Bob Ottum is dapper. Few people in this world fit the term as well. Ottum is neat and trim, spruce and stylish, alert and lively—all Webster definitions of the word. Ottum not only looks dapper when he wears a blue blazer, gray flannels, white shirt and yellow-and-blue paisley tie, pocket foulard and black tasseled loafers; he is also dapper when he wears an old turtleneck and well-scrubbed jeans with the blue blazer. Ottum has four blue blazers, if you're counting.
Ottum is also one mighty fine writer. Check his piece on Fred Lebow, the running impresario, on page 44. Ottum runs a bit himself, having taken up the sport three years ago. Last May he entered and finished his first marathon. It took him a while to finish; his wife, Joyce (a superb portrait painter, by the way), watched nearly everyone in the field of 4,000 check in, and then came Bob. But he did it.
Ottum was born in Duluth, met and married Joyce in San Francisco, lives in Port Washington, N.Y., has a condo in Key West and calls Salt Lake City home. When we first heard about him and got interested in his writing, he was the executive news editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. He'd talked his way into a reporter's job on the paper after being mustered out of the Navy following World War II, during which he'd served on a troop transport in the New Guinea campaign, among others. He'd never written a line of sports copy. He didn't think we knew that when we offered him a staff writer's job, but we did. We also knew how well he wrote about people, and knew he could write just as well about people in sports as he did about people in business, politics or the arts. In his 17 years with us, he's been one of the most versatile writers on our staff, covering figures in every major sport and most of the minors—boxing, baseball, pro and college football, pro and college basketball, auto racing, all the winter sports, sailing, powerboating. Somehow he missed thoroughbred racing, but he did hit trotting. Some more geography: He's filed stories to us from Mexico, Romania, Japan, Zaire, France, England, Chile, Hawaii, Canada and the salt flats of Utah. Have we missed a continent here? Australia. Well, he was there during the war.
Not idle, ever, Ottum is also one of the many SI staffers who write books; his contributions include four novels and two works of non-fiction. His third novel, The Tuesday Blade, scared the daylights out of everyone who read it and will soon be made into a movie, to frighten an even wider audience.
October 26, 1981
All this would seem to add up to a fair enough writing career, but Ottum would trade every book, every feature, deadline story and profile for one song lyric in the class of his idol, the late Johnny Mercer. He will deliver golden Mercer lines all night in the throbbing voice and plangent tones of the devout believer. At this very moment, if not writing, running or achieving even greater dapperness, Ottum is probably sitting by his stereo, vodka Gibson flavored with his own peppery pickled onions in hand, listening to the lyrics of the master and wallowing in a mess of unwarranted envy.