CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: PHELPS

HED:Always a friendly face and a kind word from MSU's Bob Hartley

By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

College athletics, not just Mississippi State University, lost a true gentleman Tuesday with the death of former sports information director Bob Hartley.

Bob Hartley loved Mississippi State. He loved its coaches, its athletes, and believe it or not, he genuinely cared for the sports writers who covered the Bulldogs.

My first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Hartley came on Oct. 14, 1978, at the Mississippi State-Florida State football game at Scott Field in Starkville. I was a 23-year-old cub sports reporter from the Hattiesburg American covering my first college football game as a professional.

Mr. Hartley greeted me at my seat in the press box and introduced himself. His pleasant voice and reassuring manner helped soothe the tension building up inside the body of this anxious, young writer.

The thing that impressed me most about Bob Hartley during the early days we worked together was the fact that he always remembered my name. Now that may sound trite, but the Hattiesburg American didn't cover a lot of MSU games during those days and my dealings with Mr. Hartley were on a limited basis.

Still, he was always there to greet me in the MSU press box or on press row at Humphrey Coliseum, making me feel like I was just as important as the writers who regularly covered the Bulldogs.

"Hello, Mr. Gene Phelps, good to see you," he'd say when he'd greet me. "How are things in Hattiesburg?"

By the time I moved to Tupelo in 1987, Mr. Hartley had retired, but was still active and working in the school's sports information office. Not an event went on without Mr. Hartley attending and documenting for his column "From the Hart" in the Dawgs' Bite, a newspaper covering MSU athletics.

A human encyclopedia of MSU athletics, Mr. Hartley was a favorite of the sports media during the Bulldogs' run to the Final Four in basketball in 1995-96.

At a press conference held on campus prior to the team going to New Jersey for the national semifinals, Mr. Hartley had as many or more interview requests from national reporters as the players. They all wanted know about the successful Babe McCarthy years, of which Mr. Hartley was an expert.

I last saw Mr. Hartley three weeks ago at MSU's Bryan Athletic Administration Building. We were both there for the press conference following the drowning death of running back Keffer McGee.

As usual, he greeted me by name, asked about my family and how things were going in Tupelo. We talked briefly about how tragic McGee's death was. Then we parted. I fully expected to see him again Saturday afternoon in the press box when MSU opens its football season with a game against Memphis at Scott Field.

One of McGee's teammates said this week,"Without Keffer it will never be normal again."

Today, I feel the same way about the loss of my friend, Bob Hartley.

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