Orley Hood: for this writer, an inspiration

Orley, flanked by sons Tucker (left) and Hunter at his 64th birthday party.

Orley Hood, a masterful writer, running buddy, storyteller, husband and father, died this morning shortly after midnight.

He was 65. He fought acute leukemia to his last breath. Orley leaves behind many friends and thousands of fans, many of whom grew up reading his columns, often laughing and sometimes crying, but always enjoying the way he put words together.

He wrote with large doses of wit and intelligence.

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When I moved to Jackson in 1979, we became close friends. We worked together, played together.

He was an inspiration to this sports writer. He could write; oh boy, he could write.

Sometimes, I would read an Orley Hood column and just want to go throw up. Where did the words come from? How did he do that? He made me want to become better.

Occasionally, I would ask him to read something over for me. He’d change about three or four words and — voila! — my story or column was suddenly so much better. I learned from him.

These last few months, since he was diagnosed on 11/11/11 have been so difficult. Orley’s fans should know Mary Ann, his wife, has been nothing short of a saint. I have never seen such love and care. Their sons, Hunter and Tucker, have been everything you would hope your sons would be. Even in his darkest days, Orley’s eyes would light up magically whenever Hunt or Tuck walked into the room.

Again, Orley fought. I remember going to visit him one afternoon about a year ago at UMC when he was getting a chemo treatment, which I am sure he would describe as “evil.”

My goal was to cheer him up; instead, he cheered me up. While that stuff was being pumped into his veins, he had the nurses laughing at his stories.

He was scheduled for a bone marrow transplant the next week.

And you’ll love this part of our conversation:

Me: “So I hear you are getting your bone marrow from a 21-year-old woman.”

Orley: “Yeah, when I get out of here I’m going to go out for cheerleader.”

That was a good day.

And, today, I prefer to remember those.

One of the best came on Orley’s 64th birthday. This was the blog I wrote for this website the next day (Dec. 1, 2012):

My pal Orley Hood turned 64 this week. Mary Ann, his lovely wife, threw a surprise party at Hal and Mal’s last night. Might have been the best party ever. The place was packed. And now I’ll tell you why.

Orley didn’t have a 63rd birthday party because he had just been diagnosed with acute leukemia. The prognosis was iffy at best. Four rounds of gruesome chemo — and much agony — were ahead.

Orley and I have been friends since he was at the Meridian Star and I at the Hattiesburg American. That’s a lot of years. When I came to The Clarion-Ledger in 1979, we became close friends, golf partners and traveled more miles to more games together than I could ever count. We once sat with Sen. John Stennis at a State-Maryland game in College Park, which remains a highlight for both of us and tells you a little of how far we go back.

Orley, without question, is the most talented sports writer I’ve ever worked with. He could write sentences and paragraphs and columns daily that never ceased to make me  think, “Why can’t I do that?” I know that I became a better writer because he made me want to be better.

What I did not know: That Orley possesses the courage and grit he has displayed over the past 13 months. I saw it first hand. He has been to hell and back and he has never flinched. I’d go to the hospital hoping to make him feel a little better, but he usually brightened my day with his determination and his “I’m-gonna-beat-this-sh-t” attitude.”

So back to the party. Everybody was joyous, truly joyous. Orley’s hair was long and his smile was as bright as ever. “I may never cut it,” he said when somebody commented on his long locks. Orley and M.A.’s boys, Hunter and Tucker, men now, were there and you could see their pride and joy in their faces.

So I got a call last week from another good friend who said he wanted to donate $1,000 in Orley Hood’s name to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, because he knows Orley’s story and knows the love and passion Orley has for Mississippi sports. He also reads Orley on this website.

I mentioned the call to a couple of friends, who passed it on. And pretty soon one thousand became two thousand, became three thousand and is now nearing four. That’s money the museum can use as we approach two to three years of refurbishing and updating.

Part of what the Orley Hood Hall of Fame Fund will do will be to establish and perpetuate the Orley Hood Award for High School Sports Writing. It will be given each spring at the end of the school year at the Pop Stars Awards, which go annually to the most outstanding high school athletes in every sport played in Mississippi.

And yes, if you feel so moved, you can contribute the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in Orley’s name. You can click the donate button elsewhere on this website or send a check with the notation that your donation is in Orley Hood’s name.

Meanwhile, I can’t quite smiling thinking about last night. Orley’s health is good. His attitude, as always, is, as our old buddy Willie Morris would say, “ineffable.”

Finally, if you want to read how good sports writing can be, click this piece Orley once wrote on Bailey Howell, which we reprinted on this website in May of 2013.

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The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame has created an Orley Hood Award for High School Sports Writing Excellence, which will be awarded for the first time this May.

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Link: Friends, friends, cohorts remember Orley Hood.

11 thoughts on “Orley Hood: for this writer, an inspiration”

  1. Rick,
    What a perfect tribute by you!
    I remember Orly from my 1980’s years in the Ole Miss athletic department. I always read his stuff first. I was amazed by his insight and wit.
    He will be missed and well-remembered.

  2. Sad to hear the news of Orley’s passing. He was one helluva writer and a really nice guy to a former high school “stringer” at the old Jackson Daily News. RIP Orley…

  3. Orley and I played a lot of golf when we were both learning (around the age of 16 or so) in Vicksburg. His dad and him would take on my dad and me. The scores were not nearly as good as the jokes and love between his father, my dad, and we two. RIP Orley. We’ll tee off again someday.

  4. Rick,
    Great memorial to one of the best writers we’ve had in Jackson. Orley wrote a memorial to my dad, Andy, after he died also at 65. His column was usually the first my parents turned to every morning (yours was mine). Sad day for Mississippi.

  5. In the words of another great “Who’s Gonna Fill Their (His) Shoes?”

    Rick, great piece about an extraordinary man and writer.

  6. In my former life as a newspaper man I marveled at (and envied) Orley’s talents. In the early 1980s we worked on the Jackson Daily News sport staff, which produced the afternoon paper. Orley would stroll in about 5:30 a.m. with brief case in hand and often uncertain of that day’s column topic. “O” would grab a cup of coffee, sit down at his keyboard and about 45 minutes later finish a piece that rest of us would read and think “Damn, I just wish I could write ONE column like that.” He did it three days a week.

    The only drawback was being told to give Orley’s column “a read” and make any needed edits. Yeah right. It was telling someone who paints by numbers to touch up a Picasso.The man could just flat out write a column.

  7. I miss my little buddy bumming a cigarette every now and then and hiding with him smoking. He was so funny! He could talk about anything and I loved listening.

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