At the height of his career as a syndicated columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and author of 20 books — titles such as “If Love Were Oil, I’d Be About a Quart Low” and “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny, You Know Them ‘Taters Got Eyes” — Lewis Grizzard was loved and loathed with equal amounts of passion.
“He wasn’t always politically correct and there were liberals and executives in the newsroom who didn’t care for him,” said former AJC editor Jim Minter. “But everyone read him.”
Minter called Grizzard one of the “brightest minds” in American journalism.
“He knew how to recognize a story … and was very innovative,” he recalled. “He set the bar high. You’ll see things in USA Today and other sports publications that are based on ideas that Lewis came up with.”
After six years in various editing roles at the Journal and the Constitution, Grizzard left for the sports editor’s position with the Chicago Sun-Times. But after a short and stormy tenure, the call of the South lured him back to Atlanta, where he shortly moved over to the AJC’s news department, where he shone.
“I told him that he probably had about 10 years’ worth of columns in him and then we’d have to find him another job,” said Minter. “Right before he died he reminded me of that statement. … I guess I was wrong.”
Grizzard was syndicated in 450 newspapers, more than half from North Carolina to Texas, called by some the Grizzard Belt. His columns led to a prolific book-writing career with several titles making The New York Times bestseller list.
“Lewis’ legacy is alive and well,” said Dedra Grizzard, his fourth wife. The two were married four days before he passed away in 1994. Grizzard had been diagnosed with a heart murmur in 1968 and over the years underwent several major heart surgeries. His final operation was to remove a mass in his heart.
Dedra receives emails just about every day from people shocked that 20 years has passed since his death.
“He’s as loved now as ever,” she said.
Several journalism schools, including University of Georgia and University of Mississippi, teach classes in the “Grizzard” style of writing. UGA offers a scholarship in his name.
“It’s a shame there isn’t anyone like him nowadays,” said Dedra Grizzard. “He stood for Southern values and traditions and we’re losing that as a society.”
While Grizzard made fun of others, he joked about himself the most.
His friend, former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, once called him a “smart-ass white boy,” which Lewis loved so much that he started using it as his introduction at speaking engagements.
Fans might be sipping Co-Cola, eating fried chicken, catfish or barbecue and cheering on the Braves or the Bulldogs in Lewis’ honor. Besides his mama and his profession, those simple things are what defined him most.
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