Arnie Burdick called story ideas "food."
He was a sports editor who wrote 300 columns a year. He fed ideas into a typewriter day in and day out, season after season for three decades. They were devoured by a Syracuse Herald-Journal press mighty enough to shake the building, then tossed in yards across Central New York, where Arnie was an institution.
That's what the headline called him when Bud Poliquin's column in The Post-Standard informed the faithful back home that Arnie died Tuesday on Hilton Head Island at 92. Reaction online shows that Burdick was not only still remembered, but missed, 28 years after retiring.
On Hilton Head, Arnie was cajoled into running the press tent for a year at the Heritage golf tournament. That was in 1986, when the PGA Tour event was on the brink of extinction and its host, Sea Pines Resort, was near bankruptcy. Arnie was believable and dependable when even the winner's purse looked a little bouncy.
He was still in the press tent this April, greeting us ink-stained wretches each morning with a smile, a compliment, an extended hand -- and story ideas to help us feel the drama and pageantry of men hitting dimpled balls with steel sticks.
In retirement, Arnie didn't wear socks, even to funerals. But he kept the thick skin and growl of a newspaper editor. It would have been easier to get an audience with the Pope than wheedle an extra media parking pass out of Arnie.
I have a typewritten note from him, attached to the Heritage broadcast-coverage plan in 2006:
"David ... The enclosed might be worth a kolum. Note how GLOBAL your lil ol dinky Heritage has gone. No outsourcing, but the penetration of the tournament's exposure now reaches the four corners of the world. How about that? Arnie."
He fed our newsroom with a call each spring when the fields of wildflowers started blooming in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. He headed a homeowners committee that brought major improvements to the preserve. Quietly, consistently and with no hurrah, Arnie brought attention to the preserve and to the community garden plots where he loved to work.
Roger Clark organized the Heritage media's "thank you" to Arnie by instigating the annual Arnie Burdick Media Award eight years ago.
It honors one of the press tent urchins and consists of an empty pair of horn-rimmed glasses like Arnie used to wear. Clark called it a tribute to Arnie's high standards and "distinctive combination of hard work, dedication and ... how should I describe it ... irreplaceable style."
In my 2007 file is another note from Arnie, again attached to the Heritage broadcasting plan:
"David ... Plenty of food in this piece -- global exposure (which you can't afford to buy) for Hilton Head Island and the state of South Carolina. Bestest, Arnie."
Arnie wasn't a household word here like he was in New York. But he knew what really fed us.