North Carolian first woman to win Associated Press Sports Editors’ highest honor

Winston-Salem Journal
Winston-Salem Journal

Mary Garber grew up playing football and baseball in her neighborhood in Winston-Salem, N.C. She would have played basketball, but she was too short.

Her heroes were athletes, especially football and baseball players. Her female peers in the 1920s and ’30s were more into horseback riding, maybe a little croquet or lawn tennis, and some swimming — not competitively, of course.

Garber parlayed her interest in sports into a writing career at The Twin City Sentinel and the Winston-Salem Journal, where she was a pioneer for the many women sportswriters who have followed in her footsteps.

Garber has been named the first woman to win the Red Smith Award, The Associated Press Sports Editors’ highest honor.

A committee of current and former APSE presidents and former Red Smith Award recipients selects the winner each year. It is given to a person who has made major contributions to sports journalism. APSE created the award in 1981 to honor Smith, the former New York Times columnist, who was its first winner.

Garber will receive the award at APSE’s convention in Orlando, Fla., on June 24.

"I and the rest of the Journal staff are proud to have worked with Mary, but I think we’re more proud — and happy — that we and our families have known her," said Terry Oberle, the sports editor of the Winston-Salem Journal. "That has been the secret of Mary Garber’s career. She has always been a part of the community she wrote about, and that community loves her like a sister, mother, aunt, grandmother or best friend."

Garber, 89, began working at The Twin City Sentinel as the society editor in 1940. She moved to sports in 1944 when the sports editor joined the Navy during World War II.

"Not because I had any ability in sports, but because it was the war and every man was in the armed forces," Garber said in an interview with the Women’s Sports Foundation Web site.

She went back to society news after her male co-workers returned from the war, but she missed sports. A Sentinel editor recognized her interest in and knowledge of sports, and she returned to the sports department in 1946. She stayed there until she retired from full-time work in 1986. Garber kept writing part-time until 2002.

Garber had her share of problems at first. She was banned from locker rooms and forced to sit with the players’ wives instead of in the press box. The Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association and the Football Writers Association denied Garber membership for many years because she was a woman. She eventually became president of both organizations.

Garber won more than 40 writing awards, and she is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and the Basketball Writers Hall of Fame. She is best known for her coverage of ACC football and basketball, and college and junior tennis in North Carolina.

"I hope I have helped. I hope some little girl out there knows now that she can be a sportswriter if she wants to be," Garber said.

"This is far more than a professional award that will be shared in the Winston-Salem Journal newsroom," Oberle said. "I know that much has been made of her status as a pioneer among women sportswriters, and that’s as it should be. But it was really a small part of her contribution to journalism, to her family at the Journal and to her community."