The nickname never failed to amuse me.
In the early 1980s, the TH sports department got to know Jim Melaro as the dependable liaison with the Olean Women’s Softball League.
He religiously turned in scores and kept the standings up to date.
In 1984, when Pete Dougherty and I put an ad in the TH for sports interns, we were surprised by the response.
But two applicants stood out: Jennifer Frey and Jim.
Jenny was a 16-year-old sophomore at Allegany Central School bound for greatness. She went on to graduate from Harvard and became one of the country’s top sports writers in stints with the Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, Philadelphia News, New York Times and Washington Post, until her passing nearly three years ago.
Jim, at the time, was 28 and after having spent a couple of semesters at St. Bonaventure following his graduation from Olean High, realized his true calling was sports journalism.
We hired them both.
Intern jobs at the TH back then were hardly glorious positions … consisting mostly of taking phone calls on high school events and doing all manner of routine tasks in the department.
But they were terrific at it until Jenny went away to college and Jim opted for a career change when a full-time spot opened in TH sports.
That memory came into my mind when I got the call, early Saturday morning, that Jim had passed away overnight at Olean General, at age 63.
He worked more than three decades for me — with the exception of a short stint when Jim moved to North Carolina — and I came to know him well.
And during those 30-plus years, his nickname always made me laugh.
Whenever he encountered one of his homies from what they called the “nord’end” — as in north Olean — the greeting was “Hey, Chick.”
Early on I asked where that came from. Jim explained that as a kid he had skinny “chicken legs” — he actually ran hurdles for the OHS track team — and that was shortened to “Chick” to become a lifelong nickname.
JIM GREW into a big man with a booming laugh that matched his size. After becoming full-time he ran the office most nights mentoring the dozens and dozens of interns who became his charge.
Easy-going with a well-developed sense of humor, Jim had another side on busy high school nights.
He did not suffer egotistical coaches or those who didn’t do their job. One of his pet peeves was those who had early games then either went to another contest or home to kick back only to call when the department was most busy. But his biggest annoyance was the coaches who couldn’t seem to find a phone when they lost … but knocked people over to get to one after a victory.
Jim never failed to call them out.
There’s a saying in our business “every night is election night in the sports department.” Over the years, the TH has been blessed with full-time sports staffers who worked until we were done … and that’s what made Jim a perfect part of our crew. He never counted hours — it was rare he spent ONLY 37.5 — but merely kept grinding until he was finished, making us laugh along the way.
We all have our different writing styles but other than J.P. Butler, Jim was the only Olean native and his voice in Local Notes columns had a unique way of reaching that special audience in his city of birth.
JIM’S WORK ETHIC is one of two special things I’ll remember most about him.
The other involved his health.
As he grew older and heavier, doctors warned Jim that he was at risk for heart problems and myriad other possible medical issues.
Thus, he made the fateful decision to have gastric bypass surgery.
But rather than be secretive about the procedure, he wrote about it.
Jim lost 260 pounds, nearly half his body weight, an incredible accomplishment. He recounted, in columns, the chronology of his recovery and offered encouragement to those considering similar surgery.
There’s no telling exactly how many people he influenced either in writing or verbally … dozens for sure, including my sister-in-law who considers the procedure one of the best decisions of her life.
It always impressed me that Jim so willingly shared such a personal experience because he felt there were readers who would benefit.
JIM RETIRED last December and I never got to talk to him thereafter, as his health failed.
The man who had spent over half of his life as a writer, took to Facebook as his outlet.
One of his favorite subjects, I’m told, was politics, a topic we never once discussed in all his years at the Times Herald.
Not being on the “Book of Face” — my name for it — I was never privy to his posts but, given the emotional nature of the subject, clearly there were strong reactions from both sides.
In some ways, it might have been Jim’s way of filling the void of not having that platform of the occasional Local Notes on the TH sports pages.
I know this, Jim impacted all of us who worked with him.
Given the nature of our business, it’s not surprising to see the many postings of print media-types such as Brian Moritz, Paul Vecchio, Mike Vaccaro, Tom Missel, Pat Vecchio, Scott Kindberg, Howie Balaban and Scott Michael Bowers, his boss in North Carolina, who were part of his sphere of influence.
What’s certain is, we all benefited from knowing Jim Melaro.
May he rest in peace with a laptop nearby.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)