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RIP Earl Gustkey

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by J Welsch, Apr 19, 2009.

  1. J Welsch

    J Welsch New Member

    Many of you here remember Earl Gustkey from his days at the L.A. Times covering USC football, women's pro basketball, boxing and outdoors, among other endeavors.

    Earl passed away Friday night at a hospital in Billings, Mont., after an unbelievably short battle with acute leukemia -- six weeks. In early March, he went for a routine checkup at the hospital in Bozeman, Mont., and the doctor was alarmed by his blood counts. He went to Billings for 4-6 weeks of chemo, stunned all the way because, as he kept saying, "I feel fine!"

    One day about two weeks ago, his body just crashed. He'd been on a ventilator ever since.

    His wife, Nancy Yoshihara, formerly of the Times as well, and sister were with him at the time of his death. I'm thinking he was in his mid- to late 60s.

    Earl had retired to a beautiful spot on a hill overlooking the Gallatin Valley a few years back. In typical Earl fashion, he'd decided about two decades ago to live here after taking a brief tour in windy, snowy, minus-20 weather. He read, watched movies and sports, hung out at Bozeman-area coffee shops and relaxed with his two cats, Hobbs I and Hobbs II.

    Ironically, Earl looked better than ever in the past two years. He swam, ate well and lost about 30 pounds.

    For those who want to see what he looked like a year ago, he has a bit part in the HBO film "Taking Chance", which was filmed in this area.

    He's the guy in the retired veteran's red military garb at the cemetery, conspicuous because he was rubber-necking in the background. He kept saying he couldn't believe they kept that part in. Ominously, as it turns out, he fainted there in the cemetery moments later. He thought it was the heat in Virginia City; alas, it was a sign of a greater ill.

    RIP, Earl. You'll be missed here in Bozeman and I'll sorely miss our monthly lunches at Ted's Montana Grill.

    -- Jeff Welsch, former Bozeman Chronicle sports editor
  2. Craig_Lancaster

    Craig_Lancaster New Member

    Damn. I'm terribly sorry to hear this.

    At the behest of my friend Elliott Almond, I'd dropped Earl a line after I moved to Montana. Seeing him on one of my trips to Bozeman was one of those things I was going to do but never did. Now ...

    RIP, Earl.
  3. SoCalDude

    SoCalDude Active Member

    If I recall correctly, Earl wrote the obituary for Mal Florence (one of my mentors) that I have on the wall of my cubicle at work.
    I'm sure he and Mal are together now, in God's press box.
  4. MileHigh

    MileHigh Moderator Staff Member

    He did write Mal's obit. It's here.


    One of the giants at the LAT. He was there at least 30 years. Grew up reading him.

  5. Elliot Almond

    Elliot Almond New Member

    For those that might be interested:

    I started at the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times in Sept. 1974 at the age of 21. Earl must have been 29 or in his early 30s so Jeff has his age about right. Earl covered UC-Irvine, which fielded a basketball team but not a football team. One time while he was on vacation they sent me, a clerk, to cover the UCI-UC-Santa Barbara game. I arrived all nervous and spotted Earl in the stands. I rushed to the phone to alert the desk: 'Earl's here!' They just laughed and said, keep covering the game, that he was there for fun.

    Earl moved to the main office at Times Mirror Square shortly afterward and was the paper's outdoor writer for more than a decade before Rich Roberts, another O.C. alum, took over. I used to savor his Friday offerings because Earl had a great sense of adventure and a knack for storytelling. There's a funny story about hiking in the Sierra with his wife, whom he always called "Yosh.'' Earl kept promising the hiking group the terminus was "just ahead, not much farther.'' Finally Yosh had heard enough of the nonsense and let Gustkey know.

    After covering boxing at the 1984 Olympics Earl moved on to cover the sport, which was another of his loves. When I finally found my way to become an investigative sports reporter Earl and I went around the country trying to pull a bunch of threads together about boxing corruption. He had been collecting string for a couple years. We once visited a good source of his who handed us three boxes of documents.

    Earl also was a pioneer in covering women's basketball and followed those great USC and Stanford teams in the early 1990s. He did it because it was a passion; he never worried about prestige or having to be at the Super Bowl. He just wanted to tell great stories.

    He loved history and would unearth great anniversary stories. I discovered he'd always try to go to the gravestone of the deceased to pick up a detail, or perhaps channel that person. The point is he never mailed it in when reporting and writing.

    I was so happy to correspond with him through emails after he retired to Montana. His subject line always was "alligators.'' I never knew why but I was happy to receive his letters. I could tell how much he enjoyed the Big Sky country but he also missed his friends.

    He constantly invited me to Bozeman, knowing I shared a love of Western wilderness with him. I never made it and am now flooded with regrets.

    Earl recalls the days when newspapering mattered, when great stories poured off the pages every day at the Times. He also was generous, giving (for a macho outdoor writer) and a great friend.

    Elliott Almond
    San Jose Mercury News
  6. HorseWhipped

    HorseWhipped Guest

    Never knew the guy, but the tributes here are outstanding.

    Very nice work, and thanks for that. We all hope to be remembered that well.
  7. Wendy Parker

    Wendy Parker New Member

    I'm so sorry to hear this. I knew Earl from the women's hoops beat, and he was as dedicated to covering that sport as he was the many other things he wrote about during his career.

    Before there was the WNBA there was the American Basketball League, which started in the aftermath of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The first ABL tryouts were in Atlanta, and Earl flew in to cover it. I was impressed by his interest in doing that. Those might have been the days of unlimited travel budgets and news holes, but he didn't have to do it.

    He also attended many Women's Final Fours and was very earnest and passionate in explaining to his readers a sport that at the time didn't have the media exposure it enjoys now. In that respect, and in many others, Earl was a pioneer.

    My sympathies go out to his family.
  8. J Welsch

    J Welsch New Member

    Wendy, you'd be gratified to know that Earl never lost his passion for women's basketball. He was a huge supporter of the Montana State women's program. There were several times were I asked if he wanted to get together and he'd turn me down because a WNBA game was on the tube.

    And Elliot, the tag in all of Earl's e-mails to me was "crocodiles." I asked him about that once, and dammit I can't remember his explanation. Now I'll never know.

    BTW: Earl was 69. He and Nancy would've been married 30 years next month. I understand an obit is forthcoming in the Times.
  9. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

  10. Wendy Parker

    Wendy Parker New Member

    J Welsch, thanks for the comments.
  11. steve marantz

    steve marantz New Member

    Earl broke a story about Ray Leonard in 1991. He was leaked a 'sealed' divorce deposition given by Leonard's ex-wife Juanita, which detailed Leonard's substance and domestic abuse in the mid 1980s.

    When I researched my book about Leonard, "Sorcery at Caesars", I called Earl and asked him who leaked, thinking that 16 years after the fact he might disclose the source. But he said the source was "still confidential", and wished me luck with my reporting.

    As much as I wanted to know, I had to admire him.

    Another thing about that conversation: he talked about how much he enjoyed his retirement in Montana.

    I wish I had known him better. R.I.P.
  12. Googlaw

    Googlaw Member

    I met Earl while working with Jeff in Bozeman. As others have mentioned, he was a great, great man. I can still remember him inviting me to his house (which had the most amazing view of the Gallatin Valley) for a Super Bowl party. He was a most gracious host, and as exciting as the game was, listening to Earl recount the Douglas-Tyson fight or his days covering USC was even better.

    Earl would often show up at MSU women's basketball games and keep me company while I was working. I still remember how he'd tell me which post players would make the best boxers.

    I never knew Earl as well Jeff, or some of the others on this board, but I know that I'm better off for having met him. We'll miss you, Earl.
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