Memphis lost one of its outstanding citizens this week. Dave Black, who for the last 15 years had done the early-morning Farm Report on WMC Radio -- and last did so on Friday of last week, sounding as good as ever -- spent much of Saturday supervising some yard work, then underwent a dialysis treatment.
His heart stopped during the dialysis, which was part of the extensive treatment he required during the last several years, when he suffered from various cancers and the concurrent effects of them. Though doctors were able through technology to revive his heart, he never recovered consciousness and died Monday night. He was 69.
Dave was a widower, having four years ago lost his remarkable wife, Kay Pittman Black, who had been a star reporter for the old Memphis Press-Scimitar, an able spokesperson for the last two sheriffs of Shelby County, and a nurturing presence for a whole flock of people in local government and media.
Dave Black had that kind of importance to people, too -- not least during the last several years, when he was reliably said to be gravely ill with this or that recurrence of his highly metastasized cancer but insisted on going about in the world looking no older than 35, and a cheerful, sprightly 35 at that. One of his last public appearances came late last month at a local reception for gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen of Nashville. Dave looked all of 40 on that occasion -- which his friends took as an ominous signal.
Still, he was the kind of man who -- in the words of his devoted daughter Maura, the director of research and planning for Shelby County schools and a celebrated Democratic activist -- "just insisted on keeping on going." His last job was a case in point. He had already retired from broadcasting twice and was talked back into it some 15 more years by WMC's Mason Granger, who needed a short-term replacement for his early-morning farm reporter.
Dave, who knew very little about agriculture to start with, sat in and was still sitting in through last week. In the meantime, he had become an authority to Mid-South farmers, a soothing presence who started their days off with reliable information mixed with wit and insight.
David Dotson Black Jr., as he was named at birth, was a fixture in the community. That was by his own choice. He had a chance back in his 20s to be a roving national reporter for CBS radio. It was an opportunity that would doubtless have made him as famous as the late Charles Kuralt, but he took a job at WMC-AM instead, as a deejay. Rock- and-roll was, after all, one of his passions, and he was one of its earliest and most authentic exponents, having begun his broadcasting career as a 16-year-old deejay serving up rhythm-and-blues on WDIA-AM, then as now a black-oriented station.
Dave quit school to take that first job, finishing up his education much later on with a G.E.D. He had started life as a member of the Memphis establishment and was educated at Miss Lee's School (later Grace-St. Luke's) and at Memphis University School. A pioneer by nature, he just decided to take the road less traveled, one that, in terms of the music he helped popularize, much of the known world has trod on since.
Dave was always a helper. During the last several years, he seemed as little preoccupied with himself and his own problems as a human being could possibly be. To others, he was a source of advice, encouragement, benevolent energy -- you name it.
Besides Maura, his survivors include his mother, 93-year-old Edith E. Black; his stepdaughter, Susan Pittman, who is principal of Dogwood Elementary School in Germantown; a brother, Bob Black of Little Rock; and, of course, all the rest of us, who couldn't help but take heart from a man who didn't go gentle into that good night but slipped into it quickly, still a youth at heart.
Jackson Baker is a senior editor of the Flyer.