Bob Frisk was the 'greatest ambassador' the Daily Herald ever had
When you work with someone for 42 years, good luck finding a way to sum up that time together.
Since receiving the devastating news that Daily Herald legend Bob Frisk died Saturday at the age of 83, former sports editor Jim Cook has spent the days thinking of their years sitting side by side in an office on Campbell Street in downtown Arlington Heights.
"I got to see him right before the lockdown," said the now-retired Cook. "There was word that someone in the building had a temperature and they got us out of there quickly. I didn't realize at the time I was saying goodbye for good.
"But we had some laughs and told some stories."
So where do you start after all those years?
"What strikes me is he was everything to everyone," Cook said. "He was like a dad to me after my father died. He was a friend. He was a teacher. He was a motivator. He was all things to all of us."
And in what can often be a frenetic newsroom environment, Frisk was always composed. Even when there was an angry reader and it involved high school sports, Bob handled it with class.
"You can't make everyone happy," Cook said. "White Sox fans measure inches dedicated to their team, just as Cubs fans do. Same for prep sports. Everyone thinks they're getting shorted.
"Well, one day on Campbell Street -- security wasn't quite the same back then -- a woman came in the front door, straight up the stairs and walked right into the sports department," Cook laughed. "She had a clipboard and she walked up to Bob and said, 'I want to cover Hersey High School sports because you guys don't.'
"Bob was dumbfounded because, of course, this wasn't true. But she was furious, thought we were doing a horrible job. She had inch counts on her clipboard comparing all the schools, especially Prospect, and demanded Bob hire her to do the job.
"Well, the whole staff is watching this and half the newsroom is aware of the noise. Bob looks around and with that calm demeanor says, 'Can we go to the lunchroom? I'll buy you a cup of coffee.'
"He diffused the situation and calmed her down, while explaining the coverage philosophy. He talked her off the ledge, even though the one thing that really bothered him was anyone saying we showed favoritism for one team over another.
"Bob was always under control. Never saw him rattled. Never saw him angry enough to start throwing things, and he had plenty of reasons. Never in 42 years. That's impressive."
Frisk and Cook oversaw the transition from a small, five-day newspaper covering only local sports with huge headlines on bowling leagues, to a large daily covering all the Chicago professional teams, hiring a big staff with home-run hitters left and right.
"We went through a huge expansion in terms of the territory we covered, and we added the pro sports coverage," Cook said. "I'll never forget (publisher and CEO) Doug Ray taking us out to lunch and telling us what he had in mind.
"It was a huge change for us and Bob spearheaded the effort. The challenges were significant."
While Cook handled the pro side, Frisk remained the chairman of local sports coverage, in charge of a large prep staff that was unmatched in talent and scope. He even managed to broadcast local football games on an Arlington Heights radio station, doing color commentary.
"His recollection of everything high school sports was incredible," Cook said. "He'd start every sentence with, 'You probably don't remember this,' and he was right. No one could remember all that except Bob.
"Bob knew and could recite the starting backfields from Forest View in 1975. His memory was just amazing, all the way to the end, even the last time I saw him two months ago. His recollection of players and coaches was ridiculous.
"If a writer had a question, he knew the answer. Then, he would take that writer to the old clips we had filed in the library and he'd show you."
The losses Frisk suffered did not deter him, even when he was in pain. He wrote about his late wife and basked in the glory of his daughter, his grandson and even his dog. The more cynical could not appreciate the depth of his agony or his joy, but that didn't stop Frisk from creating a column about it.
"He wrote about what he loved, whether it was people or sports or animals," Cook said. "And my goodness, people loved him for it. They identified with him. He didn't care if it was off the beaten path. He opened a door into his life and was unapologetic about it."
Through it all, Frisk remained stoic, even after the disappearance of Daily Herald scribe Keith Reinhard in the summer of 1988. Reinhard, approaching his 50th birthday, had taken a leave of absence to spend the summer in the mountains of Colorado. He went for a hike on Aug. 7, never to be seen again.
An unsolved mystery to this day, it took a toll on Frisk.
"Keith was great at what he did, a hard worker and a master of keeping stats on all things prep sports," Cook said. "I remember him coming in to tell Bob he needed to get away for a few months. Bob was so calm. He just said, 'If you need to do it, go ahead and do it.' He just thought it was a midlife crisis.
"Keith wrote Bob some very personal letters while he was gone, letters Bob kept forever. It hit him hard when Keith disappeared, and then the TV stations were at the office every day asking Bob questions. It was tough on him.
"There were a lot of mysterious references in those letters, but we knew it wasn't like Keith to just disappear. He had so much family and so many friends he wanted to come back to."
Through all of the difficult times, Frisk stayed true to the Daily Herald and his craft, never wavering, never giving up the fight to make the sports section great.
"He is absolutely the greatest ambassador the newspaper has ever had," Cook said. "The personality, the brand, the recognition. He was a walking billboard everywhere he went. To his last day, it felt that way."
It still does.