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Shirley Lewis Povich

POVICH, SHIRLEY LEWIS (1905–1998), sports reporter, editor, and columnist for the Washington Post for 76 years. Born in Bar Harbor, Maine, the eighth of ten children to Lithuanian immigrants Rosa (Orlovich) and Nathan, Povich was named after his grandmother Sarah, or "Sorella" in Yiddish, thus "Shirley," which accounted for his listing in Who's Who of American Women in 1962. Povich's father, who arrived in the U.S. in 1878 at age 20 with his grandfather, owned a furniture store frequented by the wealthy families who maintained summer homes in the area, including Edward McLean, owner of the Washington Post, for whom Povich caddied at the Kebo Valley Country Club. After graduating from Morse High School in Bath, Maine, in 1922, 17-year-old Povich was persuaded by McLean to move to D.C. to serve as his caddy and to work at the Washington Post. Povich's first day in Washington found him caddying for President Warren Harding, and on his second day he started working in the Post's city room – first as a copyboy and then a police reporter and a rewrite man, before moving to the sports department in 1924. Povich attended Georgetown University – paid for by McLean – from 1922 to 1924, when he left without a degree. His first byline appeared on August 5, 1924, above a report on the Washington Senators.

In 1926, at age 20, Povich was named Post sports editor, the youngest sports editor of a metropolitan daily in the nation. His column, "This Morning With Shirley Povich," ran from August 1926 until 1974, interrupted only by a stint as a war correspondent in the South Pacific during World War II. In 1933, Povich gave up his position as sports editor to concentrate on his column, logging more than 15,000 columns during his career, including some 50 a year after his "retirement" in 1973. Povich, who covered 60 World Series and 20 Super Bowls, was an eyewitness to most of the significant sporting events of the 20th century: the 1927 Dempsey-Tunney "Long Count" fight; Ruth's "called shot" in the 1932 World Series; and Cal Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak. Povich wrote with clarity, style, grace, and wit, and some of his writings are considered sports journalism classics. At Lou Gehrig's retirement speech at Yankee Stadium in 1939 he wrote: "I saw strong men weep this afternoon, expressionless umpires swallow hard, and emotion pump the hearts and glaze the eyes of 61,000 baseball fans in Yankee Stadium. Yes, and hard-boiled news photographers clicked their shutters with fingers that trembled a bit."

Povich was an early voice for the integration of sports, writing a column advocating the integration of Major League Baseball in 1939, eight years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. When he finally signed, Povich wrote: "Four hundred and fifty-five years after Columbus eagerly discovered America, major league baseball reluctantly discovered the American Negro…" He regularly criticized then-Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall for refusing to hire any black players. On one occasion, Povich wrote: "Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday."

Povich wrote until, literally, the day before he died, and his last column appeared the following day. He was the recipient of the Baseball Writers Association of America's J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the Baseball Hall of Fame honor for sports-writers, in 1975, and he is the only sportswriter to receive the National Press Club's prestigious Fourth Estate Award (1997). The University of Maryland created the Shirley Povich Chair in Sports Journalism in his memory. He was elected to the National Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1984.

Povich, the father of American television personality Maury Povich, is the author of The Washington Senators (1954) and All These Mornings (1969). A collection of his columns, All Those Mornings … At the Post, was published in 2005.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.