Storin said the Globe hired Haygood during his time, but Storin left the paper not long after. He didn't return for almost eight years.
In that interval, Haygood flourished.
He wrote hundreds of stories, traveled the Deep South, went to Africa as a foreign correspondent covering the civil war in Somalia, went into the jungles of Liberia and was taken hostage by rebels. He was in South Africa the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
He also began writing books, won several prestigious awards and became a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
"By the time I got back, the stutter had all but disappeared," Storin said. "He'd just become more confident."
Finding 'The Butler'
In 2002, Haywood joined The Washington Post. In 2008, the paper assigned him as one of the writers following the Obama campaign. At a rally in Raleigh, N.C., he met three white women who'd fallen out with their fathers because of their support of the Illinois senator. It convinced Haygood of the certainty Obama would win the election.
Electing a black man to the highest office in the land was a historic moment. Haygood decided he needed to find a black person who worked in the White House during segregation, someone for whom the idea of a black person becoming the president of the United States would have been unthinkable.
"I wanted to be ready with a big story to explain to America what this story means," Haygood said.
His editor, unconvinced of Obama's chances, gave Haygood two weeks. After that, the Post wanted him back on the campaign trail.
Haygood said the White House was unhelpful, but through various contacts, he heard about a White House butlers and maids reunion. Through one of the attendees, he learned of Eugene Allen, a butler who'd served under three presidents.
Allen, she believed, still lived in the Washington area, but she didn't know where.
"So I got out the phone books and did it old school," Haygood said, laughing.
It turned out there were a lot of Eugene Allens, but Haygood approached it methodically, making 10 calls from one book before switching to the next book. He talked to dozens of people and finally, on the 56th call, reached a man who said that yes, he'd served as a butler at the White House.
Haygood said, "I asked him if I could come over and talk about his years working for three presidents at the White House."
Allen stopped him.
"Excuse me," he said. "It was eight presidents."
Haygood was dumbfounded.
"Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan," Allen said. "You count 'em."
Haygood met Allen and his wife of 65 years, Helena, at their small home outside of Washington. The couple wasn't sure what to make of Haygood, but the reporter gave them time to get used to him.
"We sat together in their living room and watched back-to-back episodes of 'The Price is Right,'" he said.
Eventually, Allen began to tell his remarkable story. What worried Haygood was he didn't see much evidence of Allen's decades of service. There was just one picture on the wall of Allen with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
"And here I am waiting to see scrapbooks or something," Haygood said.
Finally, Helena told her husband, "Honey, it's OK now."
Allen led Haygood down the steps of their basement, flipped on the light at the bottom and dazzled Haygood.
"It was like I'd been transported to the Land of Oz," he said.
Downstairs, there were two rooms filled with photographs, letters and keepsakes Allen had received from Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford. There were also pictures of many White House guests, including Count Basie, Elizabeth Taylor and Sammy Davis Jr.
"Mr. Allen had a tie given to him by Jackie Kennedy because after her husband had been killed in Dallas, Allen came back to the White House at 3 a.m. because he wanted to make sure that she and the children were all right."
Allen's story was everything Haywood could have asked for and more. He'd been a witness to the unfolding of world and American history. He'd been on the job when Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi and when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Ala.
He'd been in the White House during the rise of Martin Luther King Jr., through the Kennedy assassinations, and served Lyndon Johnson his Pepto-Bismol while the president worried over the growing number of American casualties in Vietnam.
"And he'd had to do it silently," Haygood said. "He'd had to do it without ever telling the president that his own son was over there too."
Allen also was the first butler ever to be invited to a state dinner -- by the Reagans.
Haygood wrote the story, but it was bittersweet. The weekend before the election, the Post sent a photographer to the Allens' house to take pictures. Monday morning, Haygood called to check on the Allens and make sure everything had gone according to plan.
Helena Allen had died Sunday afternoon, passing away quietly in her sleep.
An overnight success
Haygood was heartbroken, but the story ran the day after the election and Haygood's editor put him on a plane to Memphis, Tenn., to get him out of town.
"It was to help me out," Haygood said.
Something surprising had happened though. The story went viral, and while Haygood was out of town, his phone was ringing off the hook.
He was scarcely through the door of his hotel room when the phone rang. Film producer Laura Ziskin, calling from London, had tracked him down. She told him Eugene Allen's story was a movie she wanted to make.
That was four years ago.
Allen passed away a few years ago, but not before he got to go to Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. It was Allen's first, and he went as a special guest.
"The Butler" wrapped production last year and Haygood, meanwhile, is finishing up a companion book to the movie, as well as a biography about Thurgood Marshall. He's also scheduled to give the commencement address at his college alma mater, which he's incredibly excited about.
Lieber said all of these good things couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy, and while Haygood has won his share of awards, most of those are industry acclaim.
"Here's what surprises me: Wil is one of the greatest nonfiction writers of the past 20 years, and most people don't know it. They've never heard of him."
With "The Butler," he thinks that might change.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.