As with many Boston boys, George F. Bent came young to an obsession with sports, which he later brought to the radio airwaves.
"You wouldn't see much of George, because he always played ball," his sister, Mary O'Donnell of West Roxbury, said of their childhood in Roslindale. "He always had a ball and a glove and a bat. You didn't see him that often with a shovel in his hand, but always with a bat and ball."
While he made his living as a lawyer, Mr. Bent made his name as part of the "Sportscope" trio that hosted a talk show on various radio stations from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. Known for the quality of the callers and the intelligence of the discussions, the show initially was broadcast on WBOS-FM late each Sunday night and never drew a multitude of listeners, which accounted for some of its allure.
"In fact, the limited audience probably helped create the cult following 'Sportscope' has developed," the Globe's Jack Craig wrote in 1982.
Mr. Bent, who had also worked as an umpire and official for high school and college baseball, basketball, and football games, died Saturday of a heart ailment. He was 86 and had lived in Andover.
"Let it be said, once and for all: No Boston sports talk show - none - has ever attracted the number of high-caliber calls that 'Sportscope' handled on a routine basis all those wonderful late Sunday evenings," the Globe's Bob Ryan wrote in 1993. " 'Sportscope's' demise was truly our loss."
Mr. Bent assumed a contrarian role, sparring with callers and remaining confident of his own strongly held beliefs. "He claimed far and wide that Wilt Chamberlain was a better player than Bill Russell," said Mr. Bent's brother, Robert of Falmouth. "He held onto that opinion on the radio and in life. He'd argue with anybody about that. He was a curmudgeon, really."
Mr. Bent's "Sportscope" colleagues were Eli Schleifer, who died of a heart attack in 1991, and Teddy Sullivan, who died of a heart attack in 1993.
"They were witty, informed, and played each other very well, with Bent as a cynic, Sullivan gentle, and Schleifer in between," Craig wrote in 1993. "Number-crunching programmers never did comprehend 'Sportscope's' style or appreciate its following."
In the years before sports talk radio moved front and center, the three hosts plied their trade from 10 p.m. to midnight on Sunday, before moving to a Monday through Friday, 7 p.m. to midnight, shift on WITS and later a 9 a.m. to noon show on WMRE. They had also broadcast on WITS and WEEI.
Even though the show moved from station to station, the hosts developed loyal fans who still speak of "Sportscope" with reverence. Robert Bent laughed as he recalled that once, when he taught math at Bridgewater State College, "a bunch of my students found out I was George Bent's brother, and they thought that was the greatest thing in the world. To hell with me as a teacher - I was George Bent's brother."
The oldest of six children, Mr. Bent was a Triple Eagle, graduating from Boston College High School, Boston College, and Boston College Law School. He served in the US Army during World War II before attending law school.
As a lawyer, he had worked for the
Mr. Bent's first wife, Gloria (Hobday), died 30 years ago, his brother said. Mr. Bent married Ruth Mahoney 23 years ago. "I never heard him speak an unkind word to anybody," his wife said. "He was the easiest person to be with. He was never picky or petty."
"If anything was a bother, he'd say, 'Oh, forget about it,' " his sister said. "He was very, very easygoing. And he would have a fit if we were making him a saint. That much I do know."
Because of his close affiliation with all things Boston College, Mr. Bent generally was not allowed to officiate games at his high school or college alma matter.
"But he did umpire behind the plate at the first game I ever pitched, which was rather curious," his brother, who also attended Boston College High School, said with a laugh. "It just happened that he was assigned to that game, and it was my turn to pitch. He called an excellent game, but I lost, 3 to 2. I remember that."
A Boston Braves fan since he was young, Mr. Bent stuck by the team when it moved to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta. He fell asleep Friday night after the Red Sox clinched the division title and never woke up, but he did not exactly share in the jubilation during his final moments. He was watching the Red Sox only "because the Braves had already been eliminated," his brother said.
In addition to his wife, sister, and brother, Mr. Bent leaves another sister, Sister Eileen Bent of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Hartford; a daughter, Lisa Zolot of North Andover; three sons, Kevin Kelley of Connecticut, Mark Kelley of Bow, N.H., and Brian Kelley of Wakefield; three grandsons; three granddaughters; and a great-granddaughter.
A funeral service will be held at noon today in Dewhirst & Conte Funeral Home in Andover.