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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
Steve Otto

Otto: A tough loss in last days of 2013

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Published:   |   Updated: January 3, 2014 at 08:39 AM

A last goodbye to Bruce Waldo before closing the door on 2013.

Bruce was one of way too many losses for me last year, and I hope you’ll indulge me for just a minute. Bruce died Dec. 29. He was 93 and living with his wife, Esther, at John Knox Village.

I got to know him on a cold night back in 1975, or maybe it was ’76, when the University of South Florida basketball team was playing Auburn at the old Curtis Hixon Hall downtown. These were the early days for USF; the team was still the Golden Brahmans and they were heavy underdogs against Auburn.

But coach Chip Conner’s squad caught Auburn napping, and the game went back and forth until the end. With a couple of seconds left, USF was up by a point as the Auburn player drove to the basket and took his shot as the buzzer went off, putting the ball through the hoop.

***

For a moment everyone in the hall looked at the referee, who would decide whether the shot had left the player’s hands before the buzzer. With no hesitation, the referee swooped his arm down, indicating the shot was good and that Auburn had escaped with a 1-point win.

Conner and about half his staff exploded at the bench and stormed off to confront the referee. They weren’t fast enough. The ref had already headed the other way, out the door and was disappearing into the darkness.

Covering the game as a sportswriter, I left the hall and went looking for the referee. I found him lurking in what was then known as the “Mayor’s Rose Garden.” Once he realized I wasn’t a crazed coach, he settled down and the two of us found a bench.

***

His name was Bruce Waldo, and it turned out he was a seasoned Southeastern Conference ref and a former athlete who had played a number of sports, including a brief stint with the Detroit Tigers. He also was a funny, generous and intelligent guy, and we formed a friendship that would last 40 years, playing tennis and sharing his beach house with our family in Indian Rocks.

Our friendship would include a race across the country in a rental car when I had to get back from covering a political convention in San Francisco and he needed a ride from visiting a son whose house overlooked the Golden Gate Bridge.

We decided to drive in four hour shifts, never stopping until we got to Tampa. Crossing mountains and deserts we almost did it, getting as far as Pensacola before collapsing at an interstate rest stop for a few hours of shut-eye and breakfast at the first Cracker Barrel we could find.

***

Years later, Bruce came along for another ride again when I retraced the path of Hurricane Andrew the day after it ripped across Florida and backtracked its route, going from Everglades City on the west coast across the state to Homestead and Cutler Ridge south of Miami.

It was an extraordinary few days, slogging through abandoned fish camps, going to a Miccosukee village where nobody had come to offer assistance and then driving into what appeared to be a war zone at Cutler Ridge. We hooked up with Bruce’s friend Joe Voskerichian, who had gone down from Tampa representing what was then NCNB bank and was working with National Guard troops setting up tents and emergency facilities. If you could have been there with us you would never, ever take hurricanes lightly again.

There are so many other stories, but these come to mind when you lose a friend who has shared so many of your experiences.

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