Scott Fowler

Tom Sorensen’s rock-and-roll image hides a generous heart

Tom Sorensen, right, is the guy who sometimes forgot to turn in his expense reports for a few months – OK, a few years – but who never forgot when he had promised to do a favor for a friend.
Tom Sorensen, right, is the guy who sometimes forgot to turn in his expense reports for a few months – OK, a few years – but who never forgot when he had promised to do a favor for a friend. mreader@charlotteobserver.com

On my first day at The Charlotte Observer, in 1994, my new boss was explaining to me who everybody was.

“Do you know Tom Sorensen?” he asked me. I confessed that I did not.

“He’s our rock-and-roll columnist,” my boss said.

Through our 21 years of working together, I have always thought the nickname fit. Tom was cool. He wore black leather jackets, drove convertibles and shot pool. He was funny and controversial in print.

You know all that.

What you may not know is how kind and generous of a colleague that Tom – who retired as a full-time Observer sports columnist on Friday – has always been to all those inside the sports department, and especially to me.

Tom was always in my corner, and I was always in his. Our “dueling columns” in the Observer became a frequent device because readers seemed to like them, and we would tease each other and argue incessantly in those. But in truth, we never dueled about anything outside of those columns.

Whenever I had a personal conflict – and with four kids, I’ve had a lot of them – Tom would always volunteer to write an extra story to soften my workload. Whenever I wrote something I kind of liked, I could count on Tom sending a congratulatory email about it.

Tom was the Observer’s senior sports columnist once the legendary Ron Green retired in 1999. Once I became Ron’s replacement, Tom could have lorded it over me and tried to grab all the plum assignments. He never did.

So now I don’t even mind when a few readers have looked at my gray hair, and the reading glasses I have started to wear, and emailed me to say: “Scott, we understand you’re retiring. It makes sense – you look kind of worn down.”

No, it’s not me who’s leaving, I keep saying. My first kid hasn’t even started college yet. It’s Tom!

You know Sorensen: The guy who’s 64 but looks 44. The guy who kicked cancer’s butt first and then, after a nasty fall, went into the Observer’s “concussion protocol” and lived to tell about it. The guy who sometimes forgot to turn in his expense reports for a few months – OK, a few years – but who never forgot when he had promised to do a favor for a friend.

Tom has his quirks. He has a man-crush on Robert Plant. He uses the word “alas” a lot. When he was promoted to columnist for The Charlotte News, in 1984, he had a mustache that made him look like he was auditioning for either “Boogie Nights” or a revival of “Welcome Back Kotter.”

But his heart has always been true, and his convertible top has always been down, and his writing has always been crisp and sarcastic and just plain fun to read.

I long ago gave up trying to be as funny as Tom in these pages. That was a losing battle.

So I will just close by saying that we in the Observer sports department will miss our rock-and-roll columnist – really, really miss him. And I know that you will, too.

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