It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 15 years now, but it has. This was a July night in 1998. My father, Ace Cleveland, dead for two years, was to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. I was to accept for him.
Anybody who knows me knows at all knows I can be emotional at the drop of a hat. I can’t watch My Dog Skip without the floodgates opening. You can double that when it comes to talking about my late mother and father. Can’t help it.
And so I was mightily concerned that night, not about speaking before 500 people, but about turning into a blubbering fool in front of 500 people.
It was my good fortune that night to be seated next to Peggie Gillom at the head table. Yes, Peggie Gillom, the former Ole Miss basketball star, whom I had covered during her days playing for the Lady Rebels under Van Chancellor. Peggie Gillom: namesake of the C Spire Gillom Trophy awarded annually to the most outstanding college basketball player in the state.
Peggie is arguably the greatest women’s basketball player in Mississippi history. Let’s put it this way: She scored over 2,000 points and pulled down over 1,000 rebounds in her Ole Miss career. No other Ole Miss player, male or female, has ever achieved that feat.
Now then, here’s what you need to know otherwise. Peggie Gillom Granderson is one of the most kind, warm, graceful women you will ever meet. She’s the kind of lady who makes whomever she’s with feel like the most important person on the planet. No doubt, that’s how she recruited all those great players for Van Chancellor.
You also should know that I had practiced my five-minute speech over and over during the days leading up to Dad’s induction. Not once did I make it through it. Peggie, I know, could sense my angst that night. She told me, “You can do this. You’ll be fine. Your dad will help you. Trust yourself.”
It’s one thing to say words like that; it’s another to be convincing.
I am not going to tell you I made the greatest speech in the world that night, but I got through it. People laughed at the right times, which Dad would have appreciated, and I never shed a tear.
Peggie squeezed my hand when I sat back down. I’ll never forget that.
Now then, here’s the rest of the story. A few minutes later Peggie Gillom got up for her acceptance speech. It was one of them most eloquent, moving talks I’ve ever heard. She accepted her Hall of Fame induction and plaque on behalf of the late Eugenia Conner, her former Ole Miss teammate. Tears welled in her eyes, but she never faltered. It was, in a word, beautiful.
And I thought to myself, here she was comforting me at a time when she knew what she was about to do herself.
One word comes to mind: Grace.
Peggie Gillom Granderson is all about it. Whoever wins that trophy Monday would do well to emulate Peggie.
The C Spire Gillom and Howell trophies will be awarded Monday at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Tickets remain available at $35 each. Hall of Fame basketball coach Van Chancellor will be the keynote speaker.