Doug Robarchek once described his work as a writer like this: “I line up words and make them do tricks.”
That’s what he did for two decades as the Observer’s humor columnist, lining up words that made readers laugh, wince or even think.
Robarchek, 75, died Wednesday at his home. He had been in declining health.
Friends remembered him for the way he lived.
Usually dressed in his trademark fedora and dapper suit, Robarchek relished life. On Opening Days for the old Charlotte O’s, he and a group of friends would dress in black-tie and pull up to Crockett Park in rented limos.
“Doug lived life joyfully, and he lived it big and bold,” said Peg Robarchek, his former wife. “Doug had more joy in living than anybody I know. He had a huge heart and he had an amazing sense of humor that he liked to pour out over the world.”
A native of Nebraska, Robarchek was a veteran journalist who worked as a writer and editor before landing as the Observer’s Outfront Guy, writing a humor column in the mid-1980s.
“Doug was an excellent editor and a funny columnist,” said former Observer Editor Rich Oppel, who also had worked with Robarchek at the Tallahassee Democrat. “He was an asset to the newspaper. A fine journalist. And a good friend.”
At the Observer, he wrote columns that were almost always funny, sometimes poignant and usually irreverent.
“Doug used his column to tell us jokes, make wisecracks and skewer life’s blowhards,” the Observer noted on his 2005 retirement. “Particularly if they were conservative. Or liberal. Or elected. Or too highbrow. Or too lowbrow. Think dumb crooks, dumb jocks, dumb blondes.”
His column won three first-place awards and two second-place awards from the National Society for Newspaper Columnists. He was named best columnist more than once by Charlotte’s Best and Charlotte magazines and more than a dozen times by the readers of Creative Loafing.
“He was really smart, he was really funny and, man, we used to laugh so hard,” recalled Tom Sorensen, a former sports columnist. “He was just so irreverent. So original. And just so genuine. He could talk about anything.”
Robarchek was a good conversationalist and good listener. He loved old cars, old movies, Paris and Frank Sinatra.
With a house full of book-lined shelves, Robarchek was well-read. A lot of his columns included his own poems, many laced with literary allusions and of course, humor. Like one he called “Baggage:”
She sees my old valise and sniffs;
It is a battered old disgrace.
It holds my why-nots and what-ifs;
I call it my subjunctive case.
I’ve dragged it all around for years
Despite its doubtful attitude;
I like to check my hopes and fears
When I’m in my subjunctive mood.
In his last Observer column in 2005, Robarchek reflected on his career:
“As I look back through a lens of unabashed tears at my quarter-century at the Charlotte Observer, I see one thing clearly: It has been a privilege,” he wrote. “That’s why now, as I near the end of my life in print, I see each column as a precious chance to touch you. I must choose each word carefully and burnish it to a gemlike hardness and clarity that blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.”
“One thing I will remember about Doug,” Peg Robarchek said, “is he was a far kinder, gentler, tender soul than he would want anyone to think he was.”