columnist, Detroit Free Press
Bob Talbert was a native South Carolinian, but in the 31 years he spent as a columnist in his adopted home of Detroit, the city loved him as its own.
Born in 1936, Talbert carved a niche as a sportswriter, editor and columnist at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. In 1968, he was hired-with some trepidation-by the Detroit Free Press. Then-city editor Neal Shine wondered if Talbert’s down-home style was too “country” to work in the metropolis of Detroit. But readers took to him immediately and made him the most read and recognizable columnist at the paper.
Readers loved Talbert for his folksy wit and sense of community. In a city of more than a million people, he saw his fellow Detroiters as neighbors, whether they lived down the street or across Eight Mile Road. He immersed himself in the community about which he wrote, so it was not uncommon for readers to one day find themselves mentioned in his column.
Talbert was a dedicated journalist as well. In his three decades at the Free Press, he wrote an estimated 9,000 columns. While most columnists are content to write a few times a week, Talbert wrote as many as seven columns a week for many years. The sheer volume of his work endeared him to readers.
As important as writing was to Talbert, he equally valued his commitments to his community and to journalism education. Volunteering for numerous charities, he helped raise money for organizations throughout the state. His many years of involvement in the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association inspired high school journalists to reach for the lofty heights that Talbert so eloquently occupied.
Talbert died in 1999, but he and his words stay with his readers. As Michigan actor Jeff Daniels wrote: “He wrote for us. About us. To us. But never above us.”