Like a lot of folks, my wife Beth and I have been watching An Innocent Man on Netflix. It’s based on the true crime novel of the same name by John Grisham. We plowed through four of the six episodes on Christmas day, and as we watched it I turned to my wife and said, “You know, I still remember the first class way Grisham treated me a quarter of a century ago.”
To readers of Hottytoddy.com John Grisham needs no introduction. I mean, you could go in just about any north Mississippi home and walk straight to their book shelves and find “The Firm”, “A Time to Kill”, “The Client” and several other Grisham books. My sister Amanda, an Ole Miss alum, has a Grisham shrine in their living room in Birmingham. My former step mother Annette has them properly lined up in their condo in Oxford. Mississippians for years could be heard saying, “John Grisham writes these really good books that are genuine page turners and he don’t use cuss words in them!” After a bit they would add, “And he don’t tolerate nonsense from them Hollywood big shots that want to make movies of his books!”
It was 1993 and I was writing a freelance column for The Ole Miss Spirit. I was the radio voice of the Ole Miss Lady Rebels on David Kellum’s radio station, Q 93.7. Van Chancellor – the one and only, I might add – was the Ole Miss coach and was known for his ability to talk and weave stories. We got to talking (actually, me listening and him talking) and he was telling me his John Grisham connection.
Van was the boys and girls coach up at Horn Lake High School from 1967 to 1973, years before he coached Ole Miss. Horn Lake High School is the home of 1979 Mississippi Mr. Basketball Walter Mason. I can still remember facing Walter in 1978 when I was playing at Lafayette High, but that’s a different story for a different time and really not much of one as it was him soaring and dunking and me watching in awe from the bench.
Back to my story here. Grisham went to nearby Southhaven High School in the early 70s and as I recollect Van used to leave open a gym window or door for Grisham and his buddies to play. Well, I thought that would make a nice story in 1993 as Grisham was red hot white with success. He had an office building in Oxford at the time to help with the success of his books and I “got a holt” of the number and called them up. I left a voice mail for him, thinking I probably would not get a call back seeing as how successful he was at the time. The Firm was a big movie with Tom Cruise and he was writing a book a year.
Well, not five minutes passed and the phone rang. I picked it up and dadgum if it wasn’t John Grisham. He could not have been more polite and said he was returning my call. We got to talking about him growing up in Southaven and getting the key from Van Chancellor to get in the gym, and Van letting him know that basketball was not his future! We probably talked 20 minutes and I wrote a whole column on it for The Ole Miss Spirit.
Over the years I would continue to hear about Grisham’s decency. I would become a sports anchor at the CBS affiliate in South Bend, Indiana, and remember covering Grisham coming to Notre Dame to speak at the school’s baseball banquet. I did the 6 p.m. sportscast live at the banquet room and remember how gracious Grisham was to everyone who talked to him during the reception.
I am 56 now and while not an old grizzled purveyor of wisdom with the other old fellow’s at The Beacon or most McDonald’s in America, I am at that age where I appreciate the value of how people treat folks, especially famous ones who could stay at arm’s length. I can’t remember much about what I wrote, but I still remember how quickly he called me back and treated me like he was just a regular fellow that worked at Avent Dairy or something like that, and not a big time author.
That’s what it’s all about.
Charlie Adams was born in Oxford in 1962. He was a 1980 graduate of Lafayette High School and a 1985 graduate of Ole Miss. Following a television news career, Charlie has focused on delivering inspirational keynotes, seminars and writings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.