I’m not sure how it happened, but I somehow finagled an invitation to a regular lunch in Athens with Dick Hudson (former professor, Executive Director of Athens Symphony, tennis ace, incurable raconteur and bringer-together-of-people). Dick invited a revolving door of what I described as the “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (my attendance notwithstanding)—doctors (both medical and academic), coaches, commentators, journalists, groundskeeping and landscaping contractors, pilots. Always fascinating, always good stories.
A regular center of gravity for those lunches, ordering his regular baked potato with extra butter on the side, was acclaimed author Terry Kay (The Year the Lights Came On, To Dance with the White Dog, The Book of Marie, Bogmeadow’s Wish, and many more). Terry passed away this past weekend, after a protracted give and take with liver cancer.
There are many folks who knew Terry better than I did, but I cherish those lunches. We shared a tentative bond as “book people.” He a resolutely modest working author; me an editor at an academic press (UGA Press acquired the paperback rights to his brilliant coming of age novel The Year the Lights Came On in 2007). He was funny, attentive, mischievous, gracious, pugnacious. And he had several lifetimes worth of stories to share, from his time growing up in rural Georgia; his cunning, rule-bending strategies playing high school football, his time as a journalist in Atlanta, or his boondoggle trip to Ireland with friends, which resulted in the magical Bogmeadow’s Wish.
And Terry was a focused listener, too. He was fond of saying “80% of writing is theft,” and he soaked up ideas from other’s stories with wry enthusiasm.
As I mentioned, Terry was perpetually surprised by his success as an author and liked to downplay his literary prowess. I cherish this little note from Terry, after he had cited one of his books in the midst of a pointed discussion on the news of the day:
My last bother for the day. I promise.
Two things. First, please forgive my mention of The Book of Marie. Just popped off my fingers. The only person I’ve ever asked to read anything I’ve written is my wife and that’s because she’s brutally honest. Since my newspaper days, I’ve been well aware that the words made today mean very little to anyone tomorrow. I write for a living, not to leave a legacy. If someone appreciates what I do, I’m grateful. If they think it’s an insult to the human race, I’m okay with it. I could still be plowing a mule.”
To be brutally honest, I think me, the reading public, and the mule are grateful he decided to write. His departure is a bitter end, to this year the lights went out.
Mick Gusinde-Duffy is the Executive Editor for Scholarly and Digital Publishing at the University of Georgia Press