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January 8, 2008

Damn you, Bob

Inside Bob’s office at “the U of L,” as he called it, hung a framed copy of an ee cummings poem. I remember thinking about the connection between poetry and journalism. It was years later that I studied the words and realized why he had the poem in his office. cummings wrote:Damn everything but the circus! 
... damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won’t get into the circle, that won’t enjoy, that won’t throw its heart into the tension, surprise, fear and delight of the circus, the round 
world, the full existence ... Well, that was Bob, wasn’t it? He was always damning this or that with his sharp tongue, but wasn’t he really encouraging everyone he met to live more fully, to seize the joy and wondrous variety that life can offer?My god, 70 years as a reporter, writer, thinker, and doer — all rolled up together and done with such style and wit. Bob had a zest for life that made those who came into his orbit want to live more fully, and to search out that joy-in-living he seemed to never lose sight of. Once, I spent half a year working with him on what we thought at the time would be something of a memoir.I have always cherished those afternoons, now maybe 10 years ago, where we sat with tape recorder whirling, and pen-and-notepad dancing. I’d ask a question, and he would launch into what would become pages full of stories about the Old New York of his pre-war youth. Along the way he evoked such enthusiasm not just for journalism, and not even just for literature and writing, but for a kind of life that must be fully lived.From tales of standing on soap boxes as a teenager in New York City shouting out socialist messages, to the veritable tidal wave of newspapers his father took each day, to his entry as an undergraduate as a shy 16-year-old, to the funny stories of his father and stepmother following him first to St. Louis, where he eventually worked for Norman Isaacs, and even to Florida, when he was assigned a cushy job after he was back from the war.He worked for TIME when TIME straddled the world of establishment journalism unlike anything we know today, and where his work landed as cover stories about Alaskan statehood (he spent several days with someone very much a bush pilot, and almost crashed into the mountains, as he surveyed the wilderness for that story), about the first transcontinental flight and many others.Maybe his best known piece of work, however, was as a documentary producer for KING Broadcasting in Seattle (owned by Dorothy Bullitt, a relation I believe of the Oxmoor Bullitts). He led the documentary on the plight of migrant farm workers — a big piece that predated and presaged Edward R. Murrow’s famous Harvest of Shame report.Search TIME’s website for Bob’s name and you’ll find a scattering of mentions from the 1950s.One letter not mentioned stands out in my mind clearly: He was pictured in the editor’s note column for the first edition of Sports Illustrated, where a young Bob Schulman was running to catch up with two famous and dueling 4-minute milers at the Pan Am Games or something like that. The editor hailed the technology that would for the first time allow a national sports weekly to publish timely news from around the world.He was also a lifelong lover of the arts, and spent time working in theater in St. Louis in the 1940s, where he met Tennessee Williams. He worked for the St Louis papers, where he once told me one of his early roles was to visit widows’ homes and sneak out the photo of the deceased before the rival dailies could do so — a theft he said was part of the business at the time, and always followed up with the photo returned.Most of all, his friends will remember him as a bon vivant, a world traveler with his extraordinary wife Louise, a lifetime enthusiast of dozens of different interests, and a loyal, passionate friend and mentor who always pushed for excellence, even while being quick with an arm on your shoulder, a pat on the back and a big and welcome smile.Damn it all, but we will miss Bob Schulman. Michael Lindenberger is a former editor of The Louisville Cardinal who now reports for The Dallas Morning News. Contact him at mlindenberger@dallasnews.com