Gregorian Chants

Remembering Bob Frederick and The Power of Character

Former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick
Former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick The Associated Press

As I wrote earlier this week about Darryl Motley and the letter he received from Dick Howser shortly before or soon after Howser died from brain cancer in 1987, I was reminded of a similar but more abrupt and piercing event in June 2009.

Prairie Village’s Bill Hancock, now the executive director of the College Football Playoff, received in the mail a postcard from former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick — who had died at 69 the day before from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident in Lawrence.

Earlier that week, Frederick had been cycling in the Flint Hills, and his enthusiasm for the ride radiated from the words in his distinctive print.

“You’ve got to do this ride one of these years … The scenery in the Flint Hills is always fabulous. I’ve done it five or six years in a row and will continue every year as long as I can pedal.”

On Wednesday morning, I found a copy of the back of the card that Hancock had faxed me that morning, tucked in a book Frederick and I once discussed that he had inscribed to me with a moving sentiment.

It left me reflecting on Frederick, who was a thoughtful and dignified gentleman with broader interests and rare perspective on athletics.

Back when I got to know him, in the days of the old Big Eight, it was a simpler time in so many ways in college athletics.

One of the upsides of that was you’d have a chance to have real relationships with people at the schools you covered — even the ones who worked for the rivals of the ones you primarily covered.

Some of that exists today, of course, but mostly it’s with people you’ve already known from many years ago.

Otherwise, the prevailing wave is a much more stay-on-message dynamic that is far more about branding and agendas and keeping the media at bay than cultivating relationships.

Part of that is the sheer proliferation of media, of course, and the way media has changed with it.

But plenty of it is that the stakes have become so absurdly high that protecting that makes for essentially corporate and mechanical buffer zones now.

Then, though, you might bump into an AD, say, checking into the Hyatt late one night before the Big Eight tournament and speaking for a half hour in the lobby.

Then, it was a simple thing to have an appointment in their office, do the interview stuff and then just talk for a while and understand the person — not merely the office or the suit.

The book Frederick had sent me some years before was called “The Power of Character.”

In what he wrote, he referred to an Armenian word, nekaragir, defined within the book by my Armenian father as “the embodiment of one’s own uniqueness as an individual: It embraces one’s dignity, honor and independence and one’s commitment to … moral and social values that forge ties among individuals, families, ancestors, generations and society and affirm our common humanity on the one hand and our uniqueness on the other.”

Here’s remembering a man who exuded that, and a man everyone could learn from that we lost too soon.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to