By Rick Dean, Topeka Capital-Journal
It once was said that the mark of a good newspaper columnist was the ability to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
By that criteria alone, as well as several others, Dick Snider was a great newspaper columnist.
Snider, the longtime Topeka Capital-Journal columnist and former sports editor, died Saturday after a short battle with cancer. He was 83.
A former oil industry executive, he worked briefly in the Kennedy administration before producing “College Football” — a long- running highlights show for the ABC network in the 1960s.
A man who walked comfortably in the world of sports, politics and business, Snider’s ability to apply a sharply pointed needle to people in power, as well as to himself and those he loved, made him as popular with readers as he was pilloried by politicians.
Snider, for instance, was forever reminding friends that he managed the unsuccessful 1964 U.S. Senate campaign of Bud Wilkinson, the former University of Oklahoma football coach who was an icon in the Sooner State.
“We were never ahead despite Bud having 95 percent name recognition in the state,” Snider once said. “Man, I could make people forget Santa Claus.”
“What he did best was to be a wonderful storyteller,” said Pete Goering, The Capital-Journal’s lead columnist and a longtime friend of Snider. “His best columns were about his family vacations, because everyone could relate to those. He had a great sense of humor that he used very effectively, especially when he’d jab at public figures.
“I remember thinking as I read the column he recently wrote about his illness, ‘Man, this guy is good!’ ”
In the column he wrote for the Topeka Metro News in which he told readers that his death was imminent, Snider demonstrated a style that served him well in six decades in journalism
“I got out of the hospital and went home to recuperate,” he wrote. “This process got a big boost when my children, deciding there would be no immediate division of the assets, also went home.”
“Am I ready to go?” he continued. “All I know is that Father John Rossiter has punched my Pearly Gate ticket, but he can’t guarantee my reservation. He can’t tell me if I’m going first class, or even when my bus leaves.”
As sports editor of the Topeka Daily Capital in the 1950s, Snider wrote about figures as legendary as Phog Allen and Joe Lewis. He left the newspaper world and worked in politics briefly on the Council for Physical Fitness in the Kennedy administration before producing the first Sunday morning program that featured filmed highlights from major college football games across the country. He later served as vice president of communications for Wichita-based Vickers Oil until 1981.
But the newspaper world remained his second love — his wife of 53 years, Barbara, and five children were always his first, despite his tongue-in-cheek comments suggesting otherwise — and Snider returned to The Capital-Journal as a columnist
“He could take a nothing subject and make something out of it as well as anyone I’ve ever seen,” the late Pete McGill, a former speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, once said. “I know there were days when he was short of material, when he had absolutely nothing, and he still turned out something that makes you want to pick up the paper.”
No one appreciated that ability more than another columnist.
Popular Topeka columnist Jim Ramberg often was the butt of Snider’s humor, especially when Snider ridiculed Ramberg’s annual Dog of the Year contest, traditionally won by Ramberg’s dog.
“People thought we were enemies, but that was so far from the truth,” Ramberg said Saturday. “We just had so much fun making fun of each other.
“The last four or five months we were very close,” Ramberg said. “I would pick him up and take him to the Metro News. He was working and feeling good about it.
“He was a newspaperman to the last.”
Funeral services are pending at Kevin Brennan Family Funeral Home.