The world got a little less friendly last Friday morning as word spread around Northeast Tennessee that Jimmy Moore had passed away.
By any measure, Jimmy lived a remarkable life. He was a Vietnam veteran who went on to have a distinguished career at Eastman before eventually retiring from the company in 1999. But it was Jimmy’s work as a sports writer at the Kingsport Times News, and later at Tri-Citeis Sports, that allowed him to have a deep, positive impact on so many people around our region.
Jimmy was already a seasoned sports writer by the time I crossed paths with him for the first time on Oct. 4, 2005, at Link Hills Country Club in Greeneville. I had been a sports writer for less than three months, fresh out of ETSU and strutting around the golf course like I knew what I was doing. But truth be told, I was in over my head.
I had played a lot of golf in my life, but I had never really covered a golf tournament. I wasn’t sure how to gather scores or go about wrangling interviews with the players and coaches I needed to talk to.
I must have looked pretty frazzled when Jimmy first laid eyes on me from his chair next to the 18th green, because he greeted me with his trademark smile, asked me who I was and which paper I was with. Before long, he was ushering me around to everyone I needed to talk to without making it seem like he was training me, which he was. And that wasn’t his job – we didn’t even work for the same media outlet.
When I moved over to the Times News in Kingsport near the end of 2015, I started crossing paths with Jimmy more often. I came to appreciate that smile of his and the authentic, infectious enthusiasm that accompanied it. Many times when we were sitting next to each other covering a game, he’d reach into his pocket and offer me a piece of butterscotch candy, which I always happily accepted even though it made me feel like I was starring in one of those old Werther’s Original commercials.
As time went on, Jimmy became a constant, positive influence in my life. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time – maybe I was just too young to appreciate it – Jimmy was a mentor to me and so many other young sports writers he crossed paths with.
I’ve said many times before that being a sports writer can be a very isolating profession. You work an opposite schedule from most of the world. You spend most nights and weekends away from your family. You spend countless hours in your car alone driving to an endless string of assignments. And once you get there, you’re alone in the crowd, an impartial observer in the midst of two opposing groups of fans you often don’t have any connection to.
But any time I’d show up inside a gym or at a field in some far-flung town and see Jimmy, I knew I’d have a friend to keep me company. And I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t always make that an easy role for Jimmy to play.
In those days I was often either brooding, stressed or downright cantankerous. I imagine Jimmy saw me coming his way many times with a proverbial storm cloud hanging over my head, but he always made the choice to welcome me over to where he was sitting anyway.
As the action unfolded, Jimmy would tell me a string of stories that always managed to put me at ease. I’d often get an update on his grandson Matthew’s tee-ball team (as I recall, those teams were always undefeated) and hear how proud he was of his sons Jeremy and Marty. No matter what kind of day or week I’d been having up to that point, I’d start to feel good when I was around Jimmy, because he felt good and it was infectious.
Jimmy was fortunate enough to cover a lot of big events in his time, from Peyton Manning’s exploits at the University of Tennessee to races at Bristol Motor Speedway during NASCAR’s heyday. But his greatest impact was on the high school athletes and coaches he treated with so much kindness and respect. He always went out of his way to use his platform to paint people in the best light, to write stories those young athletes could look back on with pride long after their playing days were over.
In a world where everyone is busy tearing each other down, Jimmy made the effort to build other people up. That’s a legacy we all should strive to carry on.