The first minute of the first hour of the first morning I spent working for the Deseret News I met the guy in the desk next to mine by not meeting him.

This was in the B.C. days of newspapering — before carrels and before computers — and the sports department back then consisted of seven desks all connected together.

An eighth desk belonged to Hack Miller, the longtime columnist, who was given a position of some honor around the corner.

I remember Hack saying something semi-cordial when I walked into the office at the 6 a.m. starting time — this was pre-Internet, keep in mind, and everyone came in at 6 a.m. to write their copy for that evening's paper.

But from the guy sitting next to me, nothing.

About half an hour later, he managed to mumble, "Here. Write this headline."

That was followed an hour or so later by, "We're going out for breakfast. Answer the phones."

It wasn't until about a week had gone by that he introduced himself.

"I'm Ray Grass," he said.

Kinda weird the way you meet your best friends in journalism.

They were breaking the new guy in properly, is what they were doing. Messing with me. In basketball, the rookie carries the bags; in baseball, they send him to get the key to the pitcher's mound. On the sports desk, circa 1973, it involved writing everyone else's headlines and answering everyone else's phone calls while they went to the Pine Cone for breakfast.

They all took enjoyment in the ritual, but none more than Ray, who had added incentive because he was a graduate of the University of Utah and I came from Brigham Young University. At the time there were no other Cougars on the staff. I waded into a sea of Utes, and on a sports desk such things matter. I took more crap than a feedlot. Grass was relentless with his smack talk. I always knew it came from a double inferiority complex — from first attending South High (now defunct) and then the U. because he couldn't get into BYU.

Anyway, that's how we met, and bonded, you might say. In the world of sportswriters, there is no better way to form a lifelong friendship.

Grass and I, the Ute and the Cougar, have either done it all, said it all or read about it all. We've skied together — usually on his passes — we've ridden dirt bikes together; we've fished together, we've written a book together; we've covered Speed Week on the Salt Flats and lost 20 bucks at Wendover together, and, above it all, we've spent a career staying sane by talking and commiserating with each other about some ridiculous new policy instituted by that ever-present cloud on the horizon — management.

Ray has written about all sorts of things. He started out on night police and then moved into sports. He thought it was only going to last until he got his business degree and became the next Warren Buffett (or, to be precise, the first Warren Buffett since back then no one knew who Warren Buffett was).

But his degree, alas, was from the U. of U. ...

He eventually found out what a lot of us find out — journalism isn't a way station in life, it's a way of life. It sure beats working.

Most people reading this column will recognize Ray Grass as the Deseret News outdoor editor, the position he's held for the past 30-plus years. In that time he has produced virtually every outdoor section the paper has published. He's covered hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, river-running, anything to do with the outdoors. His specialty has been skiing. A certified ski instructor himself, he has covered the sport from every angle, and it would be fair to say no one in history has done more to publicize or popularize Utah skiing. He has won numerous awards for his outdoor sections and in particular for his skiing coverage.

Still, my most memorable story from Ray was the time he was at Lake Powell covering a woman attempting to swim from Wahweap Marina to Bullfrog Marina, a distance of 100 miles.

Ray was in a boat, chronicling the swimmer's progress, and in an attempt to make deadline while still getting a decent night's sleep, prior to going to bed he filed a report about her swimming under Rainbow Bridge wearing a big smile on her face.

This was before strong headwinds came up early in the morning and forced the swimmer to abandon her quest several miles before she got to Rainbow Bridge.

I was on the desk and took the call from Ray when he woke up and realized the error of his prognosticating and said in something of a panic, "Kill the story!"

"We've got a bad connection," I told him. "I cannot hear you."

For me that was a nice moment.

I'm doing all this reminiscing because today is Ray's last day as a full-time writer at the News. Forty-seven years gone, just like that. I can't believe it and neither can he. And I've got to be honest here, if I could turn back the clock and it was Grass and Ewer and Pattison and Checketts and Ferguson and Kadleck and Blodgett, and Miller in the corner, I'd gladly do it all over again.

Only Grass would answer the phones.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.