It takes a special kind of person to work on a newspaper's night desk — an audacious sort who doesn't fear crushing deadlines and punishing hours.
Robert "Bud" Armstrong was such a tried-and-true newspaperman, working on the Star Tribune's sports desk for 44 years before retiring in 2009. Armstrong, of St. Louis Park, died Monday of interstitial lung disease at St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul. He was 79.
"For nightsiders working for a morning paper, so much happens each day and into the night, it's a tremendous process to be part of, pulling it all together — to make a thing you can hold in your hands and look at and say, 'I helped do that,' " said Steve Ronald, former deputy managing editor for the Star Tribune (and a former nightsider himself).
A native of Miami Beach, Fla., Armstrong graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1963 and worked at papers in Belvidere and Springfield, Ill., before being hired at the Minneapolis Tribune by then-Sports Editor Sid Hartman. "Every other applicant wanted to write as much as possible," Armstrong once told Star Tribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse. "I had no such ambitions. I wanted to work on the desk."
When the Star Tribune hired Reusse — who back in the mid-1960s had worked as a copy boy for Armstrong at the Tribune — away from the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1988, a TV crew covered his arrival. "There was a lot of hubbub," recalled Jim Walsh, a Minneapolis author, columnist and musician, who worked as a copy aide at the time. "Bud was sitting at his desk; his eyes never left the screen. Reusse said, 'Hey, Bud,' and Bud said, 'Patrick, here's my pencil, would you sharpen it for me?' "
Armstrong encouraged many budding journalists over the years. Mary Schmitt Boyer, part of a pioneering wave of women sportswriters in the 1970s, worked at the Tribune before becoming a sportswriter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the author of several books. She credited Armstrong with launching her career: "It was great to have a mentor like Bud, because then everyone else was nice to you."
An avid reader, Armstrong reviewed books for the Star Tribune, including several written by former Tribune colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winner Ira Berkow, a former sports columnist for the New York Times. "I was always grateful when Bud reviewed my books, since he was one of the few people who liked them," Berkow said.
Outside of work, Armstrong's interests were varied and just as passionate. A self-taught chef who didn't need a cookbook, he loved good food and wine.
"He made all sorts of exotic dishes," said his son Bob, of St. Louis Park, adding that his personal favorite dish of his father's was barbecued spareribs "with a celery seed element." Armstrong whipped up sauteed veal with homegrown carrots shortly before he died, delighting his wife, Ann Chevalier. "I used to be the cook, and then I let him go in the kitchen and he never came out," she said.
Music was another passion. Armstrong frequently hung out at Electric Fetus in Minneapolis and owned some 2,500 CDs. "I loved seeing him at shows, whether it was at the Cedar [Cultural Center] or First Avenue," Walsh said. "He was always asking, 'What are you listening to?' "
Ronald recalled times when food, wine and conversation came together "spontaneously late at night, where you listened to some music, you talked and stood in the kitchen, while chairs went unused in the living room. Bud loved it."
In addition to his wife and son Bob, Armstrong is survived by sons Dennis, of Minneapolis, and Andrew, of St. Louis Park; daughter, Robyn Ingalls, of Edina; former wife, Jane Armstrong, of Minneapolis; and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Albert the Great Church in Minneapolis, with visitation an hour beforehand.