Influential, colorful former Tribune-Review sports editor Dave Ailes dies at 83
If they made a movie about a cantankerous sports editor who was a great writer, who could cut down a reporter with withering sarcasm, and tell stories about sports stars that would never be published, all the while mentoring a host of young sports writers, then former Tribune-Review sports editor Dave Ailes would be the ideal subject.
Those who worked with Mr. Ailes during his 36 years at the Tribune-Review remembered him as an excellent writer and columnist, one who loved covering high school sports even more than the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins, and who possessed a sense of humor.
Ailes, 83, died Friday at his home in Hempfield.
Ailes started at the Tribune-Review in 1962 after working for a year at the Latrobe Bulletin. He also had worked for his hometown newspaper, the Waynesburg Democrat-Messenger.
Former Tribune-Review Editor George Beidler recalled Ailes as a great co-worker who was a very positive person.
“His people appreciated his leadership,” Beidler said.
Ailes left a lasting impression on Tom McMillan, a former sports writer and now Pittsburgh Penguins vice president of communications, whom Ailes hired in 1979 when he was working at the Irwin Standard Observer.
“He was a sports writer right out of central casting. He looked the part. He was funny. He was caustic. He smoked. He drank. He told stories,” McMillan said.
“In the middle of all that, he taught me a lot,” McMillan added. “If you worked for Dave, he left an imprint (on you).”
Others credit him with that all-important opportunity.
“I owe my career to him,” said Tribune-Review sports writer Joe Rutter, who covers the Steelers. “He hired me three times — as a freelancer, as a part-timer and as a full-timer” in 1990, Rutter said.
Former Tribune-Review sports writer Ed Bouchette, who covered the Steelers for decades for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is now with The Athletic, had a similar story. Bouchette said he was working at the McKeesport Daily News in 1976 and pondering leaving the business when Ailes hired him.
“He saved my newspaper career,” Bouchette said.
In three years, he was covering the Pirates and that magical season in 1979 when the Bucs won the World Series.
Former Tribune-Review sports writer Joe Starkey, a Post-Gazette columnist, recalled that Ailes initially hired him to cover high school sports in the mid-1990s, but then opened another door for him.
“Within two years, Dave thought enough of me to promote me to the Pens beat for the 1997-1998 season. Dave gave me that professional sports beat, and I am forever thankful to Dave Ailes,” Starkey said. “I will forever be indebted to him.
“He was a good soul,” Starkey said.
Rutter recalled Ailes’ acerbic wit and biting sense of humor that came out in his copy.
“He could have written columns for any of the big metro newspapers; he was that talented and clever with his writing and the ways he turned a phrase,” Rutter said.
Former Tribune-Review sports editor Mike Dudurich, who succeeded Ailes around 1997, said his former boss “was very intense about what he did.”
While Ailes covered the Steelers during their glory days of four Super Bowls in six years in the 1970s, Dudurich said his passion for scholastic sports could not be denied.
“He really had a special place for high school sports. He realized the importance of high school sports,” Dudurich said.
Retired Tribune-Review investigative reporter Rich Gazarik was one of the host of reporters assigned to cover high school games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
“He had a love of sports in his blood, but he did not take sports seriously,” Gazarik said. “He saw it as a game.”
Beidler recalled that as a news reporter, he was dispatched to cover high school games from Norvelt to Saltsburg.
“You would do it for him,” Beidler said.
And after those Friday night games, Ailes would often hold court at a Greensburg area bar, talking about sports, work and life until the wee hours of the morning.
“He would regale us (reporters) with stories that could never be printed. He was a great storyteller,” Gazarik said.
Frank Myers, a former Tribune-Review city editor, recalled Ailes as a “character” who had “a great sense of humor.”
Former Tribune-Review sportswriter Howard “Huddie” Kaufman recalled the time when a colorblind Ailes was covering the Latrobe Wildcats’ game against Pittsburgh Schenley High School. Without names on the backs of the uniforms, Kaufman said Ailes did not know which team was Latrobe and which was Schenley because both wore orange and black.
Ailes was not a prima donna about his status as sports editor. He covered the last of the 1970s Steeler Super Bowls against the Los Angeles Rams — the most-watched sporting event of the year — then came home and covered a Greensburg Salem girls basketball game a few days later that was seen by a handful of people.
Dudurich and Beidler were golfing buddies with Ailes, along with Dave Mackall, now a freelance sports writer for the Tribune-Review.
“He became a lot more mellow after he retired. I would sit with him for hours, and we would watch the Pirates,” said Mackall, whom Ailes hired when Mackall was working for the Washington Times.
Bouchette said he remained friends with Ailes over the years, after leaving the Tribune-Review.
“He was a great guy,” Bouchette said.
McMillan said he and some of those who worked for Ailes were trading stories Friday as the news spread.
“Ailes would be loving it that we were remembering him,” McMillan said.
His wife, Carol Ailes, said that he loved the work and people he worked with.
“He had built such a great team,” Carol Ailes said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three daughters, Lisa Ball of Greensburg, Beth Hopkins of Big Bend, W.Va., and Julie Miller of Mt. Zion, W.Va.; one stepson, Alan Scratcher of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and a stepdaughter, Shelly Fleeger of Worthington.
The family will receive friends from 10 to 11 a.m. Sept. 28 at the West Hempfield Presbyterian Church, 8 W. Hempfield Drive, Hempfield Township, followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .