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For me, it was a guy named Richard Rials

By Staff
Nick Johnston, Sports Editor
There's always that one guy.
That one guy who works with you when you've done wrong, and praises you when you've done right. And that same night have you over for dinner.
For me, that guy was Richard Rials.
Richard wasn't much of a looker. He was the big, burly type, and I always kidded with him about it. But when it came to his job, nobody was better – bar none.
Richard was my first sports editor, and a damn good one. I could have been called his sports sidekick rather than his sports writer because I was always with him.
But I knew if I could learn just half of what he knew, I, too, would be a good journalist.
I received news last week Richard had died of a massive heart attack. He was too young.
E-mail is a funny thing, ya know? One day, I receive an e-mail saying I can get the lowest mortgage rate ever, and the next day I learn one of my best friends is dead from a heart attack.
When I first read the e-mail, I think I was in shock more than anything. I read it again, and then one more time, pausing only to wipe away a tear.
Richard's wife, Renell, had a friend send me the news.
But let me back up. Let me tell you a little about Richard and how good he was to me.
I was 19 years old when I found journalism jobs in Idaho, North Carolina and Oklahoma. I didn't just pick those jobs at random or anything, these were just the only newspapers I could find with entry-level sports writer positions available.
I decided Idaho was a little too far away, and North Carolina was a little close, so I went after the one in Durant, Oklahoma.
The newspaper flew me into Dallas from Nashville, where I was in school at the time, and I made the 90-mile trek north to Durant.
They basically offered the job to me on the spot. Not because I was good, but because I was the only fool who would work for $7 an hour.
But the main reason I wanted the job so bad was because I wanted experience. I had very limited experience beforehand, and somehow I knew the Durant Daily Democrat was the right place to be.
And it didn't take long for me to realize Richard was the sports editor I needed to be with.
Richard was from the old school. Write stories with no controversial lines, and make the athletes and coaches look as good as possible in the newspaper.
He had been writing for years. He knew everybody in Durant, and everybody in Durant knew him.
I knew no one.
I moved into a one-bedroom apartment, scared to death as to what I had gotten in to.
Richard realized this. He knew, with me only being 19, I was intimidated a little bit. But here's what he did. He took me to all the games, introduced me to all the coaches, players, parents and everybody else. He made sure everybody knew who I was, and made sure I knew everybody there was to know.
He also made sure I was doing my job. At first, I know I made Richard want to pull out his hair. I found ways to mess up stories and pictures. And sometimes, he would just laugh at me, show me how to do it, and expect me to do it the right way from then on.
I let him down most of the time the first few months I was there, but he worked with me. Worked hard with me. And finally, one day something just clicked.
I began writing better, and red marks on my stories became lighter and lighter.
I owed it all to Richard.
Richard and I still kept in touch, almost two years after I had left Durant. In fact, he called me on my cell phone just days before his heart attack to tell me he had gotten a new job at a bigger newspaper and things couldn't be better.
Now I sit here and think things couldn't be much worse. I didn't know this until after the funeral, so that's eating me up inside.
I remember the last time I saw him. I traveled back out to Oklahoma for an awards ceremony in June of 2002. I had plenty of money to make it home, but before I left he filled up my gas tank, shook my hand and hugged my neck.
I'll never see him again, but I hope he knew how much I appreciated him. I hope he knew that I would not be as knowledgeable of this job without him.
Thanks for all the patience, teaching, dinners, and free golf games, Richard. You were the best.