David Knickerbocker, an outdoor enthusiast whose three decades at Newsday took readers from the ocean spray of competitive yacht racing to the frozen bumps of Olympic ski slopes, died last week. He was 88.
“He loved to write and he worked hard at it,” his brother-in-law, John Dean, said.
An insatiable passion for learning, coupled with a love of working beneath the open sky, spurred him to take up skiing when he was assigned to cover the sport and to build sailboats that he raced in Long Island Sound, friends and former colleagues said.
“Whatever he got interested in, he would become an expert,” Dean said.
When the Winter Olympics came to Lake Placid in 1980, Knickerbocker was among the Newsday team that roomed together in a rented house while covering them.
“He just knew everybody and people liked him. He’s a very friendly, outgoing guy,” said Joseph Gergen, a former Newsday columnist who covered the Olympics with Knickerbocker. “He was kind of an old-fashioned reporter, he was really on top of everything.”
Knickerbocker liked to get up before dawn and file his copy by noon so the rest of the day was his.
“He’d say, ‘Well, I’m done for the day,’ ” Gergen said.
The son of an Irish immigrant textile worker, he spent most of his life in Douglaston, Queens, on the Nassau County border, where he grew up alongside the bay with his sister Althea and brother Peter.
In the 1950s, he attended Colby College in Maine. Then he became a reporter covering crime and general news on the streets of New York City for the now-defunct World-Telegram & Sun. A photograph from those early days, showing a fresh-faced Knickerbocker striding alongside former President Harry Truman, reporter’s notebook in hand, hung in his home, friends said.
He joined Newsday in 1961, penning his “All Outdoors” column that took readers along as he picked up a rod or rifle, took hold of the rudder or headed down the slopes.
“He kind of gave you the flavor of the area about the skiing or the sailing,” said longtime friend John Dietz.
Hunting for Knickerbocker wasn’t about collecting trophies. Dean said his brother-in-law’s attitude was, “If you shoot a goose, you’ve got to cook it and eat it.”
Knickerbocker had girlfriends, but never married, Dean said.
“I think he enjoyed his freedom too much to consider marrying,” Dean said.
His boyhood love of sailing fed his professional coverage of yacht racing as he filed stories on the America’s Cup from Newport, Rhode Island, and Fremantle, Australia. He built two sailboats at his Douglaston home, one called the “Akela” after the leader of the wolves in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” that he raced competitively on Long Island Sound, picking up a few trophies in his wake, his friends said.
A lifelong pipe smoker, in recent years, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment as his health declined. Though he never fully recovered, Dean said, he continued to have friends over for freewheeling conversations.
“There would be a discussion and an argument and then Dave would settle the matter, because he knew everything,” Dean said.
Knickerbocker’s remains were cremated. Services were held last week at the Doyle B. Schaffer Funeral Home in Little Neck.