In the South, porch swings and sweet tea are staples, but there is no denying that these two would be made significantly better with the presence of a great storyteller. In 2013 we’ve lost some truly extraordinary Southern souls, from music makers like Slim Whitman who toured with Elvis in the 1950s and veteran sportscaster Pat Summerall (he holds the record for announcing 16 Super Bowls) to beloved Southern writer, John Egerton. We’re sure these Southern movers and shakers would have had hours of stories to amuse the interested ear, but their words, their wins, and their acts of Congress will be porch swing fodder for generations to come. We’re thankful for the lives and the legends of the Southerners we lost this year. Here are just a few.
The legendary Coach Phillips led football players in the high school, college, and professional arenas. He served as assistant coach at Texas A&M under Bear Bryant and at Oklahoma State with Jim Stanley, later going on to become the defensive coordinator and then head coach for the Houston Oilers. It was here where he became the winningest coach in franchise history. From 1981 to 1985, Coach Phillips led the New Orleans Saints before retiring to his Texas horse ranch in 1985. Besides his wins, he was perhaps best known for how easy he was to spot on the sidelines: his wide-brimmed cowboy hat sticking out amongst the helmets.
Former Representative Lindy Boggs spent 17 years (nine terms) as the first woman to represent Louisiana in Congress. Her time in office was largely distinguished by her fight for civil and women’s rights. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 originally only banned discrimination based on race, age, and veteran status. One of the more poignant stories from Lindy’s career tells of her hand writing “sex or marital status” into the bill and passing out new copies to every member of the committee. A Louisiana woman through and through, Lindy was remembered amongst her political peers for her sweet Southern drawl, often heard greeting fellow congressmen with “darlin’.”
George was a small-town Texas boy that grew into one of the greatest country music stars of all time. He signed his first record deal in 1953, with his first hit single not coming until 1955 with “Why Baby Why.” Four year later George hit No. 1 with “White Lightning” and went on to see 13 more songs go to the top. Throughout his career he performed with some of the biggest stars in the industry like Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks, and Willie Nelson. Naomi Judd wrote that “George Jones is to country music what The Beatles are to pop, the Rolling Stones to rock, Elvis to rockabilly, Mozart to classical, and Aretha to soul.”
The Baltimore native spent the majority of his life in his hometown, where he wrote and published 10 books that reached No. 1 status on The New York Times‘ best-seller list. After studying literature at Loyola College in Baltimore, Tom finished his first book, The Hunt for Red October. Upon receiving the book as a Christmas present, President Ronald Reagan quipped in a press conference that he was losing sleep because he couldn’t put it down. And so began a great literary career, with nearly 50 million books in print and four major film adaptations.
Born and raised in Oklahoma, JJ spent the majority of his formative years picking the strings of his guitar and touring with other Oklahoma musicians. The singer/songwriter was largely unknown until a young musician, Eric Clapton, recorded “After Midnight,” a song JJ had written. Staying out of the spotlight, JJ continued to see success as floods of musicians came to him for a piece of his “Tulsa Sound,” defined by simple lyrics sang with a bit of a grumble, infusing country and blues for a subtle rocker sound. He wrote songs that were recorded by some of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll greats like Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.