On the passing of Larry Daughtrey

On a professional level, a line in Keel Hunt’s fine tribute to Larry Daughtrey stands out as precisely correct: He wielded a sharp pen with clarity and grace.

The man was a marvelous writer. (Keel includes a couple of samples in his tribute, a recommended read.) And as often stated, he was “a reporter’s reporter,” carefully cultivating people as sources and acquiring vast political knowledge by being an astute listener and voracious reader of anything related to politics, including obscure and arcane stuff few others noticed. He shared other reporters’ disdain of some less astute individuals serving, typically, as middle-level editors. (In the old days, we called them “droolers” – short for drooling idiots.)

Again as Keel notes, he was a mentor to other reporters – including yours truly, even though we were competitors on occasion when I first met him after moving back to Tennessee in late 1976, initially working for UPI and later for the News-Sentinel. (I would disagree with the lead in The Tennessean’s main obituary story that Larry “always broke the story first.” Not always; just very often.) Back then, when newspapers competed more than they collaborated, reporters would nonetheless sit down over a beer or at lunch after the dust had settled on some big-news brouhaha and compare notes and jokes. Learned a lot from Larry in such sessions.

On a personal level, Larry became a friend. (That took a few years; Larry’s initial inclination toward new reporters — excepting those at The Tennessean such as Keel Hunt — was to ignore them as part of the come-and-go herd building a resume for a PR/political operative job and figuring, often correctly, they didn’t know or care much about Tennessee governance or politics, as he did.)

We went on some fishing expeditions, most memorably for me to “Daughtrey’s Rock,” a spot on the Caney Fork River that comes darn close to being a bluff, requiring a bit of exertion to reach water’s edge and located not too far from a cabin he and Cissy kept. He’d spent a lot of time there by himself. He once took me and another late Capital Hill reporter, Duren Cheek, on a combo expedition. One of my personal favorite Daughtrey columns was not about politics; it was about his thoughts watching the flight of buzzards while sitting on that rock.

Perhaps it could be said that Larry fished like he reported – meticulously rigging the bait (red salmon eggs on a No. 10 Eagle Claw, tied with slip knot requiring six loops – not seven, not five, but six), precisely positioning himself for a perfect cast and then patiently waiting for that instant after the rod tip first dipped in response to an interested fish to vigorously set the hook. He usually caught more trout than I, yours truly being more prone to reel in and cast several times while Larry just waited. He gave me a simple recipe for smoking trout, still used and enjoyed.

In fact, think I’ll take myself fishing this afternoon and spend the time sitting, watching and waiting while remembering a great American.

An updated reminisence: Back in 2013, after former House Speaker Dick Barry died, I called Larry to get some insightful perspective into the activities of Barry before writing a column. I never knew Barry; had just vaguely heard of him. Larry obliged at some length (the column is HERE) and after it appeared Larry sent an email that generally approved of my effort. An excerpt from that email, which I don’t think he’d mind my sharing:

“If anything you understated his character. He was not afraid of the devil, or Buford Ellington. He was one of the very few people in the Ellington circle who would talk to a very young reporter on the Tennessean. He was always available, and he never lied.

“When he walked away from the hill, he never came back, which is something I also admired.”