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: ThatOrley 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 phone 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.”