so he gained players’ and coaches’ respect (see David, correct use of apostrophes!) He gained everyone’s trust, too, because he had integrity and got the facts right.

You cannot replace that kind of institutional knowledge. He was at the Log Cabin when my husband and I started working there in 1990 and had been there long before that. McCollum worked for several publishers, and he saw young reporters come and go. He remained steady, true and hardworking and cranked out excellent articles that hit the heart of the subject, no matter what.

And it’s his big heart that everyone will miss the most.

Journalism took a huge hit when he left us because David McCollum was a rare combination of heart and talent. I’m glad I got to witness it.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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