Outdoors writer Floyd King dies

By Jim Castor, Democrat and Chronicle

(Friday, December 28, 2001) -- Floyd T. King, a self-described "brassy" teenager who discovered news journalism and became an outdoors writer read by several generations of Rochesterians, died Wednesday of a heart attack at his Pittsford home.

He was 95.

"Floyd loved to ask me, 'How old do you think I am'?" said Paulette McGuire of Perinton, geriatric care manager for Mr. King and his third wife, Kay. "Before I could answer, he'd say, 'I'm 92 and not a damn thing's wrong with me'!"

Mr. King's feisty good nature and longevity were common threads that connected a lifetime of living in, and writing about, the outdoors.

He and his second wife, Agnes, were known by many as Mr. and Mrs. Upstate, or Mr. and Mrs. Outdoors. Their home on North Landing Road, at the edge of Ellison Park, was a sanctuary for birds and small animals. Mr. King wrote a weekly nature column for the Democrat and Chronicle's Upstate magazine, often telling of events that were happening right outside the windows of his house.

Agnes King, who died of cancer in 1991, made bluebird restoration a special project. She designed a bluebird nesting box out of a milk carton and paper that has become a model for the Burroughs Audubon Nature Club, the Genesee Country Museum nature center and the Cumming Nature Center.

"We like to think," Mr. King said, "that at least some of this had its beginning at Weary Acres." Weary Acres was the name they gave their 340-acre wildlife farm in Ossian, Livingston County, where they spent much of their free time.

Always a storyteller, Mr. King remembered the advice of a high school teacher who said that he should write. Mr. King began his writing career in 1928 as a cub reporter with the Rochester Journal.

He moved to the Elmira Star-Gazette a year later. He returned to Rochester, joining the Democrat and Chronicle in 1932.

He was, at times, state editor, makeup editor, telegraph editor and copy desk chief before he moved to the sports department to write columns and features on skiing and the outdoors, winning numerous awards. He retired from full-time work at the Democrat and Chronicle in 1982 but wrote for 10 more years.

"Pearl Harbor will always remain in my memory as the highlight of over a half-century of newspapering at the Democrat and Chronicle," Mr. King wrote in 1991 of his experience as telegraph editor at the newspaper.

"I heard the radio announcement in early afternoon and headed right for the office. It had everything -- grief, excitement and terror."

Within three hours Mr. King had selected the stories that would be used in the paper's first Sunday Extra edition. The presses were running by 6 p.m.

"That responsibility, which I had throughout World War II," Mr. King said, "made me approach each night's work with a deep feeling of humility."

Democrat and Chronicle columnist Dick Dougherty remembers Mr. King as a fair-minded editor from their days on the copy desk.

"Floyd always had an aversion to criticizing people," Dougherty said.

"If you wrote a headline he didn't like, instead of throwing it back at you, he'd pretend to be busy and slip the paper under his blotter.

"Then when you weren't looking, he'd slide it to someone else to rewrite. Everybody knew he was doing it. He just didn't want to confront you with it." Born on a farm adjacent to the Allegheny National Forest, in Tidioute, Pa., in 1906, Mr. King was just a year old when his father died. Mr. King's grandfather reared him to be proficient with rod, gun and bow.

"I can't remember when I couldn't use a gun," Mr. King recalled in a conversation with journalists in 1982. "When I was 7 or 8 it was my job to shoot the chicken hawks that raided our poultry. A shotgun stood by the kitchen door.

"If I was shooting up into a tall tree, I'd have to jump aside from the huge cloud of black smoke after a shot to see if I'd hit anything. It was all black powder in those days."

Mr. King's youth was right out of Huckleberry Finn. He jumped freight trains and freighters, rode with hobos, lost his temper more than once or twice and put up his fists when needed.

"I was a brassy kid. Small. About 5-8, 125," Mr. King told writer Greg Boeck in a cover story for Upstate in 1986. "But I made up in aggressiveness what I lacked in size."

On the shipping freighter Willis L. King, he goaded a group of crusty sailors into a game of poker and won $400.

"I knew I'd never get off the ship alive with that money," Mr. King said. He stole away and jumped ship to another freighter, where it wasn't long before he got mouthy with his boss.

"He called me a college brat, told me to shut up, that I was always complaining. Then he hit me. Knocked two of my front teeth out. I can still hear them going 'click, click' on the iron deck."

Kirke King, son of Mr. King and his first wife, Marian, said his childhood was filled with hunting, camping, fishing and hiking with his father, mother and sister, Joanne.

"I got my first deer when I was 16," Kirke King said.

"Probably an 8-pointer. It was a cold, dark day in Livingston County. I was the only one in the party to get one. My dad was very proud of me."

Mr. King's grandson, Alan, caught the largest lake trout of his life while fishing on Lake Ontario with his family and his grandfather. "I want to say it was 28 pounds," Kirke said. "He'll never forget it."

Kirke King is a wildlife biologist and head of the contaminant branch of the Arizona office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Phoenix.

Besides his son, Mr. King is survived by his wife, pianist and composer Katherine Danforth Fisher King of Pittsford; daughters Joanne King of Vancouver, Wash., Judy Fisher Gordon of Pittsford and Jane Fisher Thurber of Windsor, Conn.; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-children.

Calling hours at Anthony Funeral Chapel, 2305 Monroe Avenue, Brighton, will be 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. next Friday. A memorial service will be 1 p.m., Jan. 5 at Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs St. in Rochester.