Remembering Lewis Grizzard on what would have been his 70th Birthday

lewis-grizzardRemembering Lewis Grizzard  “ Native son of Georgia”

A  while back  spending some time with my good friends Loran and Myrna Smith, I had the chance to spend some time with former Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Jim Minter he and I started to reminisce  about memories of Lewis Grizzard. Lewis Grizzard died on March 20, 1994 at the age of 47,  He would have been 70 on October the 20th but I still remember him fondly  today.

I remember Lewis  from all the books he wrote over the years and all of his columns in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, although I never knew Lewis personally. Spending some time with Jim Minter brought back fond memories of great stories of the South written by Lewis Grizzard.

Growing up myself in small-town Georgia I could relate to Lewis and his stories of Southern life and our Southern culture. Every time Lewis would put out a new book I would rush down to my local bookstore and pick it up just to laugh and share the stories with Lewis in my mind. Lewis Grizzard was  my favorite author in the world. A true Southerner.

One of the books that made me fall in love with newspapering and Lewis writing, which I was never able to do since I got in the broadcasting side of the media business, was a book named  “if I ever get back to Georgia I’m going to nail my feet to the ground” this was a book about a young boy who wanted to write for the local Athens newspaper while he was in school at the University of Georgia . This book tells the story of Lewis’ first beginnings as a young sportswriter up through his life as an award-winning columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Grizzard was famous for making being a Southerner cool. He always spoke and wrote about what he loved and what he loved in no particular order were the University of Georgia everything about his Alma matter, his hometown of Moreland Georgia, the South, its people and Elvis along with his dog catfish and most importantly his mama. The booking dedicated to his mother was “Don’t forget to call your mama, I wish I could call mine” Lewis said” my mama taught me that an education was necessary for fuller life, she taught me an appreciation of the language, she taught the love of words of how they should be used and how they can fill a creative soul with a passion and lead to its life’s work.” One of my favorite stories that Grizzard wrote was about Bubba and Earl and the University of Georgia football game, Georgia’s facing Alabama in the Southeastern conference championship , and if Georgia would win, a trip to the coveted sugar bowl. The story goes that Bubba and Earl notice Georgia’s mascot “UGA”  an English bulldog licking himself.  Bubba turns to Earl and says “I wish I could do that” Earl looks at Bubba and says “that dog would bite you!”

Lewis his life’s work started when he was named sports editor of the Athens newspaper the struggling startup “The Athens daily news” at age 19 and at 21 became the sports editor of the Atlanta Journal he became an assistant city editor of the journal in 1975 but left after a short stint to freelance for Sports Illustrated and other publications. Up until the day he died Lewis still wrote all of his columns on a manual typewriter and submitted them to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for publication.

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Lewis Grizzard. Newspaper columnist and humorist. Undated/no photographer listed.

Lewis Grizzard fell in love with newspapering at an early age then he fell in love with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, much like I did. Lewis was once quoted “If it ever came down to a choice I would rather work for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, you have to work out the details of your career early”

In talking to Jim Minter on Friday night Minter stated that Lewis is one of the best newspaperman he had ever met and one of the best editors that he ever met, Although Lewis was at one time an editor for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution most of his time was spent writing a column during the last years of his life. According to a story  the day Lewis died in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, In a very large part Lewis’ family roots were responsible for making him a fiercely proud Southerner he published over 20 books and syndicated columns in the Journal and Constitution and 450 other newspapers, played redneck humor to the hilt he took a special delight in attacking Yankees, liberal politicians, draft dodgers and feminists.  Yes indeed Friday night was a wonderful night to reminisce about newspapering and the fond memories of the great Southern writer Lewis Grizzard, thank you Jim Minter for the wonderful stories and memories.

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Scott Smith and Jim Minter

Here’s one of my favorite Lewis Grizzard columns.

My dog Catfish, the black Lab, died Thanksgiving night. The vet said his heart gave out.

Down in the country, they would have said, “Lewis’ dog up and died.” He would have been 12 had he lived ’til January.

Catfish had a good life. He slept indoors. Mostly he ate what I ate. We shared our last meal Tuesday evening in our living room in front of the television. We had a Wendy’s double cheeseburger and some chili.

Catfish was a gift from my friends Barbara and Vince Dooley. Vince, of course, is the athletic director at the University of Georgia. Barbara is a noted speaker and author. I named him driving back to Atlanta from Athens where I had picked him up at the Dooley’s home. I don’t know why I named him what I named him. He was all curled up in a blanket on my back seat. And I looked at him and it just came out. I called him, “Catfish.” I swear he raised up from the blanket and acknowledged. Then he severely fouled the blanket and my back seat.

He was a most destructive animal the first three years of his life. He chewed things. He chewed books. He chewed shoes. “I said to Catfish, ‘Heel,'” I used to offer from behind the dais, “and he went to my closet and chewed up my best pair of Guccis.” Catfish chewed TV remote-control devices. Batteries and all. He chewed my glasses. Five pairs of them.

One day, when he was still a puppy, he got out of the house without my knowledge. The doorbell rang. It was a young man who said, “I hit your dog, but I think he’s OK.” He was. He had a small cut on his head and he was frightened, but he was otherwise unhurt. “I came around the corner,” the young man explained, “and he was in the road chewing on something. I hit my brakes the second I saw him.” “Could you tell what he was chewing on?” I asked. “I know this sounds crazy,” the young man answered, “but I think it was a beer bottle.”

Catfish stopped chewing while I still had a house. Barely.

 

He was a celebrity, Catfish. I spoke recently in Michigan. Afterwards a lady came up to me and said, “I was real disappointed with your speech. You didn’t mention Catfish.”

He got his own mail. Just the other day the manufacturer of a new brand of dog food called “Country Gold,” with none other than George Jones’ picture on the package, sent Catfish a sample of its new product. For the record, he still preferred cheeseburgers and chili.

Catfish was once grand marshal of the Scottsboro, Ala., “Annual Catfish Festival.” He was on television and got to ride in the front seat of a police car with its siren on.

He was a patient, good-natured dog, too. Jordan, who is five, has been pulling his ears since she was two. She even tried to ride him at times. He abided with nary a growl.

Oh, that face and those eyes. What he could do to me with that face and those eyes. He would perch himself next to me on the sofa in the living room and look at me. And love and loyalty would pour out with that look, and as long as I had that, there was very little the human race could do to harm my self-esteem.

Good dogs don’t love bad people.

He was smart. He was fun. And he loved to ride in cars. There were times he was all that I had. And now he has up and died. My own heart, or what is left of it, is breaking.

 

Scott Smith

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