I can’t remember specifically when I first met him but it was well over 20 years ago.
What I can remember is that he was wearing these amber-hued but dark, moon-sized Aviator style sunglasses and that he had a certain ineffable confidence that sort of floated around him. I wasn’t sure at first if he was just seasoned but at the same time cocky or if this was the sort of deliberate appearance a top-notch sportswriter was supposed to emit.
In any event, I made a concerted effort to introduce myself but failed. Being a washashore and a new journalist to the Cape, I took that failure to invoke a conversation or a friendly smile as my own. I must confess I felt every bit the rookie that I was at the time. I had been taken down a notch with nary a word spoken, just an intent peering over the top of those drugstore frames.
The place or the setting isn’t that important, although I am fairly certain it was along the sideline of a well-attended high school football game or perhaps even up in the press box. In any event, the point had been made and I had not missed it. Russ Charpentier, the main man for the Cape Cod Times sports desk for lord know how long (34 years to be exact), was indeed just that: the main man.
I’d see Russ from time to time, usually at key high school football match-ups or a Cape League playoff game. I’m not sure if I’ve ever witnessed another journalist whose eyes could absorb so much detail. There had to be a time-out or a long break in the action to engage him in any sort of a meaningful conversation and the truth of the matter is if you’ve ever engaged the man then you’d know where his interests were. He was there to work and he was there to be as succinct and accurate as one could be. Few journalists I’ve known can sincerely say they possess that laser-focused sense of “getting it right” that Russ had firmly in grasp.
Sometimes, just for fun, I would purposely disagree with him just to see how he’d react. The man truly always thought about what he was going to say before saying it. I admired that in him and I respected it. Rarely would you ever hear him utter a negative phrase about anyone, let alone a high school or collegiate athlete. Russ just wasn’t that kind of person and he certainly was not that kind of kiss-and-tell reporter. He kept his facts close to the vest. He competed as much as he breathed life into a story and to be frank, he wrote quite well for a man whose life revolved around touchdowns scored and bases stolen and goals netted.
Those skills are not easily found nor are they easily developed but if someone is in a business for over three decades, then they must be doing something right. Russ took many swings and he rarely missed. If you pointed out an erroneous fact in one of his stories, he’d debate that error politely and calmly until you proved him wrong, or vice versa. That sort of steadfastness in the face of criticism wasn’t a defense mechanism: he simply wanted to make sure the error was changed if it needed to be. Not an easy thing to do once something has been published in print.
That sort of guarded stoicism he often portrayed, however, would drop immediately if you ever brought up such topics as his beloved Cotuit Kettleers, the idols of his boyhood. He wasn’t immune from humor or the joy many of us find in sports. His jokes were often firmly rooted in the truth, or some piece of a true story, and I’m not so sure I ever met anyone in person who had the ability to do that.
While I hate to sound like I’m writing sort of a quasi-obituary here for the man – his final assignment for the Cape Cod Standard Times will be Thursday’s 88th Barnstable – Falmouth Thanksgiving Day Football Game – I’m really not trying to come off that way.
The bottom line for me is he taught me some things about being a journalist I could not have learned otherwise and for that I am grateful. But I would also be remiss if not to confess that the football sidelines and all-star game press boxes and championships and tales told will all be lessened when he is retired from the scene come Friday. No more deep-snow winters for that man. He’s headed south. And it’s a journey well-earned. He will be missed.
Sean Walsh is the sports editor for Cape Cod Broadcasting Media and www.Capecod.com. His column appears online weekly. He may be reached via email at [email protected] or follow him at Twitter @coachwalshccbm