Fred Messina knew the outdoors, and many, many places to eat

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 26, 2007

April 26, 2007

The first day I worked for this newspaper more than 10 years ago, I knew little about Vicksburg. Most importantly, I didn’t know where to get something good to eat.

I looked over the newsroom at the old Post building at Cherry and South streets and saw nothing but unfamiliar faces. My eyes locked on this fellow sitting in a desk near the bathroom door whose body shape slightly resembled mine.

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If anyone knew where to get something to eat, certainly it would be this guy, I thought. So I approached Fred Messina and asked for dining advice.

For the next 45 minutes, he recited menus from every restaurant in a 20-mile radius. This place has a good baked potato, but that place has the best steak. Across the newsroom, managing editor Charlie Mitchell looked over his computer screen at his new employee getting cornered by Fred and certainly must have broken a smile.

Me, on the other hand, thought I was out the door for wasting time on the company’s clock.

It would be the first of myriad conversations, usually centered on the supper table. It was also the start of a good friendship ripe with laughs, jabs and barbs.

Fred died early this morning.

He had been absent from work for a while, trying to heal himself and take care of his son, Tony. He would try to write his hunting and fishing column, but even it was sporadic over the last several months.

It was his hunting column that brought Fred and me close. When I was named acting sports editor in the summer of 1996, the outgoing sports chief said one thing to me: &#8220You can leave out the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympics, but never, ever leave out Fred Messina’s column.”

When my first Friday came, I did forget and the paper came out without his column.

By that afternoon, his phone began ringing from people who thought he was sick, or something happened to Tony, his adult son who is mentally and physically disabled.

It was the last day I ever left his column out of the sports section.

He was an institution at this newspaper, someone who knew whom to call, where to go and what to do. If one went on the street with him, the trip would take twice as long to take time for him to say something to everyone who recognized him.

His stories of he, Bump Callaway, Doc, Jerry and Tony filled these sports pages once a week. At times we thought he went back to a column 10 years ago, changed an &#8220and” to a &#8220but” and rewrote the entire thing.

He just loved his stories. And the readers of this newspaper loved his stories. Everyone associated with him will miss his stories.

Everyone will miss Fred.

I miss him already.