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Bob Queenan was the 'Ursa Major' of Cincinnati sports

Veteran newsman was a mentor, a friend
Bob Queenan was the 'Ursa Major' of Cincinnati sports
Posted at 10:00 AM, Nov 20, 2016

He was seated in front of a computer with a phone cradled to his ear. From time to time, he would wheel back in his chair, grab a long legal pad and scribble a note. There was purpose and energy in his movements, as if he had come upon something unknown and exciting.

His end of the conversation -- obscured some by the newsroom clatter of phones ringing, people talking and keyboard keys clicking -- was clipped and quick.

"So, how do you know this?

"Um, hmm.

"Can I quote you?

"Wait. Back up. Give me that one more time.

"And you are absolutely sure, on the record?"

When he couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the conversation, he switched to the computer and typed his notes. When a staff member looked over his shoulder out of curiosity, he shooed him away and pointed to his wristwatch.

"Deadline," he whispered.

That was my first impression of Bob Queenan -- better known as "Bear" or "The Bear," and when he was feeling particularly continental, "Le Bear" -- a died-in-the-wool, old-school sportswriter, who in a career that spanned more than 40 years -- 30 of those at The Cincinnati Post -- gained as many good friends as he did trusted sources.

Bob passed away early last week, but that is how I will always remember him, just as he was the first day we met.

I was the new hire back then, wandering around the Post sports department a little anxious, a little nervous, just getting my bearings. Bob was one of the anchors of the staff, a large man with an ample spread and remarkable blue eyes equally capable of freezing someone in mid-sentence or bathing them in uncommon kindness.

That first day, as I was introduced to my new co-workers -- Pat Harmon, the longtime columnist and legend, Earl Lawson, the eventual Hall of Fame baseball writer, and so many others -- my attention kept going back to the big man at the computer, the phone to his ear, running down his story.

Partially, this was because of his demeanor. He was loud. He was demanding. He had a way of typing, talking, chewing gum and slamming down a drink cup on the desktop all at once and with nary a slip or a spill.

But it was also the way he was dressed. It was bitter cold outside and the Post building at Eighth and Broadway had a heating system on par with the old, manual Underwood typewriter that Harmon still used to craft his daily column.

So there was Bear, a scarf snugly wrapped about his throat, a topcoat over his jacket and tie, and a felt Tyrolean hat with a red feather in the band. He acted like a character from "Citizen Kane." He looked like an extra from "The Sound of Music."

When all the pleasantries had passed, along with the deadline for the final edition, Bear approached me, introduced himself and proceeded to grill me. Where was I from? Where had I worked? What were my goals? He wouldn't let go and no feint fooled him. When The Bear had you, you were had.

As a reporter, he had an uncanny ability to isolate his subject, cut off all routes of escape. He did this with his girth and his direct demeanor, and in the end, I'm absolutely certain people ended up telling him things they never intended to tell anyone.

I watched him do it over and over. He did it to Bengals President Paul Brown and former Reds GM Bob Howsam. He did it to UC basketball coaches Ed Badger, Tony Yates and Bob Huggins, Xavier coaches Bob Staak, Pete Gillen and Skip Prosser. He was the only reporter I ever saw go toe-to-toe with NFL Hall of Fame tackle and former Bengals coach Forrest Gregg -- and win. He would not give in or give up.

Former Enquirer sports editor Jim Montgomery, a slow talking, soft-spoken Texan, once said of Queenan: "That damned Bear is aptly named. He's relentless."

Bear instinctively knew what every good journalist comes to know. You are only as good as the number and degree to which people know and trust you. The Bear knew everyone from Gordie Howe to Stevie Cauthen, and if he didn't, he knew someone who did.

It didn't matter what station one held on society's ladder. Bear approached them all the same -- with honesty and empathy. He was as comfortable among the patrons and players at the ATP as he was in the garages at the Indy 500.

Bear wasn't much on amenities. He went for the bone. He was all about the story, and there was no time to dawdle, because the next new story was coming and -- more than anything, above all else -- he wanted that story, all stories. Not for personal prestige or professional benefit, but for his newspaper, his team, and before the crosstown competition got a sniff.

Bear wasn't a great writer and he openly acknowledged that, but he was a damned good reporter, a damned good man, as dependable and trustworthy as they come.

This past week, Bear died after a debilitating illness. He was 80 years old. He left behind a whole lot of us he had taught, helped, cheered and supported -- always supported, as long as you were lifting your end of the load.

That was his measure of a man.

When he passed the UC beat to Bill Koch in 1986, Bear gave him every contact he'd established. His Rolodex was the size of a tractor tire.

When I left the Post in 1984 to become the Reds beat writer at The Cincinnati Enquirer, Bear buttonholed me during a farewell party. He'd had a couple of "scotches."

"I would wish you luck," he said, "but now you're the competition. But what the hell, my friend, I wish you luck anyway. Competition makes us all better, eh? Now, keep an eye peeled, because we will come after you."

With that he gave me a hug.

A big ol' "Bear" hug.