John McNamara was toiling as a news copy editor at the Capital Gazette when he left to pursue his dream: sports reporting.
He honed his skills at the Prince George’s Journal, a competitor to the Annapolis news organization. Within a few years, the Capital Gazette hired him back. He would work there for nearly 24 years.
McNamara, 56, was one of five staff members who was shot to death at the Capital Gazette on Thursday.
McNamara, who went by “Mac,” was remembered by his colleagues for his flexibility, concise writing and extensive knowledge of regional sports. He had a razor wit that came in bursts like a social media post, one fellow reporter said.
“At a small paper like that, you have to be versatile,” said former Capital Gazette sports editor Gerry Jackson, who hired him back all those years ago. “He could write. He could edit. He could design pages. He was just a jack of all trades and a fantastic person.”
Jeff Barker, a Baltimore Sun reporter, covered University of Maryland sports at the same time as McNamara. He was known for one-liners about sports or politics, Barker said. He was appropriately skeptical of the coaches and other authority figures he covered.
“That was the journalist in him,” Barker said. “But he was a loyal friend with an infectious laugh, and he was a willing mentor for young journalists. In other words, he never allowed his professional distance to detract from just being a thoroughly decent person.”
He loved covering sports. During the 2010 NCAA basketball tournament, he took a long walk around Spokane, Wash., with Gary Williams, the University of Maryland coach. It was just John and Gary, and John remarked later how great a job he had to be able to spend one-on-one time with a future Hall of Fame coach.
McNamara enjoyed playing sports as much as he enjoyed writing about them, Jackson said. He was one of a group who played basketball on Thursdays at the Annapolis Recreation Center.
“He had this sneaky left-handed shot,” said Jackson, now an editor at The Baltimore Sun.
McNamara also worked at The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown.
The University of Maryland graduate wrote two books about athletics at his alma mater. “The University of Maryland Football Vault: The History Of The Terrapins,” tracked Maryland football from its first game in 1892 through the 2008 season. “Cole Classics! Maryland Basketball's Leading Men and Moments” told the story of Terrapin basketball. He was working on a book about great basketball players raised in the Washington area when he died, Barker said.
David Elfin co-wrote Cole Classics. He met McNamara when they were both part-time sports reporters at The Washington Post. They once found themselves bunking together in a hotel room in Thomas Circle, then the “center of prostitution” in Washington, said Elfin. They were covering a massive blizzard that swept through the region and canceled every game in the region — and they bonded.
“He was an old-school journalist, bulldog, a great reporter and relentless,” Elfin said.
He loved rock and folk music and once joked that he wasn’t embarrassed to be one of the only men at an Indigo Girls concert, Barker said.
You could often catch McNamara at the movies. In a recent Facebook post, he gave thumbs-up reviews on documentaries about Mr. Rogers and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
“Seeing these two films will do you some serious good,” he wrote. “Both are marvelous and moving. And, in these troubled times, when the forces of darkness seem to have gained the upper hand, it's nice to be reminded that there is still justice and kindness in the world. You can thank me later.”
He was married to Andrea Chamblee, whom he met while attending the University of Maryland. They met at a bar after he covered a football game. McNamara was one of seven children who grew up in a Catholic family in Bethesda, but he and his wife did not have children.
They were devoted to each other.
“Our biggest argument was about who was lucky enough to have the other,” she said. “He was devoted to his friends and family. He was devoted to his craft and he was devoted to me.”
McNamara recently returned to covering news as an editor and reporter at the Bowie Blade-News and the Crofton-West County Gazette. He wrote features and community news.
But his social media sites show that sports was still his first true love.
He recently interviewed former Washington Bullets general manager Bob Ferry for the Bowie-Blade News.
“Had a great time chatting about the '78 NBA champs with Bob Ferry last week,” he wrote on Facebook. “Bob had some great insights, but I could almost have written the story blind-folded — that's how well I knew that team. How can it be 40 years ago?