"He rarely went to a locker room or a press conference; his column was simply what he thought and what he believed," says Martie Zad, a writer and editor at the Post since 1950. "He might agonize for four hours over a column or knock it out in 20 minutes. Either way, it would be perfect."
Povich was covering a Washington Redskin game at Griffith Stadium on Dec. 7, 1941, when word came over the wire: "Keep it short! The Japs have just kicked off! War now!" In 1944 he persuaded Post editors to let him go to the South Pacific as a correspondent, and he was soon reporting from Iwo Jima and Okinawa alongside pal and fellow D.C. journalist Ernie Pyle.
Returning home with a bad back and without Pyle, Povich continued his longtime advocacy of integration in baseball, and just after Jackie Robinson played his first game for the Dodgers in 1947, Povich published a 15-part series on racism in baseball entitled "No More Shutouts." A decade later, when the Redskins were plodding along as the last NFL team with an all-white roster, Povich waged war against owner George Preston Marshall with such lines as "the Redskins took the field in their traditional colors—burgundy, gold and Caucasian." In 1962, due largely to Povich's pressure, Marshall signed future Hall of Fame halfback and receiver Bobby Mitchell, now the Redskin assistant G.M.
Povich got his share of hate mail (some of it anti-Semitic), he sparred in print with Howard Cosell, and once he was swung at by Washington Senator first baseman (and future manager) Joe Kuhel, who was under the mistaken impression that Povich had credited him with an error in the previous game. Kuhel was fined $100 by team owner Clark Griffith. Three days later Kuhel found a fan letter in his locker with a $50 bill and the following words: "I'd send you the other half if you hadn't missed."
Povich's delight in recalling such stories and his refusal to hold a grudge suggest that he has always had his priorities straight. His children remember the nights he spent in the basement hammering out freelance stories to pay their way through private high schools and Ivy League universities. For years the entire family spent two months during spring training together in Florida, where the kids would enroll in school temporarily. Friday-night Sabbath dinners were mandatory whenever Dad was in town, and Augusts were reserved for family vacations in Maine.
Married for more than 63 years, Shirley is the first to admit that Ethyl has been the stabilizing force in their close and accomplished family. Oldest son David, age 60, is an attorney in a prestigious Washington firm, and both Lynn, 52, and Maury, 56, followed Shirley into journalism. Lynn was the first female senior editor at Newsweek and is now editor-in-chief of Working Woman, and Maury hosts a popular talk show. All are still subjected to the Povich wit; Maury, who is married to newscaster Connie Chung, has received such messages on his answering machine as: "Hello, Connie. We loved your newscast tonight. Maury, get a haircut and buy a button-down shirt. Nobody is going to take you seriously without a button-down and a tie."
Twice a week Shirley makes the 15-minute drive from his house in northwest D.C. to the Post's downtown office. There his desk is beside that of staff writer David Nakamura, who was born one day after his neighbor's 65th birthday. The old fedora that Povich places atop his computer gives a clue to his age, but the succinct, dead-on columns he writes on baseball, boxing and a variety of other subjects rival those of writers a third his age. Post sports editor George Solomon seeks Povich's advice regularly, and columnist Tony Kornheiser says, "You tend to forget his age. The man is 90, but he's still contemporary."
Asked the secret to his longevity, Povich offers a sly smile before answering, "I just take things one decade at a time."