January 20, 2015

Bill Simpson still has that voice and that laugh

     The sun was hellishly hot for an autumn afternoon.  My rump was roasting on the aluminum bleacher, but I wasn’t complaining on Oct. 8, 1966.  
     As a UGA freshman, that was my first Sanford Stadium experience. The Bulldogs beat Ole Miss,
9-3, before 45,200 fans. And I was one of them. When the final whistle blew, my red-striped necktie was loosened and my starched, white oxford-cloth shirt was stuck to my back. As I walked out of the stadium, both hands were busy.  One was guiding a pretty brunette through the barking mob, and the other held a sweat-soaked navy wool blazer, slung across my shoulder.
     When you are 17, you think you are going to live forever.  But on that Saturday, it was as if I had died and gone to Heaven.  And this heaven even had a rich, god-like voice booming from the stadium’s loudspeakers. I vowed to do my homework.  Who was the man behind the Bulldogs’ microphone?  When I found out, I wrote his name down and saved it for another day.
     Four years later, I startled Bill Simpson.  He was in his spartan office on Clayton Street, sorting cardboard boxes.  I knew he had just left the university to launch his public relations and advertising firm.  Well, I had just earned a UGA public relations degree. The best way to find a job is to go look for one and ask.  And that’s what I did a few days after my 1970 spring graduation.
     I can still hear Bill laughing.  He wasn’t being rude, just honest.  Waving his hand around the tiny office, he said, in his Sanford Stadium voice, “I don’t even know how I’m going to pay myself.”  Since he didn’t have a chair to offer, we stood and chatted.  As I learned, a conversation with Bill is punctuated with laughter.
     As the years rocked by, I discovered how the dots between our lives connected.  Bill’s stepsons, Ed and David Allen, are my friends.  One of Bill’s best friends is Hubert Howard.  As Sigma Chis at Georgia, the pair bonded, and they have stayed in touch for 65 years. Until he retired, Hubert was my Jesup attorney. Bill calls his buddy “Bear,” and Hubert calls his fraternity brother “The Mouth of the South.”
     Hubert and Bill still get tickled about the 1950-era “Ugliest Man on Campus Contest.”  Bill was determined to nominate his fraternity brother, but Hubert flipped the trick and got Bill on the ballot.  Time has faded memories of who won, but both men still laugh about that stunt.
     One thing Hubert hasn’t forgotten is Bill’s gifts in comedy, songwriting and music.  Bill was a celebrity on sorority row. Genius-like, he could craft lyrics, almost on the spot.  He would play the piano and belt out his originals—like “Peachtree Street”—and young ladies would swoon.  Starting in 1956, he put that voice into action in Sanford Stadium’s press box for about two decades. And just the other day, the 85-year-old had a crowd rollicking to jokes like this:

     A group of 40-year-old men were having a reunion.  One suggested, “Let’s go to Ocean View Restaurant.  They have cute waitresses, with skimpy outfits.”
     Ten years later, the 50-year-olds were meeting, again.  “Let’s go to Ocean View,” one offered.  “They’ve got great steaks and a nice view of the ocean.”
     When the fellows turned 60 and wanted to gather, one recommended, “Let’s go to Ocean View.  The music isn’t too loud, and we can hear.”
     Another decade passed, and they were ready to reunite at 70.  The advice was: “Let’s go to Ocean View.  They have elevators, and we don’t have to use the stairs.”
     When the 80-year-olds got ready to party, one gent piped up, “Let’s go to Ocean View.  We’ve never been there before.”

     While Bill didn’t hire me 45 years ago, I got something better than a job.  I got a friend for life—and one always good for a laugh.