Dave Fay, 1940-2007
Longtime Washington Times beat writer Dave Fay, the dean of Washington hockey writers, passed away last night after a long fight with cancer. He was 67. Dave covered the Caps since the inception of the Times in the early 1980s and knew virtually everyone and everything associated with Capitals hockey. His wife Pat put it so well: “In true Fay style he battled till the end. This time even that look could not stop this disease. He fought a good fight, but now he is at rest.”
We all knew “that look.” Piercing eyes, stern visage, the rest of his body eerily still. Dave prided himself on his crustiness, and former Caps media relations manager Jesse Price long ago dubbed him “Crusty.” But behind that cantankerous exterior, Dave had a heart of gold. He’d do anything for you, he just didn’t always like everyone else to know about it. It wasn’t good for his image.
He loved to joke around and have fun, and I can’t tell you how many hours and days over the years he entertained us with stories and good humor from his years on the beat. So much of “the beat life” involves standing around and waiting, and there was no better standing around and waiting companion than Dave. He could take a joke, too. Dave was very protective of his space in the press box and Julie Anastos once put what looked like a melted ice cream cone (it was a gag thing from a gift shop) on his legal pad when he went to refill his coffee cup. I’ll never forget the look he had when he stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing it, or the howls of laughter that followed.
The players loved him. They loved giving him a hard time and they didn’t always agree with what he wrote, but they loved him. They also respected him, largely because he would show up in the locker room day in and day out regardless of what he had written for that morning’s paper. He was never aloof with them, and was always there with an ear to hear their comments and concerns.
Glen Hanlon would hold up postgame press conferences until Dave had settled into his customary spot to the coach’s immediate left. Every coach who came through Washington in the last 25 years harbored a great respect for Dave. Whenever the Caps played a Bryan Murray-coached or managed team in recent years, the two could be seen kibbitzing together after games even though Dave usually had a deadline and Murray a bus to catch.
To other beat writers and radio and TV guys around the league, Dave was a great source of information, a spinner of yarns and a fountain of assistance. Whether you needed to know why someone was in the coach’s doghouse, a funny thing that happened at practice last week, or the best way to get out of the rink and get a cab back to the hotel after the game, Dave was your guy. And he would tell you all those things without breaking the confidence of any of his sources. Like most good beat writers, he always knew more than he told and he always knew exactly where to draw that line. Over the years team officials developed a great deal of confidence in Dave, and many of the things he learned and conversations he was privy to are still with him.
If Washington was playing a road game in Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, New Jersey, Long Island and often Carolina, Dave was driving to the game. When he was healthy, he rarely missed a practice and he put thousands and thousands of miles on his little truck and his VW Bug driving to games and practices over the years.
Dave was a great writer with a very quick wit; often a cynic’s wit. Sometimes he inserted the knife so skillfully and deftly in print, that a player wouldn’t even realize he was being carved. Earlier this year it was announced that Dave would receive the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award, given annually “in recognition of distinguished members of the newspaper profession whose words have brought honor to journalism and to hockey.”
He was the last of a dying breed around here, a guy who embraced his beat in workmanlike fashion and who always had his finger on the pulse of what was going on. During the Capitals’ “glory years” (relatively speaking, obviously) in the 1980s, local fans could read the writings of Dave and the late, great Robert Fachet day in and day out. These days, the Caps beat is a springboard to bigger and better things and no one holds down — or wants to hold down — the gig for more than a couple of years.
Throughout the second half of last season while he was home battling his illness, peers and other hockey types at every stop on the road wanted to know how he was doing and wanted to pass along well wishes. When I visited Russia in May for the World Championships, hockey people were asking me about Dave.
Like John Ferguson, who also lost his own battle with cancer just days ago, Dave was one tough hombre. He fought cancer for the better part of the last 15 years and had the upper hand for most of that time. Four days before he died, Dave bravely came out to Kettler Capitals Iceplex for one of the team’s developmental camp scrimmages. He didn’t quite have the strength to make it all the way inside. I think he may have made the effort because a few of us with the Caps had been threatening to come visit him.
For most of my early years covering the Capitals I did not travel with the team. I would occasionally miss a practice at Piney Orchard, too. Many, many times Dave would call me after the morning skate or after practice at Piney and fill me in on what I had missed. Hardly anyone ever calls me at home; most of the calls are for my wife and kids. But when the phone rang shortly before 7 p.m. whenever the Caps were on the road, I knew it was Dave. He’d be calling after pre-game warm-ups to give me any lineup changes and healthy scratches and nuggets from the coach’s pre-game press spiel. He’d go on for a while before pausing. Then he’d say, “What can I tell you?” This would repeat itself a few times in the course of a short conversation, and you might get three or four “what can I tell yous.”
I was always struck by the irony of that rhetorical question. The stuff Dave could tell me I probably couldn’t hope to live long enough to hear.
Right now, it’s really hard dealing with the idea of not seeing Dave in the press box on opening night with his coffee and his legal pad. He was my good friend and I’m already missing him so much. Our deepest sympathies go out to Pat and their children and grandchildren, and his host of friends across North America and around the world.
Memorial contributions may be made in Dave’s name to: Hockey Fights Cancer, PO Box 5037, New York, NY 10185-5037 or Hockey’s All-Star Kids Foundation, National Hockey League, 1251 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020. Canadian friends may send Memorial contributions to: Hockey Fights Cancer, P.O. Box 1282, Station B, Montreal, Quebec H3B 3K9.