Sooooo….wow! How good is this? I absolutely love it when this place is packed like this. Orley Hood did, too. He loved this place, just as he loved Mississippi. He wrote beautifully about our sports legends. Hell, Orley wrote beautifully about everything.
Today, we are here to celebrate the life of Orley Hood. I am hoping this service will mirror Orley. What I mean is, I hope we grin. I hope we laugh out loud. I hope we slap our knees laughing. And when we get serious, I hope it will be thoughtful, intelligent. As Orley surely was. I know there will be tears. There should be tears, but remember: With Orley, the smiles and laughter always won out.
Everyone here knows how I felt about Orley. Hopefully, you’ve read it. So my job today, other than introducing our speakers, is to let Orley have his say. I’ve got clippings, and I am going to read from them.
To set the tone, I’d like to read from one my little buddy wrote about the late Bum Phillips after Bum traded Saint Archie Manning to Houston. But before I begin, I think it’s important to note that Orley outlived both Bum Phillips and George Jones. There is some justice. I am of course talking about the George Jones who once sued Orley for 40 million dollars. I read both columns, the one about Bum and the one about George Jones. Possum may have sued for 40 million large, but, compared to Bum, Possum got off easy.
Here’s Orley about Bum Phillips. Remember, he is writing this just minutes after he heard the news Bum had traded Archie to the Houston Oilers:
“Bum, you lousy Bum, you know what you’ve done. You Bum, you!
(Nothing like easing into it, Orley…)
“Archie to Houston for Leon Gray. Dammit, Bum! I’d like to take one of your lizard skin cowboy boots and stick it where the sun don’t show.
“I feel violated. What you’ve done has made me want to say a whole lot of words my mama doesn’t approve of. I’d jump out the window, but I’m only on the second floor. And I got no window.
“You’ve got to understand, you didn’t just trade a quarterback. You didn’t just dump on another player. This wasn’t just business. THIS, is treason.
“We ought to tie a short rope around your neck and hang you from the highest limb on the tallest tree.
“Listen, maybe you don’t know since you spent all that time out in Texas smoking mesquite and wearing clothes Roy Rogers wouldn’t be caught dead in. Archie’s not just a player, he’s an ideal…. This is a guy who played with a broken arm at Ole Miss, who gave his soul for the most inept franchise in the history of the National Football League, who played bravely for the worst collection of coaches ever gathered in a film room, who served a dozen years without pass protection, who never criticized those rotten bums Saints owner John Mecom passed off as a football team.
“The phones here are ringing like crazy. Guess how you are doing, Bum? Little ol’ ladies who go to church every Sunday are calling you names you used to hear only on oil rigs…”
“You might as well have gone to Jackson Square and spit on the altar at St. Louis Cathedral.
(And now here’s my favorite paragraph)
“And you, you lousy Bum have sent Arch away into American Conference exile, to that smog-ridden, freeway-encircled monument to tacky architecture on the prairie. Surely, your mama taught you something about loyalty. Surely, she mentioned good faith and integrity. She ought to kick your butt. If the nickname fits, wear it. Lord knows you’ve earned it. You bum.”
That friends was Orley at his best — and most angry I might add.
Batting leadoff in our speaking order today is Charles Overby, the best newspaper editor I ever worked for and, believe me, I worked for a lot of them. His old pals called him Peanut. I called him the great motivator. Charles guided the Clarion-Ledger team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its splendid work on education reform. Charles, who had surgery just last week, drove from Nashville to pay tribute to Orley. Charles Overby….
Before Malcolm comes up here, I want to read a little of what Orley wrote about a friend we all shared, Willie Morris…
“He wore shorts and an old polo shirt and sat on a folding chair. His dog, Pete, lay on the floor, his nose buried in a box of chicken bones. The Oxford Best Western didn’t stand on formality.
“Our pack of haggard sports writers had just finished a banquet interview with Ole Miss football coach Steve Sloan. Every August, we’d fly to the SEC schools and talk to players and coaches. The universities bought our favor with slabs of prime rib and gallons of whiskey. We’d write long useless stories about how the left guard had worked out all summer and this was the year the home team was going to make big noise.
“Orley I’m Willie Morris,” he said. “That’s Pete, my dog. Look, why don’t you grab that bottle of Jack Daniels over there on the bar and a bucket of ice. We have a lot to talk about.”
It didn’t take long to conclude that Willie was good for the soul and bad for the body.
“A few years later, Willie invited Raad Cawthon, Malcolm White and me up to Ole Miss to speak to his creative writing students, who met at the Western Sizzler restaurant. Willie recalled later that Donna Tartt had been in that class. Our payoff was cheap wine and an old bowling trophy. At 3 a.m. We drove to the cemetery to pay respects to Willie’s BlackLab, Pete, who was buried up the hill in the back. Then we went down to scrape the mud off Faulkner’s grave. Pete, Willie said, had the better plot. But Pappy, he had the longer sentences….”
Batting second, and advancing the runner and moving the program on today is my good friend, Orley’s good friend, Malcolm White. If Orley was the poet laureate of Jackson, then Malcolm has been our social chairman. Thank God. I don’t know what this town would have been like without Malcolm. Come on up here Malcolm…
I really think it’s important that Willie Morris have a say here today as well. Here’s an excerpt from a letter Willie wrote to Orley after Orley had written a column on the occasion of the death of Willie’s beloved Pete, the Black Lab:
Feb. 15 1982
Dear Orley, When my old, irreplaceable friend Pete died, I checked into the Holiday Inn to get away from the house. About the third night my grief was so strong I was literally having trouble breathing. I went out and got the Daily News, returned to my room and turned to the sports section. Your column, your lovely words, simply leapt out at me ‑ your funny, wonderful, kind perception of things, people, creatures, moments —they assuaged me, made me laugh and chuckle and cry. You are a great writer, Orley, and I can’t thank you enough….
Our next speaker today is renowned political columnist Sid Salter, Willie’s friend, Orley’s friend, Charles’ friend and my friend. Sid has died and gone to heaven himself as the Chief Communications Officer of his beloved Mississippi State University.
Batting cleanup today is Hunter Hood, Orley and Mary Ann’s oldest, a former soccer star, now a medical student at UMC. Orley’s eyes always have had a special brightness to them when he talked about what and whom he loved. His eyes never got brighter than when Hunter Hood or Tucker Hood — he always called them by both names — walked into a room….
Hunter, come on up here…
HUNTER HOOD SPEAKS.
Up there on that side of the mezzanine, south towards Wiggins, is the Dizzy Dean exhibit, sponsored by the Wittle Foundation and Calvin Wells, another great admirer of Orley. Our next speaker, my hero, William Winter, was a great admirer and fan of Dizzy Dean.
This is Orley, writing about Dizzy on Dizzy Dean Day in Jackson in 1986:
He was a hero. And like most heroes, he found himself at the crossroads of preparation and opportunity, at the right intersection of American life at the right time. He was there twice.
Dizzy Dean was the real deal. He was Ol’ Diz. Nothing more. Nothing less. Take him as he is. Or don’t take him at all.
Dizzy didn’t know the meaning of compromise. Dizzy didn’t know the meaning of a lot of words. It didn’t matter. As an aging Southern Man, he threw words around the way he fired fastballs back in the 1930s when he was young and lean: that is, he threw high and hard.
There was no subtlety with Dizzy. No ulterior motive. No restraint. None of the inhibitions that make you and me something less than we might be if we’d only swing for the fences, take the gloves off, hit for the lines, throw the bomb, fire at the flag, hazards and penalties be damned.
Dizzy let all hang out. He wore that big personality on the outside, without shame, without guilt. If you didn’t like it, if you found him loud and obnoxious and under-educated, that’s OK, too, Podnuh. No hard feelings. Hey, it’s a great day for a game, ain’t it Peewee….
Ladies and gentlemen, my hero, Orley’s hero, the honorable William Winter.
Thank-you Governor. We ought to make you Governor for life. I think Orley was the first to propose that back in 1982. You make us all proud.
And so did Orley. He made us proud. He made us smile. He made us laugh. He made those of us who wrote for a living want to write better.
In November of 2001, Orley wrote a column about going to funerals with his daddy. He wrote about one in particular, the funeral of an old golf pro, John Stahl.
These are Orley’s words about funerals:
Afterward, when I was about to deposit Dad in my car, he put his arm around me and said, I know this sounds terrible, but I had a great time today.”
Dad got to see bunches of pals and he got to say goodbye to a man he respected and he got to feel those feelings you get when you go to your school reunions and see people you like a lot and miss a lot.
You get to remember events you half forgot about and you get to hear friends fill in gaps in stories that you’ve been wondering about for years and you wonder to yourself: (pause) why do we have to wait until somebody dies to get together….”
How perfect is that? Ordinarily I would let Orley have the last word, but the Hood family invites you to continue this celebration of Orley Hood’s life at Hal and Mal’s this evening. There’ll be good music from Orley’s friends, there will be good food and there will be good fellowship.
And now, I’m going to borrow from the late, great Will D. Campbell, who officiated Willie Morris’s memorial service and end this the way it ought to end.
Could we have a standing ovation for our good friend Orley Hood for a life well lived.
Thank-you. Drive safely.