by Jim Flint
HARDWICK ̶ During his over-three decades as a Vermont sportswriter, Dave Morse was a consummate story teller. Thousands of Vermonters read his articles in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, Rutland Herald, and Hardwick Gazette. Tucked away in scrapbooks and shoe boxes, news clippings authored by Morse chronicle the struggles, aspirations, and achievements of countless athletes and teams, spanning a world of sports.
Brendan Buckley, a retired physician from East Hardwick, knew Dave Morse during the last 21 years of Morse’s life. Buckley and his wife, Helen Beattie, are long-term residents of East Hardwick. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1985, Buckley worked at the health centers in Hardwick and Greensboro. Specializing in primary care medicine, he retired from the Hardwick Area Health Center in 2019.
Twenty years after leaving the Rutland Herald, Morse re-emerged as a sportswriter with the Hardwick Gazette. He was hired by the Gazette’s former editor, Ross Connelly, in February, 1994. Morse wasted no time making connections in Hardwick and the nine surrounding towns that the Gazette covers.
Dr. Buckley’s two children were active in local sports. Morse soon discovered that Buckley served on the spring training medical team for the Boston Red Sox. A February 25, 1998, “Morse Code” column in the Gazette was creatively titled, “Buckley Takes Pulse of Red Sox.”
Morse, the omniscient observer of community life, quietly developed a bond with Buckley and his sports-minded family. Little League, soccer, cross country skiing, hockey, running, and cycling were among the Buckleys’ activities covered by Morse. In an August 15, 2007, story, Morse celebrated Buckley’s recovery and return to cycling after being seriously injured in a June 2006 bicycle-car crash.
Morse’s final sports stories in the Hardwick Gazette were published on January 28, 2015. He died of cancer on March 28, 2015. Over 500 people attended Morse’s memorial service at Hazen Union High School on April 4, 2015. Brendan Buckley was among the speakers that evening.
“I am very sad today because I still don’t know Dave’s whole story,” Buckley said. “I was looking forward to years of conversations with him that would fill in the blanks for me. If we can leave here today proud of our community, and with an eye out for how we can give back, we will truly honor this wonderful man.”
As a community, Hardwick remembered its commitment to follow Morse’s motto of “selflessness and teamwork.” Since 2015, Hazen Union High School has hosted the annual Dave Morse Basketball Classic. A framed painting of Morse, by artist and Hazen Union grad Brittany Lumsden, is on display at the school.
Brendan Buckley followed through with his quest to share Morse’s story. Dr. Buckley spent five years researching and interviewing, then writing Morse’s biography.
“The Morse Code: Legacy of a Vermont Sportswriter” will be published on July 18. The Galaxy Bookshop plans to host a community celebration with Buckley that evening at 7 p.m. Held at the Hardwick Townhouse, at 127 West Church Street, the event is free and open to the public. A large crowd is expected.
The Galaxy Book Shop has ordered multiple copies of The Morse Code. Interested readers can talk with Sandy Scott or Andrea Jones to reserve a book. Dr. Buckley plans to sign all the copies that the Galaxy has in stock. For readers outside of the Hardwick area, The Morse Code may be ordered online at rootstockpublishing.com.
The theme of Brendan Buckley’s 152-page book is summed up by Dave Morse’s moral codes: “Triumph over hardship. Pay it forward. The power of community.”
More than a biography, the book is an homage to a legendary sportswriter who inspired generations of athletes through his words, written and spoken, and his unselfish ways of caring for others.
Brendan Buckley talks about The Morse Code, Legacy of a Vermont Sportswriter
An interview with Jim Flint, Hardwick Gazette
Congratulations, Dr. Buckley, on your new biography of Dave Morse, the Hardwick Gazette’s beloved sportswriter. Thank you for answering questions and sharing insights ahead of the book’s release and celebration, on July 18, at 7 p.m., at the Hardwick Townhouse.
When and how did you first come to know Dave?
I first met Dave in the mid-1990s, not long after he arrived at the Gazette, as our children were discovering sports. I was intrigued by this interesting-looking fellow who showed up at our children’s various events. One day I sat next to him and introduced myself. And so began a conversation that continued until he died in 2015.
What can you share about your relationship with Dave during his 21 years in Hardwick?
Occasionally our paths crossed at the Village Restaurant, Connie’s, or along Main Street, but most of the time we were watching an athletic event somewhere. To my everlasting regret, most of our conversations were about sports, past and present. Rarely did we share glimpses into each other’s lives.
At the 2014 Appreciation Night held at Hazen Union High School, in Dave’s honor, I told Dave that I hoped he would write a book about his life. This sentiment came from my knowledge of how much Vermont sports history he had witnessed across his career, and my certainty that he had great stories to share.
After Dave fell ill suddenly, early in 2015, did you have an opportunity to talk with him?
I was aware that Dave had been an important figure in the lives of many local athletes but doubted that Dave would ever write of such things himself. Dave knew before he died that I wanted to tell his story, but we never had an opportunity to speak about his life beyond our sports-related conversations.
During the first few years following Dave’s death, what was happening in your life?
I was still working when Dave died. Upon leaving full-time medical practice, in 2018/early 2019, I began to pursue the book project.
How did it come about that you reached out to Dave’s sister, Deanna French?
My first interview was with Dave’s sister, Deanna. I anticipated that she would fill me in on his childhood history, early adulthood, and employment history, leaving it to me to add in the twenty-plus years he spent in Hardwick. Within five minutes of sitting down together, I learned that Deanna and Dave were separated during their childhood, and then at midlife, Dave went missing for several years.
What challenges did you face in researching the story of Dave’s life?
My second interview was with Tom Haley, the long-time sportswriter for the Rutland Herald and an ardent admirer of Dave. He was a student intern at the Herald when Dave was the Herald’s sports editor and Tom was at Castleton State College. Tom confirmed that Dave had abruptly disappeared from the Herald and that no one knew what had become of him. Tom gave me a long list of names to pursue. Ultimately, I never found a former colleague or friend who knew what happened to Dave through those years, before he re-emerged in Hardwick. I found myself facing the challenge to trace the arc of Dave’s life, without many leads.
How did you keep going with your research before and during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Pre-COVID, I did several in-person interviews and spent many hours at the Rutland Free Library and the State Archives, in Middlesex. I also traveled to Maine and Ohio to pursue the family history of Marietta Burns. She and Dave were married in 1973 and divorced in 1974.
Once COVID restrictions were put in place I was unable to access public record venues. People were reluctant to meet in person. Up until then, I had imagined that I would gather all the necessary information needed, and then sit down to write. Stuck at home without access to that information, I began to write “what I knew.” It went far better than I imagined. From then on, my working model was writing the known parts and filling in the new information as I learned it.
During the research process, you delved into the different chapters of Dave’s life. You mentioned in the book that Dave guarded against sharing much about himself. As a researcher and biographer, how did you decide which experiences in Dave’s life were important to his legacy?
Dawn Gustafson at the Gazette was gracious and welcoming through the worst of COVID to allow me upstairs to read back issues. I essentially read every word of each Morse Code column Dave wrote. He would occasionally drop in a bit of personal history, and, given how much of his life remained unknown to me, those snippets were gold.
Was there ever a time when you questioned whether you could complete the book?
Of course, I had doubts that I might ever actually complete the task. This was in part why I shared with so many people that I was working on Dave’s life story. If I kept it to myself, it would be too easy to give in to the disappointments when leads turned into dead ends, and that happened often.
In the book, you mentioned that Dave’s interest in sports began at Waterbury High School. After high school, he enrolled in Burnett Business School, in Boston, but dropped out of the two-year program. From your research, do you sense that Dave aspired to follow his own path to fulfill his dreams, or did adversity, necessity, and life circumstances lead to the path he followed?
Dave was indeed a private soul. Countless interviews with those who shared conversations with Dave confirmed that most of us seemed to know the same bits of his biography. That cannot have happened by accident. The pattern of Dave’s retreating, and even disappearing, in times of crisis began early in his life. His early childhood years were filled with sadness, cruelty, and the lack of a consistent loving presence. Deanna remembered him as the most sensitive of the four siblings, and, as the oldest, perhaps the most aware of the pain in the world, and most touched by his mother’s absence and death.
Dave was a one-man sports department for the Hardwick Gazette for 21 years. In your research, did you gain a sense of how he overcame challenges and continued to write, nearly to the end of his life?
Dave had some wonderful mentors who set him on a path through life, but I don’t think he ever found a healthy pathway for managing his emotional pain. The wounds from his childhood never fully healed. In writing the book I tried to highlight events that followed that thread through his life.
What is the central message of “The Morse Code, Legacy of a Vermont Sportswriter” that you hope readers will reflect on?
As I wrote, my working title was always “The Morse Code.” I love the duality, that it was Dave’s column, but it was also how he chose to live his life, despite hardship, looking out for others, especially children who might need a helping hand. The book’s epigraph is that message. The publisher, Rootstock, worried that shoppers would think that a book titled “The Morse Code” was a war novel or a history of Morse Code. For a time, many other titles were considered. I could not be more pleased that we settled at last on “The Morse Code: Legacy of a Vermont Sportswriter.”
Tell us about the event at the Hardwick Townhouse on July 18? Where will copies of the book be sold?
On the evening of July 18, at the Hardwick Town House, I plan to do a presentation covering why I wrote the book, the story behind the writing, and a window into the book itself. The Galaxy Book Shop is ordering copies. Interested readers can talk with Sandy or Andrea there to reserve a copy. I plan to sign all the copies that the Galaxy has in stock. My website, brendanbuckley-author.com, has additional information about Dave Morse and the book. Books can also be ordered from rootstockpublishing.com.