Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

Bill Nunn Jr., 1924–2014: Newsman, Steelers Scout, Local Icon


Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball  players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948-1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948–1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

On a sunny July afternoon in 2011, I had the privilege of going to the home of William G. Nunn Jr. and Frances Bell Nunn, to interview them for the Teenie Harris Archive’s oral histories. I had known them casually in my childhood, but as their front door opened two impressions hit me: 1) Here were some of Pittsburgh’s finest African American citizens, and (2) how much they seemed to still be in love. They greeted me, together, with big smiles and we shared a warm, informative afternoon full of both serious discussion and rich laughter.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960–1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Goldwyn Nunn Jr. was born on Sept. 30, 1924, and lived an incredible life. At the time of our interview, he was still going strong, despite having “officially” retired over two decades prior. While analyzing college prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 draft, he suffered a stroke, from which he would not recover. The Nunns had been married an impressive 63 years when “Bill” passed at age 89, on May 7, 2014.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950-1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950–1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Jr. was born to Maybelle and William G. Nunn—the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. Bill Jr. had become an outstanding basketball player at West Virginia State University, and in his senior year led the team to an undefeated record. He played with two of the first three Black players to play in the NBA. Upon graduation in 1948, the Harlem Globetrotters tried to recruit him, and he found himself facing the tough choice of what to do with his life. He ultimately chose to take a job with the sports staff of the Courier, (the largest Black newspaper in the country at the time). Later, he became the sports editor, replacing the legendary Wendell Smith, and eventually became the managing editor for the paper.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles "Teenie" Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles “Teenie” Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1968–1969, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

In the late 60s, Mr. Nunn was dissatisfied by the NFL not drafting more African American players. He got the ear of Art Rooney Sr., and was thus lured to the Steelers organization because he felt he could make a real difference for Black athletes. Not everyone appreciated the idea of hiring a newspaperman to scout college players, but Bill proved himself fully worthy to be the first African American appointed to a front office position. As the years of discovering overlooked players who (for the most part) attended historically Black colleges, (such as L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Dwight White, Glen Edwards, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell), the Steelers continued to have winning seasons, and Bill’s participation was never questioned again. In fact, although he officially retired from the Steelers organization in 1987, he continued to be a part of the recruitment team for over 46 years, until his death.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier's Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier’s Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Nunn never played nor coached football, but still he was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and was a 2010 inaugural member of the Black College Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of six Super Bowl rings, because of his distinction as being one of the longest tenured employees of the Steelers. His name also lies in the West Virginia State University Sports Hall of Fame.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940-1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940–1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Mr. Nunn is survived by his lovely wife, Frances (whom he’d known since childhood), his daughter Lynell Nunn (an attorney), his son Bill Nunn III (a film/television/theatre actor), three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

I listened to our 2011 interview as I wrote this obituary. It made me wish I had spent even more time chatting with them about their accomplishments in helping other African Americans achieve new heights. Nunn also discussed working with Teenie Harris as both a colleague and his boss. He said Teenie, being older than Bill, taught him a lot about how to approach people favorably. However, when he became Teenie’s boss at the Courier, he asked Teenie to take more than “one shot,” just in case the first one didn’t turn out. Teenie refuted that would never happen, so that was a bit of a disagreement between them, and Teenie never missed the shot (to his knowledge, of course). The Nunns giggled almost like teenagers as they scanned the many photos Teenie had taken of them through the decades— including their wedding portraits. It was a real treat for me to share Teenie’s images of them, which they had never seen before, and to witness the joy it brought them. I’ll always remember fondly how they were linked with their arms around each other and waived to me as I drove away from their house. One of the last things Mr. Nunn said to me was that he “just wanted to make a difference in the lives of African Americans.” He did. They both did, and I left with a serene sense of pride and appreciation for the road they helped pave.