Today is the first full day of spring, a fine time to pay respects to one of the most talented writers I ever knew.
It is a belated tribute. Richard Barnum-Reece died in late January, his heart giving out completely some 18 months after it gave out partially at the beginning of the Scofield Triathlon, an event that, ironically, Richard had years earlier originated.
Richard had just entered the frigid water of Scofield Reservoir, and after several strokes, he stopped swimming. He floundered for nearly 15 minutes before they got him into a boat, unconscious, considered dead. But as luck had it, or didn't have it, a doctor at the dock revived him so he could spend the remainder of his life brain-damaged. Finally, on Jan. 29, 2008, at the age of 62, he expired.
Being late in acknowledging this remarkable man's life is something of a payback for me, a settling up for the time I arranged for Richard to be hired at the Deseret News and he missed the job interview entirely.
I was sports editor at the time, and a position in sports was his, providing he survived the interview with our then-editor Bill Smart.
I didn't hear from Richard until about a week later, when he mumbled an excuse that we both knew was his way of saying he realized he wasn't cut out to work for anybody other than himself. In retrospect, I shouldn't have tried to lure him to the dark side in the first place.
He elected to keep doing what he was doing editing and publishing his Utah Runner and Cyclist and directing the local running races, biathlons and triathlons that became his legacy.
He was a one-man industry who operated out of his truck, regularly dropping off Utah Runner bundles at locations along the Wasatch Front.
Then on weekends, he'd direct the events that gave him his copy for the next edition.
The Utah Runner was free, which made it the biggest bargain in journalistic history. Because there, amid ads for running shoes and Speedos and full results from the Bountiful 5K, was a column called "Last Lap" by Richard Barnum-Reece.
I'd reach for it like I'd reach for Rick Reilly's column in the back of Sports Illustrated.
In that little runner's weekly, Barnum-Reece produced some seriously elegant and poignant writing. It was like running into Hemingway in Wal-Mart.
But doing it his way, and only his way, was the charm of a man who survived two alcoholic fathers, three ex-wives, a lifelong case of wanderlust, an aversion to authority and the tragic early death of his Vietnam vet brother, Robert.
In spite of his demons, and no doubt because of them, Barnum-Reece made himself into as colorful and idiosyncratic a figure as journalism and athletics has seen around here.
I'm already missing my running season fix of "Last Lap" philosophy. I'd particularly enjoy reading Richard's take on the guy who gave up drinking, became a vegan, got himself into the best shape since he was on the University of Utah's Liberty Bowl football team of 1964, and then died competing in a central Utah triathlon he invented.Because Richard's best topic, hands-down, was when he wrote about himself.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.