John Derr (Photo by Golf Digest)
We at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club are saddened to hear of the passing of a true legend, John Derr.
Derr, who made his home in Pinehurst, passed away on Saturday evening. He was 97.
“Our condolences go out to all of those who were close to John,” said Pinehurst President Tom Pashley. “While a legend in golf and a tremendous trailblazer as a giant in the broadcast radio and television industry, it was John’s personal touches that endeared him to so many. John Derr never met a stranger, and we were so very fortunate to have known him. We will miss him always.”
Derr’s life was one well-traveled. A friend to Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Joe DiMaggio, a young Derr was even a dinner guest of Mahatma Ghandi. This wonderful piece by Jaime Diaz in 2011 recounts Derr’s incredible ride.
Derr was serving in India during World War II when, through a friendship with Gandhi’s son, he was invited to the family’s New Delhi home on numerous occasions. Years later, Derr saw Einstein on his daily walk along the Princeton golf course and asked the genius if he’d ever played the game. “I tried once,” Einstein said. “Too complicated.” As for Edison and Ford, in the 1920s they visited the Derr family farm to investigate uses of cottonseed oil. Derr, then 10, was already “announcing” the weddings and funerals of various farm animals.
“I’ve always been pretty relaxed around the mighty,” he says. “I like people, and that usually leads to people liking you back. Now, a lot of folks build something around themselves, afraid to let anyone get to them. But with those types, it’s often rewarding to break through.”
The notes from his website, johnderrsports.com, give just a glimpse at an amazing life well-lived:
Telling the story was John Derr’s credo from an early age. He continued into his ninth decade describing the canvas of life around him—the ups and down, the wins and the losses.
Augusta National Golf Club, recognizing his career reporting of the Masters Tournament 62 times, starting in 1935, presented him a Masters Achievement Award at a ceremony in 2007.
Derr’s golf reporting earned him many accolades, including induction into four Halls of Fame, the National Journalism Award and his book, My Place at The Table, which received a top award among all sports books, as selected by the judges for the International Network of Golf.
John retained a lifetime friendship with golf greats such as Bob Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. He reported Hogan’s initial victory in 1940 at Pinehurst and his British Open win at Carnoustie in 1953.
While in the military in India he was the sports editor of the CBI Roundup. General Stilwell sent John back to the United States to report the 1944 World Series to troops around the world. Also he was awarded the Bronze Star in New Delhi India.
Derr has authored three books about people and events he covered in his long career. He also recalled others, including non-athletic friends such as Mahatma Gandhi, President Eisenhower, Dr. Billy Graham, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Grace Kelly and Dinah Shor.
That he enjoyed people was obvious. To draw back the curtain and recognize the good in all the people he met seemed his ambition. He painted a fascinating picture-with words or with pen.