Bill Curry, Still A Class Act

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Tink and I attended a holiday dinner party, preceded by a cocktails, in a fancy high rise hotel in Atlanta.

The event was to celebrate the newly released catalog of Mercer University Press, the publisher, which I have taken to calling the best publisher in America today. Second, on that list is the powerhouse built by five Mississippi universities that rallied together to create an impressive press.

I love Mississippi’s niche of Hollywood biographies, mostly of the Golden Era, which chronicles lives from the early movie era into the 1960s and the influence on today’s cinema.

My University of Mississippi Press favorite is “The Brothers Mankewicz”, the genius brothers, who won Oscars, for movies like “Citizen Kane” (Herman) and “All About Eve” (Joe). It is a beautiful triumvirate: A movie lovers’ book, one for adorers of books and those who wish to learn more about the art of writing.

Mercer’s catalog is incredibly diverse: history, novels, true crime, memoirs. New York publishers prefer reality stars, celebrities and established authors. The fledging writer is falling to the wayside except for exceptional publishers like these two universities.

Back to the main point of this story:

Tink and I aren’t party people. Unless it’s for family or friends, we rarely attend. That’s the mountain oddness in me, I suppose. We aren’t ones for small talk. We like big talk.

At the Mercer party, sparkling and happy with Christmas cheer, we walked into a room and immediately discovered that everyone had already bunched into small groups of four or five. We knew not one person and the tightness of the circles made it difficult to interrupt.

My eye lighted on two people I recognized. One was television personality, Katie Couric (we sat at her table for lunch the following day). Katie and her husband, the cordial John Molner, were laughing with an older couple. The woman was pretty with thick brown hair, perfectly coiffed. Her husband was tall, regal and so lean that his blue window plaid blazer hung perfectly.

It had been over 30 years since I had seen him but I recognized his angular, handsome face with clear blue eyes and thick hair that had turned distinguishingly silver over the decades.

“Tink,” I whispered in low, happy tone, “that man talking to Katie Couric is Bill Curry.”

Puzzled, he looked at me and shrugged the shoulders of his own blue window pane blazer, almost identical to Curry’s.

“When I was a young sportswriter, I sometimes was assigned to cover Georgia Tech where Curry was coaching. He was so kind to me.”

That’s understatement. Once, after a press conference, the reporters adjourned to the cafeteria for lunch, spreading out over two tables. Coach Curry brought his tray to our table and sat down beside me. Our ensuing conversation would turn into one of the most popular stories I ever wrote.

The following morning, I walked over to Coach Curry and reintroduced myself. “There is no reason for you to remember me but I covered you occasionally at Georgia.”

He took my hands and gave me a sweet, teasing look. “It’s not possible. You’re too young to ever have covered me.”

I laughed. “Once I wrote about Bobby Dodd (Tech’s incredible, legendary coach) and he called me to thank me for the story. You wrote me a note and said, ‘Coach Dodd NEVER calls anyone.”

Chuckling, he nodded. “That’s the truth! He didn’t.”

I locked into his kind, blue eyes. “I will never forget the courtesy you showed me. I have always rooted for you, prayed for you in Alabama and always wanted the best for you.”

He squeezed my hands tightly. “Oh, my, you have made an old man’s day. Made me feel good about myself. Thank you.”

I returned the squeeze. “No, thank YOU. You made a young girl feel confident about herself. That, I shall never forget.”

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]

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