|Me and Loran Smith on Saturday in Athens. "I want to get a picture, Miss America!" :)|
Many of you may know Loran Smith as the sideline reporter from the days of Larry Munson and his famous "Whatcha got, Loran" directives. Or you may know him today as the legendary voice on the UGA radio pre-game show, the Tailgate Show. Or as the longtime fundraiser for UGA Athletics. Or even from his many columns and books that have reached thousands and thousands of readers over the years.
For me, Loran is a friend, mentor, cheerleader and inspiration. For a man who writes so many stories about so many other people, he is rarely written about himself, mostly because of his humble nature and desire to place the spotlight on others.
Cobb Life Magazine gave me the chance to change that, and I wrote about my days working for Loran and his incredible spirit in the October issue, which just hit stands yesterday. I was able to give Loran some advanced copies in Athens on Saturday before the Dawgs met the 'Dores between the hedges and, of course, he insisted on a picture. :)
If you get a moment, please read the story below that I wrote about Loran and pick up an issue of Cobb Life around town. His story deserves to be heard, even if it is told by a non-famous, young and still-learning writer.
A fall not forgotten...
By Katy Ruth Camp
Most people know Loran Smith as “the voice.” For decades, his distinct, melodic, Southern cadence has lit up radio airwaves on those Saturdays between the hedges. His books and columns have given life and permanence to the history of Athens and its people and he is easily included in the definition of University of Georgia football nostalgia.
But for one, never-to-be-forgotten year, a bubbly, naive college senior learning to transition from writing to becoming a writer found a lifelong friend, mentor and the greatest storyteller to ever live in the man behind the voice.
When I first met Loran, I could hear him coming from two rooms past our tiny student worker office at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, the home of UGA athletics. I didn’t have to see him to know it was the infamous Loran Smith approaching. I grew up on that voice, paired with Larry Munson’s, and to this day, just two of their spoken words bring me back to my grandparents’ house on Lake Weiss, running barefoot with my cousins through the grass and listening to the Dawgs play through their tiny black radio. As he entered the room, he had a few jokes for the sports information employees he knew and reached his hand out to those of us he didn’t. He was jovial, charming and everything you would expect Loran Smith to be.
As my job as a student writer and media coordinator for the UGA Athletic Association progressed, I found myself entering his office door more and more. Upon my request, he often would critique my next article for the Red and Black or my next sports piece for the university. I knew he was a busy man and I knew he didn’t have much time to spend on a college student’s article when his own columns and books were being read by thousands each week, so a part of me was always pleasantly surprised and appreciative when he would hand me back my printed words, now covered in Loran’s red ink.
I was underpaid and overworked but I so loved that job, and Loran was a great part of that. If I ever needed a pick-me-up or just a little dose of sunshine for the day, a visit to Loran’s office – with his big smile, hearty laugh and crazy stories – would always do the trick.
He is the keeper of so many tales, legends and memories that it is equally heartbreaking and perfect that many of those will probably never be told, except perhaps to his many friends in Heaven. I often tried to test the keeper and his memory of steel, but it would usually only result in his sharing another wildly entertaining story I had never heard before and a long laugh. One day in particular, I decided to take a break from my research on the history of UGA baseball. I was working on a long feature piece about the program and was digging deep into names and games that people probably hadn’t thought of in years. I randomly picked a baseball player from a 1970s team of no real stardom or importance – so much so that I forgot the name a week later - and marched into Loran’s office. I was sure I would finally have him stumped and playfully demanded, “Alright, Loran. Tell me: who is –“ and read out the name. Immediately, Loran spun around in his chair and said, “Oh, don’t you know, his Daddy was a longtime athletic director in south Georgia,” and he went on to tell about the player, the position he played and all of the great things this baseball player had done in the business community since he graduated. “Do you need to reach him? I think I have his phone number, or I can at least find it for you,” he said with a big smile. I simply laughed, spun on my heels and jokingly yelled as I walked back to my office, “One of these days, Loran!”
I also learned that, for a man who has spent almost his entire life in the spotlight, Loran is not always one to seek it. During the 2007 signing day, Butts-Mehre was a madhouse and was filled with local and national journalists, football players, coaches and fans wanting to get a peek at the next class of Bulldogs. I shuffled through the crowd between my office and his with some work I had done for him in hand. When I reached his door, I thought it was odd that it was closed, as it was almost always open and I knew he was there. I knocked and he yelled, “Who is it?” “It’s me, Loran.” “Oh, Miss America. Come in.”
When I opened the door, he was in his usual routine, talking to someone on speakerphone, motioning to me as he spoke and his computer screen filled with his next column, half-written. Once he got off the phone, I handed him the papers. “There are all kinds of people out there, Loran. Don’t you want to be out there?” “No, I don’t want to talk to those people. I have work to do. Hopefully once lunchtime comes around, they’ll be gone so I can go, too.” It would have been easy and understandable for Loran to put himself out there, soak in adoration from fans and fellow journalists, maybe get some screen time and his name in ink, but he wanted no part of it.
Loran, does, however, wish the spotlight upon those he loves and has always been the first to offer support and help if it is needed. When I told him upon graduation that I was applying for an internship in Governor Sonny Perdue’s Press Office, he was excited for me and wished me luck. On my second day of the job, Governor Perdue walked up to my desk, smiled and placed a letter in front of me. Immediately, I noticed Loran’s handwriting and signature. He had written the Governor a letter, telling him shining things about me and encouraging him to give me the job. It was just an internship and I was probably dead last on the Governor’s list of personnel priorities, but I almost cried, right then and there. I never asked him to do that and he never told me he was going to, but that’s Loran.
I still make it a point to hug his neck at the radio booth before each home game, to call him and Myrna to catch up and to have lunch with him when he’s in town. Every time, it’s like that bit of sunshine in my day, all over again. I know I am not the first person nor certainly the last to have her life changed simply by knowing him but, for one, wonderful year, and for many years since, I can say, “whatcha got, Loran,” and know I will hear the man behind the voice in return.