On several occasions in the 60's, Peeler served as discussion leader at Seminars for Sports Editors held at Columbia by the American Press Institute. A dramatic change occurred when Peeler expanded the Star's high school sports coverage to two full pages every Saturday. His good friend, Shirley Povich, head of the Washington Post sports operation, protested in private that Bill was creating a "monster". It was easy to understand his position, since much activity ended right on top of Post deadlines, while the Star would go to press the following morning. Forty years later the Post followed the Star's example. Peeler served for years as Commissioner of the Mt. Vernon-Lee Pioneer baseball league in Fairfax County. He belonged to the Grandstand Managers Club of Alexandria and was president for one term. He was also prepared to act as front-page editor for three newspapers because he had a keen interest in history, politics, and world affairs since a very early age. Peeler grew up in Salisbury, NC. He graduated from high school at 15 and from Catawba College at 19 in 1937 and planned to study law. However, the effects of the depression on the family business made that impossible, so he worked for a year as a housepainter. In 1938 his hometown paper asked him to work for the summer, handling baseball. For the next 44 years he kept learning and kept moving up. Peeler was an accomplished bridge player and also loved to play golf. His scores were quite ordinary, but he did manage to shoot two holes in one at Twin Lakes Golf Course in Clifton, Va. Privately he had agitated with Fairfax County officials for the construction of Northern Virginia's first public golf course - Twin Lakes.
Published in The Washington Post on February 17, 2012
Bill Peeler, newspaperman by Dick Heller
This was on a hectic Saturday night in the Washington Star sports department during the late 1960s. A deadline was looming, staffers were laboring and sports editor Bill Peeler was blowing his top, “Heller, goddammit, get over here! Look at this caption you wrote — you’ve got somebody falling off of a horse. Off of, for God’s sake. A man ought to be fired for writing that. What have you got to say for yourself?” “Just one thing, Bill.” I pointed toward the top left corner of the page where we always typed the department, day of publication and the writer’s name. It said, “Sports . . . Sunday . . . Hershey.” Peeler stared at the copy and glared in the direction of staffer Steve Hershey at a nearby desk. “Hershey, goddammit, get over here!” Back then, diplomacy and political correctness were absentees in newsrooms. The idea was to get out your story, page or section as quickly and accurately as possible, and too bad if a few egos were bruised in the process. Carl Sell, who preceded me at the Star, used to say that for the first few years I worked there, he thought my name was “Goddammit Heller.” Peeler, who died of assorted illnesses Feb. 12 at age 93, was old-school. If you had a problem or emergency, he would help you. But when it came to the news, he was strictly a no-nonsense guy. Over the years, in and out of various newspaper offices, I’ve perpetrated a few billion one-liners, stupid or otherwise. Peeler’s reaction was always the same. “Goddammit, Heller!” He and I didn’t have a lot in common. We were of different generations, backgrounds and political persuasions. He left the Star sports department to become an editor on the news side in 1971, and not until recently did I have regular contact with him outside the office. Bill lived at the Greenspring senior community in Springfield, Va., in his later years. Every month he and I joined former Star colleagues Sell, Steve Guback and Tony Polozzolo for lunch and a “Talkin’ Sports” session with residents. At lunch, of course, we told the same old stories over and over — and enjoyed them over and over. For example, the one about the time I was driving down Virginia Avenue SE in front of the Star building, waved to another writer on the sidewalk and crashed into a parked car. Well, no, I didn’t enjoy that story so much. Most of us have a few folks who strongly impact our lives for better or worse. From a professional standpoint, Bill was the most important person in mine. As a native Washingtonian, I had long dreamed of going to the Star while working at suburban papers in the ’50s and early ’60s. In the summer of 1964, Sell and colleague Eddie Crane invited me to work part-time covering high school sports for the Star. I thought I knew it all, but Sell, Crane, Peeler and assistant sports editor Charlie Barbour taught me how to be a real newspaperman. In those days, full-time vacancies at the Star were extremely rare. But one night in February 1966, the phone rang while I was writing a story on a high school game. Bill was calling from home, and he spoke one of the best sentences I’ve ever heard: “Dick, our golf writer just quit to go work for the PGA, there’s an opening on the bottom of our staff and I’d like to hire you.” Bill was my boss for 5½ years until the dopes who ran the paper brought in the talented and erratic Dave Burgin to “modernize” the sports section — mostly by wasting a lot of room on huge headlines, white space and overblown feature stories on obscure subjects. I’m sure that was painful for Bill, but he was a realistic guy who never felt sorry for himself. Earlier in his career, he had worked on the news side for papers in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, so he simply went back to doing that at the Star. Whether it came to dealing with baseball (his favorite sport), government budgets or political bombast, he was a pro. Like most of us, Bill mellowed somewhat in his later years, but his comments on journalism and sports remained as pertinent as ever. Some people might have called him old-fashioned, but what’s wrong with that? He retained his integrity and high standards throughout his long life in an era where such qualities often are in short supply. I need to say one more thing about Bill Peeler. He must have hired and helped countless numbers of people along the way, but nobody could have been more appreciative and thankful than I was and am. R.I.P.