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  • July 6th, 2012

            Chances are Homer Circle had more nephews and nieces than any uncle who ever lived.  Some of them may actually have been blood relatives; the rest were those of us who knew him as Uncle Homer or Unc.   Homer Circle was a living legend for most of his 97 years and he mentored a generation or two of outdoor communicators who revered him, not just for his many accomplishments, but mostly because he was perhaps the nicest human being who ever lived. 

            His passing touches me on many levels.  Back when I was a kid outdoor writer at the annual Outdoor Writers of America conference, Homer urged me to send some material to Sports Afield, the magazine where he was the longtime fishing editor (34 years) and probably the most respected member of the staff.  He would, he said, lobby for me to get a column with SA.  And he did although it didn’t work out. 

            That he would single me out was honor enough.  Later when I was honored with OWAA’s third of three major honors, I realized that there were only three members in what now is 85 years of the organization’s existence to reach that exalted plateau.  Besides Homer and me was Grits Gresham and I still don’t believe I belong with that august pair.

            Both became television stars in addition to their written word output, which included books and countless magazine articles.  Now both of them are gone, leaving me as the lonely bull at the fringe of the elephant burying ground.  It’s a sobering thought.

            Uncle Homer loved largemouth bass above all other fish and his several books mostly are Bibles on how to catch them.  He moved to Florida because Florida bass are many and big.  In a 1965 book, he wrote, “God in His infinite wisdom meant that men should fish, and that fish should be caught—but not always.  The good days are made sweeter by contrast with the bad, and true to this breed of whom I speak, you will remember only the good days.”

            Every year at the OWAA conference there is an orientation for “green ribbons,” those young members attending their first conference, with a green ribbon on their name tag signifying their rookie status.  Home invariably went to the green ribbon orientation to welcome the newbies, even though it was not an assignment.  He just wanted to make them feel welcome and Uncle Homer was warm greeting personified.

            His invariable greeting was a corny joke or pun, designed to make you groan the way you do when someone whacks you upside the head with an outrageous gag.  He started phone conversations with a groaner before he told you who was calling.  But you didn’t have to ask—you knew it was Uncle Homer halfway through the kind of joke that would get you yanked offstage at a comedy club.

            Uncle Homer joined OWAA in 1946.  He became its president in 1967.  He joined the Circle of Chiefs (which honors conservation communicators) in 1965.  Excellence in Craft inevitably followed in 1975 and the Ham Brown Award for service to OWAA in 1979.  He was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in 1981, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2001 and the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2007.  He added the American Sportfishing Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.

            He was barely out of high school when he became a salesman in an Ohio outdoor store.   “For the next eight years, he had the chance to see and use every new hook, line and sinker that was introduced to the market,” wrote Jay Cassell in an OWAA Legends piece.  Uncle Homer decided he knew as much about fishing as the fishing products people and devised a lure of his own and offered it to Heddon.  Heddon didn’t buy his lure, but they hired him as a vice-president of advertising and public relations.  In 1964, Circle began freelancing article for Sports Afield.

                Glenn Lau, among the top outdoor film producers, summed up Uncle Homer wonderfully well: For 30 years I have had the privilege of seeing people light up when they meet this man. Everyone, from all occupations, feels honored when Uncle Homer takes the time to listen to their stories and share some of his own. He is without a doubt the finest humanitarian that I’ve ever met. He is what many of us would like to be, open and receptive to everyone.”

            In 1996 he wrote me, “All goes well with the Circles…minor physical glitches but at 82 and 80 we are doubly blest and deeply thankful.  I’m on my 32nd year with Sports Afield, have lived through seven editors…blest there too.”  But SA went under a couple of times and finally resurfaced as a hunting magazine only.  No place for a fishing writer.  So Homer began writing for other publications.

            Aside from fishing, there was but one love in Uncle Homer’s life, his wife Gayle.  They were a devoted couple all the years he came to OWAA and she was as gracious and sweet as her husband.  When she died in 2007 they had been married for 70 years. They were as much in love on the last day of their marriage as they had been on the first.

            It makes me choke up to read what he wrote me in 2006: “Will hit 92 next month and the  most blest man I know.  Still writing for two mags, still fishing…still with my childbride in 68th year, still in love…been together 73 years, as I courted her five.  Alzheimer’s is taking its toll…but I’m with her to finale.” 

            Everyone who ever spent time with Uncle Homer will feel an empty spot in his or her life and even those who never knew him or heard one of his corny jokes will be lessened by losing the chance to have the Uncle Homer experience.  If there is a place—Heaven or Valhalla or whatever—where loved ones wait, Uncle Homer and his beloved Gayle will be together.  Regardless, the two of them always will live in the hearts and minds of all who knew them. 


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