McNitt the ‘voice of the sportsmen’

Bob McNitt was known throughout New York State as the “voice of the sportsmen,” someone who was not afraid to speak up for the causes of conservation and outdoor sports.

McNitt passed away last Thursday, Oct. 20 after battling cancer for most of this year. McNitt was a freelance outdoors writer for nearly 40 years, and he began his 34-year affiliation with The Evening Sun as its outdoors columnist in October of 1977. His column initially appeared bi-weekly, but it soon became a weekly fixture on Thursdays for the next three-plus decades.

A lifelong outdoorsman, McNitt wrote exclusively freelance for half of his life after giving up previous careers as a businessman and a New York State Trooper. On his personal website, McNitt wrote that his “love of the outdoors drew him back there at every chance, and he soon began writing about his experiences.”

Soon after making his career change, McNitt’s unpretentious, yet topical style of writing found its way into the most prestigious outdoors magazines in the United States. He quickly gained the respect of his peers, and when he ascended from contributing writer to managing editor of New York Sportsman magazine, he had little trouble finding talented writers to work for him.

“He surprised and honored me by asking me to serve as the magazine’s fishing columnist,” said award-winning outdoors writer J. Michael Kelly, a freelance outdoors writer and former outdoors writer for Syracuse Newspapers. “During Bob’s tenure as editor of New York Sportsman, I spent extra time going over that assignment each and every month, not because Bob was more demanding than other editors – he wasn’t – but because I respected him so much that I wanted to give him my very best effort. He commanded that sort of loyalty and admiration from just about everyone he met.”

Ron Kolodziej was perhaps McNitt’s best friend among his large coterie of outdoors compatriots. Kolodziej has written for Amsterdam-based newspapers for decades, and he too signed on as a columnist for McNitt at New York Sportsman. Whenever Kolodziej hit a rut with an assignment, McNitt seemed to instinctively know.

“I think Bob suspected when I was in a quandary about content or approach and he’d call ‘just to see how things are going,’” Kolodziej said. “We’d chat for a half hour or so and the solution soon presented itself, though he had an uncanny knack for making it seem like the idea was really mine all along.”

Bob lived a private personal life and was humble to a fault. He earned just about every writing award and distinction one can accomplish, yet he never made that public. He was a giant among his writing peers, but was never too busy to assist a sportsman with advice, he acted as a voice of reason on the most important issues affecting sportsmen, and was a role model of professionalism serving as a mentor to countless writers.

He was inducted into the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame in 2005, and in 2006, he was honored with a citation from the New York State Senate that recognized him for publicizing conservation and outdoor resources, and promoting ethics and sportsmanship.

Yet few people outside of his closest circle of friends knew about his vast accolades, and there was no evidence of self-promotion or “tooting of his own horn” on his own website.

“Bob is the guy we all kind of wish we could be – successful businessman, writer/editor, sportsman, community leader and athlete who negotiates every curve in life with quiet confidence and grace,” said Dave Henderson, outdoors writer for the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin/Ithaca Journal. “Over the last 30 years, I’ve had the distinct privilege of being Bob’s colleague and friend. Whether it was in an Adirondack canoe, Canadian bear camp, Southern Tier turkey woods, at countless golf courses, dinner tables or shore lunches, in politicians’ offices and board rooms, he is a natural leader. If something needed to be done, Bob would know about it and he’ll simply step forward and do it.” 

McNitt grew up in Norwich and was an accomplished athlete in basketball and football, graduating in 1961. He served in the U.S. Army and graduated from college with a degree in business and appropriately, a minor in journalism. McNitt and his wife Betty did not have any children, but they always had a faithful canine companion. McNitt wrote a poignant tribute to “Belle,” who passed early in 2010. His words exemplified his love of nature and his optimistic viewpoint of the world:

“I think it’s hard to be a frequent visitor and part of the natural world without seeing all the wonders and miracles that go on there, and the amazing complexities that mesh it all into one obvious plan that renews itself, year after year, much like reoccurring memories that take on an ongoing life of their own. When all is said and done, it is those memories we amass and carry through our lives that shape and sustain us.”

The memories of Bob surely shape all of the people that he touched in his 68 years.

Bob’s wife Betty survives. A complete obituary will appear in Tuesday’s Evening Sun.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Leo Maloney, who provided biographical information on McNitt’s writing career for this story. Maloney is a past president of the New York State Outdoors Writers Association and a friend of McNitt’s for 30 years.

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