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Jim On Al Featherston

With Al’s death a long and valued friendship has come to an end

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North Carolina State v Duke
Al Featherston is just under the Duke blue jersey on the Cameron Crazy with Barry Jacobs ( with beard) just to his left.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In one sense, it wasn’t a shock. Al had been in declining health for years and had suffered a cascade of nasty setbacks in the last few months.

That said, the finality of it is still a shock.

Al didn’t have to work very hard to be a Duke guy. Not only was he a Durham native but he had some Duke DNA in his family. All-America football player Elmore Hackney was an uncle.

Al and I were at Duke at the same time but our paths didn’t cross all that much until about 20 years ago or so. In addition to our mutual affection for Duke and ACC sports, we were both huge Yankees fans and loved reading history, especially military and political history. We placed a premium on politics and were simpatico in almost every position.

Our last discussion was over the Yankees’ free-agent targets for this off-season. Al wasn’t a big Bryce Harper fan.

He was really looking forward to the 2019 season.

Al was a voracious reader. He read books like most people watch TV shows. He was also a movie aficionado, with an especial love for the Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.

Seriously, if you think he knew ACC hoops, you should have tried him out on Kurosawa’s oeuvre.

Or not. Al had a contentious streak a mile long. I’ve never met anyone who liked to argue as much as Al. He was the only person I’ve ever met who would agree with you and want to argue the point at the same time. We all knew to stay away from Woodrow Wilson—not a fan—Sandy Koufax—overrated—and the U.S. Maine—the Spanish blew it up.

Most people on this board knew Al as a quality sportswriter. He was a pro. He took his craft very seriously. And it was a craft for him, not just a paycheck. He knew how to use words, how to research, how to ask probing questions in a way that didn’t seem probing and the difference between facts and opinions.

And now DBR posters know that Al was the prolific poster known as Olympic Fan. I’m glad that’s out. I think Al thought that he needed an online identity distinct from his professional identity, the better to make that transition from fact to opinion, each important in their own way.

Al wasn’t just a devourer of history. He was a respected military historian. He authored a book entitled Battle for Mortain, about a North Carolina National Guard unit’s critical involvement in a critical U.S. victory in the Normandy campaign.

Al was very active in a local military historian’s organization—I’m not positive about the name. I think he was president. But he left because of his perception that the group was overly devoted to the Confederacy and the Lost Cause myth.

Not just a person with opinions but someone willing to act on them.

Al could be a high-maintenance friend to be sure. But those are the best kind. He was a trusted and close friend and his loss leaves a huge void in so many areas near and dear to me and to the Duke community.

He will be missed.

May he truly rest in peace.

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