Humorist Lewis Grizzard to be remembered in Moreland today

Twenty years ago today Lewis Grizzard died in an Atlanta hospital.

The skilled sportswriter, who grew up in Moreland, had become a popular newspaper columnist, a best-selling author, a stand-up comic — even an occasional actor. Long-running medical issues related to a congenital heart problem ended Grizzard’s life and career.

He was only 47 years old.

Friends and family of Grizzard will be remembering him — his humor and his talent — today. The Moreland Cultural Arts Alliance is sponsoring a memorial program at the Word family lot in Southview Cemetery in Moreland today at 5 p.m.

“This is a time for remembering Lewis,” said Carol Chancey of MCAA. “His talent was so great, and he has so many friends and admirers.”

The ceremony will include bagpiper Michael Scott, presentation of a wreath by an honor guard from Boy Scout Troop 48 and memories shared by people who knew Grizzard. A reception will follow at Moreland United Methodist Church, which Grizzard attended while growing up.

Among those who will be attending the events today will be Melba Smith, Grizzard’s first cousin, and Sara Jane Skinner, who taught him his first journalism class at Newnan High School.

“He was hilarious as a child,” said Smith, who was only about a year younger than Grizzard. “My birthday’s the end of August, and his was in September.”

The two spent lots of time together — watched over by their grandmother, “Mama Willie” Word. “We stayed with her in the summer as far back as I can remember,” Smith said.

She recalled a time when a lost milk cow came ambling through the neighborhood. Smith had an aunt who had milk cows and was not afraid. Grizzard, she remembered, was terrified.

“It scared him to death,” she said with a laugh, adding that she at first thought he was joking when he hollered, “It’s a bull. It’s a bull.”

The youngsters were in the front yard of the Word home, and Smith remembered their grandmother kept her front screen door latched. “Nobody came in that front door but the preacher,” Smith said.

Grizzard begged to be let in the house. Mama Willie was not fazed and told him to go around the house to the back door.

Smith said there was a sadness about Grizzard when he was growing up. He loved his absent father. In that day when almost everyone he knew had a father and mother at home, “he felt like everybody looked down on him,” she reflected.

Skinner, who has lived most of her life near Moreland, knew who Grizzard was but did not get acquainted with him until he was in her journalism class at Newnan High. “He was a lot of fun,” she recalled.

“He was really into sports,” she remembered. Grizzard “had already written about sports in Moreland” before becoming her student.

“I taught him at a good time,” she said. Skinner was just out of college and was only a few years older than Grizzard and the others in the class. She enjoyed Grizzard’s high spirits and said he and others in the class were a talented group.

Skinner kept up with Grizzard as long as he lived, regularly requesting his books as Christmas gifts when he would come to sign at Scott’s Bookstore. In one of his books, he wrote about her — recalling that students called her “the gypsy lady.”

Smith said she never thought about what Grizzard’s life work might be when they were growing up, much less the trajectory of his career. Looking back, she said she is not surprised that he did not stay in Coweta.

“He had a different way about him,” she said. “You knew he was going to do something different.”

After years as a sportswriter and editor, Grizzard made a name for himself with witty, Southern flavored columns in the Atlanta Constitution. Books followed — among them “Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night,” “I Haven't Understood Anything Since 1962,” “If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I'm Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground” and “If Love Were Oil, I'd Be About a Quart Low.”

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