Columnist David Climer talks with Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt after a practice in this file photo. Climer, whose award-winning career at The Tennessean spanned more than 40 years, died Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020, in Nashville after a battle with cancer. (Photo: George Walker IV / The Tennessean)

The bad news first reached me three or four weeks ago. David Climer, one of the best sports writers the South has seen during his 38 years at The (Nashville) Tennessean, was struggling with stage 4 cancer. I made a note to call but didn't. Then last Thursday, while covering a Tennessee Titans practice, I was told he had taken a turn for the worse.

Early Monday morning, I found his phone number. I planned to check on him once the clock struck 9 a.m. in Nashville. Then I saw an email from a friend. Climer had died on Sunday. He was 66. I'll regret not making that phone call a couple of weeks ago for a long, long time.

We all have folks in our chosen professions whom we like. We also have folks we admire, maybe to the point even of envying their talent or success. Those folks don't always come in the same package. Climer checked all the boxes, however.

He was genuinely nice. He was also ethical. And immensely talented without feeling the need to let you know he was talented.

For instance, Larry Woody — another Tennessean journalistic giant — shared this memory of Climer on the newspaper's website: "I've known David since he was a standout athlete at Lebanon High and I was covering preps for The Tennessean. A few years ago he told me he discovered a scrapbook his mom had kept that contained a story I wrote about him and the baseball team."

A standout athlete at Lebanon High. In the 35 or so years I knew him, I never once heard mention of those glory days.

He also never met a story too big or too small to cover. Thus did he lend his wit and wisdom to Super Bowls and Masters, but also local golf tournaments and Little League baseball.

Nor did he play favorites. In what was as accurate a self-assessment as has ever been penned, Climer wrote the following in his farewell column: "I've tried to call it like I see it. I take some sort of perverse pride in the fact that so many Tennessee fans think I'm a Vanderbilt homer and so many Vanderbilt fans think I'm all Vol. I'm neither. But I wish both programs well."

He also wrote: "Instead of pulling for one team over another, I root for a good story. I go into everything I cover hoping something will happen that will make for interesting reading."

Do I have a favorite Climer story? Yes, and it has nothing to do with sports and everything to do with balance and priorities.

He and Rebecca had bought a rather old fixer-upper in Nashville at about the time I was doing the same here in the Scenic City. If you've ever undertaken such a project, you know a far more accurate phrase than "fixer-upper" is "money pit," and sports writers aren't rolling in money.

Anyway, while David's budget seemed a good deal larger than mine, our frustrations and dreams, as well as those of our spouses, were similar. So after jointly arriving at some Tennessee football game at a ridiculously early hour, we began discussing the hardwood floors we were attempting to return to former glory. He schooled me on the best gas range for the money. And what pitfalls to avoid when remodeling a bathroom.

Of a particular appliance he said, "Everybody wants one of those because they're made in the South. They're junk."

What he really loved, however, beyond a perfectly turned phrase, was Fripp Island, South Carolina. He loved the golf courses that blanket the Palmetto State, particularly near the coast. He loved the Low Country cuisine. He loved the laid-back life — at least he loved it that Rebecca loved it.

And if there's anything that stinks about all this, beyond the fact that no one who took as good care of himself as Climer did should be gone at 66, it's that he'd worked so hard and so well all his life to be able to retire with his wife to Fripp in 2015. Four years is far too short a time to enjoy the rest of your life.

But a lot of talented people throughout the Volunteer State and beyond got to enjoy his talent for nearly 40 years.

Andrew Maraniss — a Vanderbilt graduate whose book "Strong Inside" about the late Commodores basketball great Perry Wallace should be a must-read for everyone who wants to better understand why Martin Luther King was so driven to end racism — wrote Monday: "David Climer was a legendary figure in Nashville sports writing. So many of us started our day by reading his column. His voice was incredibly important in the growth of Nashville as a sports town."

Teresa Lawrence Phillips, Chattanooga native and current Tennessee State athletic director, told The Tennessean, "What I liked about David was he was an equal-opportunity critic. He called it like he saw it none of that soft, politically correct stuff. He was a straight shooter and you had to respect that even if he hit hard at your team."

Now his death is hitting a lot of friends and acquaintances hard. To call it as so many of us see it, David Climer was sports writing at its finest. I just wish I'd called him to tell him that before it was too late.

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Mark Wiedmer

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