When you've been in this business long enough, nothing comes as a shock anymore. At least, that's how it feels. Then the phone rings, as it did Sunday afternoon, and someone says, "Lee Douglas died today."
No way. Not the popular 57-year-old guy who did sports for KOAA Channel 5, in different roles, for most of the past 33 years. Not the always-smiling professional who enjoyed the friendship and respect of everyone who knew him on the Colorado Springs/Pueblo media scene.
The details only made the pain worse. He'd worked through Thursday and was scheduled to be back on camera Sunday night for KOAA's post-Super Bowl newscast. Apparently, he wasn't feeling well Saturday and went to a hospital. Several hours later, he was gone. Tests might tell more, but that doesn't matter now.
Throughout the region, thousands of viewers are stricken. For years Lee was an integral member of Channel 5's veteran team along with Lisa Lyden, Rob Quirk and weatherman Mike Daniels. As Daniels puts it, "We grew up together." Lee endeared himself to viewers as well, because he was such a good guy but also because he told you everything you needed to know.
Lee did his job every night, year after year, with the same level of sincere enthusiasm and without one iota of ego. Never blustery, never condescending to anyone, but always upbeat. Somehow he managed to cover all the high schools without playing favorites, and he took care of Air Force and Colorado College without forgetting his own alma mater, Colorado State University-Pueblo.
That leads to what always impressed me. With KOAA headquartered in Pueblo, thus giving more equal coverage than its competitors to both Pueblo and the Springs, Lee truly had to please everyone. And he did.
He also saw the value in helping his audience become acquainted with Olympic athletes training in Colorado Springs. His features on them always stood out. And not just the well-known athletes, but those from the more obscure sports as well.
Lee started at Channel 5 in 1979, and we quickly got along, covering the same events from our different perspectives. If he liked a story or column, he'd say so. I returned the favor, because he deserved the praise. When I departed the local scene in 2001, he put together a nice story and gave me a tape of it. After I came back to join the Independent at the end of 2006, he was among the first to reconnect.
But as time went on, our circles weren't quite so close anymore. I'd watch him, of course, almost every night. He'd read the paper, sometimes commenting about an End Zone column. We were both serving on the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame's selection committee, along with our local-radio friend Jay Ritchie. We talked about how crazy it was that they would drive to Denver for meetings, and I would go separately. We promised each other that we'd rectify that, giving us a few hours without distraction several times a year. Unfortunately, dammit, we never did.
Now he's gone, but that doesn't erase the memories of state basketball tournaments and track meets, so many Air Force and Denver Broncos games, golf events, Pikes Peak Hill Climbs, media days and so much more. I also should mention Lee's other passion, spinning oldies music on Pueblo radio stations, with his weekend "sock hop" shows through the years. Those signals didn't always carry so well up here, but whenever I could find it, the listening was pleasurable.
Most folks didn't know that Lee Douglas wasn't his real-life name. He was Douglas Lee Cooley until he got into Pueblo's radio market as a college kid in the 1970s. He thought Lee Douglas would be better. It stuck to the end.
He leaves behind a huge legacy, because he epitomized what a local TV sportscaster should be, treating everyone the same while drawing on a lifetime of local sports knowledge — because he saw it all first-hand. KOAA will carry on, but that knowledge is lost forever now, along with the friendship.
Rest in peace, Lee Douglas. You truly were one of a kind.