BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Bill Lumpkin, a celebrated sports writer who covered some of the biggest sports stories in Alabama, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 92.
For 35 years, Lumpkin was the sports editor for the Birmingham Post-Herald, covering Alabama football during the Bear Bryant era, Auburn football, civil unrest, the relocation of the Iron Bowl out of Birmingham, Hank Aaron’s career and countless other major sports stories.
Throughout his career, Lumpkin was named Alabama Sports Writer of the Year five times, won the Herby Kirby Award for best sports story three times, and was inducted into the Alabama Sports Writers Hall of Fame in 1993.
During his time at the Post-Herald, Lumpkin led countless numbers of local sports reporters, taking many of them under his wing.
“I’ll never forget going to the first Alabama Sports Writers Hall of Fame meeting,” former Birmingham sports talk radio host Bob Lochamy said. “I was so uneasy going there amongst all these giants, and Bill Lumpkin just took us in and made us all feel at home. He had that way.”
One of the better known Post-Herald writers Lumpkin took under his wing was Paul Finebaum, now host of ESPN’s “The Paul Finebaum Show.”
“My dad hired Paul back when he was a renegade and didn’t have many friends,” said Bill Lumpkin III, Lumpkin’s son.
Lumpkin III broke the news of his father’s passing Monday when he called into “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Hearing the news, Finebaum was at a loss for words.
“I wanted to tell him off-the-air,” Lumpkin III said. “I told the producers, they asked my name, where I’m from and then I was on the air. They’ve stayed close over the years, my dad did his show a bunch of times. I think Paul really credits his career to my dad, so I felt like I should let him know.”
At the Post-Herald, Lumpkin, along with Finebaum and fellow Post-Herald writer Rueben Grant, led an investigative report into college basketball recruiting, specifically regarding allegations that Alabama basketball player Bobby Lee Hurt was pressured to go to Alabama over money he owed to someone.
“[Bill] led Paul and Rueben as the senior investigative reporter and they broke that case,” Lachamy said. “You had all kind of things at stake. You had careers at stake. Not only his career, but his fellow writers, Paul Finebaum, Reuben Grant and his employer the Birmingham Post-Herald.”
But with Lumpkin’s lead, their story and case was successful.
“Whether it was a column, an article, a case such as this investigative reporting and magnitude, he was 100%,” Lochamy said. “He was full bore. Everything Bill Lumpkin did was full bore.”
Largely noted among Lumpkin’s former colleagues was his ability to form relationships with everyone from colleagues to his employees, story subjects, his family and just about everyone else.
“He and his wife Peggy really helped me be a better writer, a better reporter – but even more important, made me a better man, better husband and better father,” former Post-Herald writer Richard Scott said.
Lumpkin also had a way with story subjects, becoming friends with Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, Auburn’s Ralph “Shug” Jordan and many others.
“Bill Lumpkin built relationships not just with Coach Bryant and Coach Jordan and other big name coaches throughout the country, but with the athletes and the coaches throughout the community,” Lochamy said.
An example of Lumpkin’s ability to connect with the entire sports community was his relationship with Pat Sullivan, the Heisman-winning quarterback at Auburn.
“He and Bill Lumpkin had a father son relationship in many ways,” Lochamy said. “I think there was respect between the two of them. In fact, Bill was the reporter when it was announced that Pat had won the trophy.”
Lumpkin leaves behind Peggy, his wife of nearly 69 years, along with three children.
The family plans to hold a service for Lumpkin in a few months once the pandemic eases up.
“I’m gonna take a couple ashes in my pocket and next time I go to an Alabama or Auburn game, I’ll just dump some on the sideline,” Lumpkin III said.