Courtesy Rip Cunningham
The angling world lost one of the greats with the passing of Barry Gibson on October 11, 2023. I had so many memorable times with Barry, it’s hard to know where to start. So, starting at the beginning seems like a good idea. Every publication is always looking for new writers and when Jean Reese stopped by our offices in Boston to deliver a manuscript that her boyfriend, Barry Gibson, had written, I said that we’d be happy to read it. Sometimes articles that come over the transom are complete junk and sometimes they are surprisingly good. This was definitely the latter. Barry had what Frank Woolner, editor in chief of Salt Water Sportsman, called the “seeds of sin” to make a great writer.
Shortly thereafter, we asked Barry if he’d like to interview for the position of associate editor. When he came in to interview, he was as nervous as can be. In a conversation months later, he admitted to being nervous because he really wanted the job and never thought he’d have a chance at it. He need not have worried. His qualifications were head and shoulders above the other candidates. Barry became the best writer we had on staff with the possible exception of Frank Woolner. He had the subject of fishing down cold. We’d soon learn he was stickler for detail. Those were the qualifications we needed, but could not teach. I do not have the records in front of me, but I believe that was in 1977.
One of the parts of working at Salt Water Sportsman, or most any publication, was to attend shows where we’d show off our publication and products, visit with clients, learn about new products and sometimes have a little fun. One of our big shows was in Ft. Lauderdale. The schedule was pretty tight, but Barry and I squeezed in a little fishing with Capt. Bill Mann on the Tarpon Hunter a couple of mornings. Back in those days, we were able to get right up in the warm water discharge from the power plant. On some days that ditch would be packed with tarpon and jumping a bunch would make the rest of the day go a lot better. We made that a Ft. Lauderdale ritual.
Entertaining advertising clients was not just done by the advertising department. Many of our advertisers, who made products directly used by anglers, were avid anglers themselves. Barry and I were entertaining a couple of folks from one of the magazines oldest advertisers at that time, fishing out of Boothbay Harbor on Barry’s Webbers Cove.
After a great day fishing we went to dinner at Ocean Gate. Barry knew the chef, but didn’t say anything. The special that night was swordfish. All four of us chose that and right after the wait staff took our order, I jokingly said, “Tell the chef we only want center cuts.” The next thing we knew, the chef came through the swinging kitchen door with a swordfish carcass on his shoulder. He walked through the packed restaurant and plunked the swordfish on the table and said, “Would you mind pointing out where you want those cuts from.” Barry was in tears laughing. I was close to speechless and our clients were very impressed, as were the rest of the patrons.
Barry had essentially taken over for Frank Woolner as the editor of SWS. Frank could be a hard taskmaster, but it did not take him long to see what a great job Barry was doing with the editorial content. Once that happened, Frank no longer pretended that he would come into Boston for any sort of meeting. We had to go out to his home office. That became an almost monthly ritual where Barry and I would go over a few magazine focused issues and then spend several hours listening to Frank tell stories about fishing escapades with famous fishing legends or about his adventures during WWII where he served in the Army.
Frank had a German officer’s Luger, which he loudly proclaimed was given to him by the officer. After a reasonable pause, he would laughingly add that he had a rifle at the side of his head. After Frank passed, his brother asked us if there was anything of Frank’s we would like. Barry asked for an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur, which was one of the first versions and was engraved with Frank’s name. Barry cherished that reel. When I was fired by a major media company in NY, there was a staff dinner in Boston. At the end, Barry gave me a big hug and handed me a wrapped box. In it was Woolner’s reel. He simply said, “I want you to have it.” He wouldn’t allow me to refuse. Thank you, Barry. It has been and always will be a special part of my reel collection