Sports Column: No fanfare here, he’s Just leaving

Kyle Hightower

So much is often made of how athletes exit their respective sports.

How an athlete leaves the game often creates more of a spectacle than anything they ever did between the lines.

You’ve heard all the “Today I feel like the luckiest man in the world” type stuff. You’ve seen all the ticker tape parades and year-long farewell tours.

But the latest Western sports legend to call it quits isn’t one of those guys.

He isn’t even an athlete. He’s an old guy with white hair who could pass for Santa Claus.

Really, he could.

For the past 36 years, dating back to his sophomore year on the Hill, Paul Just has been a major player behind the scenes of Western athletics.

Not only that, but he’s one of the few people still around that can give an eye-witness account of the best and worst moments in Hilltopper sports history.

Just, Western’s sports information director for the past 25 years, will step down from that post – at least in a full-time capacity – on Sept. 31.

I know of his departure, and if you’re reading this, now you know it.

But as many press releases as Just has penned over the years, you should know that there wasn’t one issued about him.

My guess is that he didn’t want one and probably never thought of it as a big deal. People who truly love what they do usually don’t.

“I could work for 50 years and not get done with everything I want and need to do,” Just said.

He was originally supposed to leave the post on Aug. 1, but agreed to stay through September so the selection committee headed by Athletics Director Wood Selig can hire his replacement.

While he has gladly answered the occasional questions Selig has thrown his way, for the most part he is taking a back seat in the process.

“It’s called an early retirement, but I will still be around,” Just said. “I’m going to do the part-time thing because I don’t think I can go cold turkey.

“I just feel like it’s time, and I want to spend more time with my kids. And I think I owe it to my wife, who has had to do 95 percent of the parenting the past 25 years.”

But the homecoming that Just’s wife and children will soon get is truly a loss for Western.

Because as well-known as the red towel is in Western folklore, so to is Just’s trademark beard, red blazer and infectious smile.

The athletes know him as Paul, but many still call him Mr. Just. I find myself saying the latter from time-to-time.

It’s the kind of thing you do for people you respect greatly.

Those who work in a public relations capacity often get branded as tools of their employers. And to a very large extent they are.

But having worked alongside him the past two years, I’d venture to say that while Just has had the university’s best interest at heart, he has done his best not to sugarcoat the truth.

That is not only a rarity, it is nearly non-existent in the profession.

I only hope that the next guy, whoever it is, can make my job as easy as Paul Just has.

Kyle Hightower’s column appears on Tuesday and occasionally on Thursday. You can reach him at 745-6291 or by e-mail at [email protected]